Amrit (Lakshya) admits near the beginning of Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s no-holds-barred action extravaganza Kill that the only reason Fani (Raghav Juyal) and his extended family of dacoit train robbers are still alive is because they aren’t on a battlefield. Had he and his Commando Captain partner Viresh met them in combat, they probably wouldn’t have even seen them coming. So be glad for a few broken bones and lacerations. Things could be so much worse. I just never quite imagined how much worse.
Because a switch gets flipped around the midway point. What starts as Amrit desperately trying to protect Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), the woman he loves, and her powerful family soon becomes a gorefest devoid of prisoners. It’s not even like Fani and his gang were intentionally targeting them, either; they were simply looking for an easy score lasting the thirty minutes between train stops while Amrit was trying to stop Tulika’s engagement to another man. Fani complicates things by calling an audible and poking Amrit’s bear. And his own family pays the price.
Comparisons to The Raid might seem surface-level––the carnage is dealt from left to right on this train, rather than up and down an apartment complex––but Gareth Evans’ film was an intentional bit of inspiration. The way Midnight Madness programmer tells it, producer Guneet Monga approached him about putting Kill into the festival by using that precise analogy. An an Indian Raid was what she sought to make; writer-director Bhat more than complies. He simply adds a monster to the mix too––à la another comparison point in Project Wolf Hunting. Only this time the hero holds that title.
I’m not saying Amrit becomes the bad guy, though. He merely turns into a beast without remorse when pushed over the edge left with nothing to lose. When Viresh initially kills the film’s first victim, Amrit actually chastises him for it. Ever the army man serving India in justice’s name, his belief that the Commandos are the best warriors in the country lead him to naively underestimate his foes. And it’s not without reason. If Fani’s father had his way, they would have been off the train in half an hour, as planned. These thieves should have turned tail and run at the first sniff of trouble; Fani’s decision to stay couldn’t have been predicted.
This speaks to my favorite part of the whole: the choice to let everyone delude themselves into believing they’re something they’re not… except one. It isn’t Amrit, though. He thinks he’s a saint and invincible. He’s neither. And where Fani’s family fancies themselves ruthless dacoits willing to do anything for profit, their resolve buckles the moment one of them dies. Tears are shed. Men wail over the corpses of fathers, uncles, cousins. They beg to leave. Only Fani laughs at the display, understanding they were never Robin Hoods. They’re criminals with blood on their hands and grisly deaths in their futures. Why not embrace the chaos?
The film is thus Amrit against Fani with a ton of bodies in the way. That’s the inevitable showdown (despite the latter’s hulking brute of a cousin having the strength to break the former’s neck first) with Amrit’s rage increasing in equal measure to Fani’s depravity. Murders meant to send a message soon devolve into murders for the sake of murder. The punches stop being pulled and the desire for answers evaporates into the ether. Eventually it is all about finding the other over puddles of blood and viscera to see once and for all who will be the last man standing. And while you may think you can guess the answer, know that no one onscreen is above death.
This is both a positive that leads to some surprising kills and negative that leans into tired character-motivation tropes. Thankfully, trying to nitpick it all only distracts you from the real goal here: violence. So don’t think too hard. Bhat is using soap opera-like music cues for puppy dog eye moments between Amrit and Tulika, after all. This isn’t highbrow drama. Just let the rage unleash in whatever convenient way is necessary to get the blood flowing faster. What’s good enough for John Wick should be good enough for Kill, so wake the boogeyman up and let him loose. Because we’re all here for the brutality anyway. There’s no point pretending otherwise.
Kill premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.