TANDAV – Showdown in Paradise


Preena Shrestha

The lengthy opening scene in the new action thriller Tandav feels like an exercise in that most invaluable, and too often elusive, of dramatic strategies: the building of tension. There isn’t much happening–a couple of goons have just stepped into a teashop somewhere along the Nepal-India border, and are in the process of bullying the owner and his kids. But director Murray Kerr (Sick City) suffuses the sequence with such a sense of dread–you know something bad is about to happen, but not what or when exactly–that it tickles, almost unbearable to watch (That goes literally for a clip featuring cockroaches being tortured).

However, it soon becomes apparent that for all its stylish bluster on the surface, Tandav ultimately suffers from an underdeveloped core, which is more disappointing for the fact that one can actually glimpse the makings of an interesting story here, but it just hasn’t been imbued with the kind of substance it would need to be screen-ready–and the same could be said for many members of the cast. What we have then is a film that is easy on the eyes but lurches from point to point awkwardly, bound to a script speckled with logical oversights.

Tandav takes us into the ever-turbulent borderlands, where the illegal arms trade runs rampant. We find young Amrit (Asis Rana aka Laure)–an underling of arms dealer and all-round-badfella Ganesh (Anup Baral)–working with Indian authorities and dishing out info on his boss. It’s a bad idea given that Ganesh isn’t your average gangster: he’s a right lunatic with delusions of stardom and powerful connections. And he isn’t too fond of disloyalty. Aware that the big guy’s first move will be to reclaim his merchandise, Amrit heads off to his childhood haunt, the Paradise Guest House, where the stuff is stored, in a bid to keep Ganesh from harming anyone else. Here, our protagonist runs into his friends–Amir (Alan Gurung) and Maya (Namrataa Shrestha)–from whom he’s been estranged for years. But healing old wounds isn’t the only task at hand; with Ganesh already on his way over, Amrit, Amir, Maya and the assorted others who’ve had the misfortune to check into the hotel for the night have to gear up for a showdown, and hope that the walls of Paradise are sturdy enough to keep Ganesh and his gun-brandishing posse out for as long as possible.

There’s a certain point mid-way where the film gains steam. Having spent so long introducing several seemingly unrelated characters–the couple travelling with the preacher, a middle-aged woman and her young ward, and the dopey mustachioed foreigner and his female companion, among others–Kerr finally pulls all the threads together, revealing to us that these poor souls are all inmates of the hotel and bound to be reluctant participants in the climactic battle. The proceedings suddenly take on an almost campy quality and there is a distinct feeling of claustrophobia–it’s Tandav’s most enjoyable sequence by far, but short-lived, unfortunately.

The remainder of the story is nowhere as effective. There are quite a few long stretches where nothing happens, just a whole lot of waiting around. That’s not to say such lulls in action are inherently bad, but for them to work well would’ve called for far more skilled performers, able to drum up a great deal more chemistry than what we have here. Rana, who rose up the ranks of notice through his irreverent stint in the RawBarz rap battle league, looks to be Nepali cinema’s dreamboat du jour, and it’s true he has a certain down-to-earth, wayward-youth sort of appeal. But the actor has a lot of work to do if he is to take up roles such as this one; as is, he comes across very stiff. Shrestha might have had more screen time on her resume, but she isn’t all too convincing either, while Gurung just looks uncomfortable for the most part. And the less said about Baral’s excessive scenery chewing, the better. The only actor who feels like he belongs in his character’s skin is Beepin Karki, playing an alcoholic fixture at the hotel.

Part of the problem also has to do with backstory, or lack thereof. There are hints of painful pasts and complex circumstances that brought all three of our leads to where they are today, but for all the grainy flashbacks we’re shown, these don’t really do much to challenge the impression of them as having emerged from vacuums; they’re still too vague, too flimsily drawn. With the result that even though we’re aware of the very imminent physical dangers threatening these characters, we’re just not connected to them enough to be concerned about what happens next. And without that one vital hook, Tandav flails and falls.

Courtesy : The Kathmandu Post

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