When a film like “Liger” just flings cliches at you without any real effort to make them work, all that’s left to do is try and see whether you can at least summon a laugh or two at the film’s expense. I managed a few.
For one, the character’s named Liger—because his mother, Balamani (Ramya Krishnan), is a self-styled tiger and apparently, her late husband, Liger’s father, was a lion (in the MMA arena). Perhaps because she’s modelled after a wild animal, she’s shown to scream a lot, under the name of ferocity. Liger (Vijay Deverakonda) too roars—and I’m talking here about really hearing the roar of a tiger in the background. For that reason, I thought of director Hari many times in this film—notably when Liger opens up his palm and swats a rival fighter in a train. “Ondra ton weight-u da!” I murmured to myself, in fond memory of a better template film. Liger’s weird girlfriend, Taniya (Ananya Panday) roars too, for some reason… maybe because she’s a prospective ligress?
“Liger”, the film, is about a mother and son, who have come to Mumbai with the ambition of pursuing MMA glory. In theory, there’s poverty, strife, and the absence of a father figure, but these never really get explored in this film. There’s one more challenge in the mix: Liger’s speech disorder that causes him to stammer, which this film seems only interested in milking for humour.
The MMA trainees around him mock his impediment in many uncomfortable ways that the film passes off as light moments. In fact, if they sought to mock him, I think his name might have been a better topic to focus on. I wouldn’t have blamed Liger at all, had he felt justified in interrogating his mother about giving him a name that’s likely to scar him for life… a name based on a creature of which there are apparently 100 in the world. This isn’t information I googled for this review; the film shares this statistic at one point.
Bizarrely, many characters in this film, including Liger’s mother, don’t quite seem to possess the patience or the kindness to allow him to finish his sentences. Right at the beginning, someone insults him by saying, “Video is good, but the audio isn’t.” His girlfriend, Taniya, meanwhile, operates in the other extreme: She apparently finds it “cute”, in what comes through as a condescending way. In one love scene, she asks him to say her name and when he stutters before finishing, she exclaims, “So cute!”—like a zoo visitor observing an exotic animal making a strange noise.
The trailer suggested that Liger’s mother, Balamani, might come across as a feisty self-made woman, but in this film, her strength comes through only in the loudness of her voice. There’s no real focus on the person that she is, apart from generic strokes that make up a ‘strong mother’. I’m not even sure she’s all too likeable, especially given how she defines modern women as ‘deyyam’ (devil) and advises her son against falling prey to them. Even as she’s dispensing some forgettable advice, we see Taniya—having already moved from animosity to affection during the span of a single fight sequence—fall all over Liger, seducing him by modestly sharing, “Every inch of me is perfect.” Every inch, except perhaps what constitutes her mental machinery, considering that she watches Liger excelling in martial words and wonders if he’s “Chinese”.
The film’s supposed to be about an underdog “fightaaaaa” winning big at the Mixed Martial Arts, and yet, we learn precious little about the sport—with the fights interpreted as stunt sequences in your average mass film. We learn nothing about Liger’s own strengths and weaknesses in the MMA arena, except notice that he has a proclivity for showing the middle-finger a lot and also, drawing attention to his crotch during fights. As I gave up and awaited my freedom, I sat up, seeing Mike Tyson come in from nowhere. For some reason, he’s called Mark Anderson in this film, and for some reason, he doesn’t want to let Liger’s girlfriend go free. He laughs like he were intoxicated, and he goes on to slug it out unconvincingly with Liger as well.
I am not sure I could tell you what was going on, but I drew some comfort from seeing that Mr Tyson too seemed confused. At one point, he even seemed to channelise the same agony I was feeling. Rather relatably, he exclaims, “Who the f*** are you, and who the f*** is your dad? I can’t believe this s***.”
Director: Puri Jagannadh
Cast: Vijay Deverakonda, Ramya Krishnan, Ananya Panday
5 Things to know about Vijay Deverakonda’s Hindi debut Liger
1. Vijay Deverakonda’s Hindi debut film is called Liger. Vijay shot most of it before Covid with director Puri Jaganannath a big name in Telugu cinema, but a flop in Hindi, unless you would like to recall his Hindi films Shart The Challenge (with Tusshar Kapoor) and Bbuddah… Hoga Terra Baap, the Amitabh Bachchan fanboy flick with Buddha (old) spelt in the title as weirdly as the film turned out to be.
2. Karan Johar planned VD’s Hindi debut from scratch. Initially he wanted to launch VD with a remake of the star’s Telugu film Dear Comrade. Karan paid a whopping price for the remake rights and went ga-ga over the original. When it flopped Dear Comrade was not so dear any more. Karan dropped remake plans and decided to launch VD in an original Hindi film, and not a remake.
3. It was Vijay who suggested Puri Jagganath’s name as director. Karan was not too keen. But then Vijay is Dharma’s new blue-eyed boy. Karan can’t say not to VD for anything. Made at a staggering budget of approximately Rs 125 crores, Liger will be marketed as a full-scale Dharma Production with Vijay speaking his own lines in Hindi, although his Hindi is self admittedly, unreliable.
4. Ananya Pandey who plays Vijay’s love interest has almost nothing to do in the film which is a show reel for VD’s acting and action. In fact the first choice for the leading lady’s part was Janhvi Kapoor who has confessed to having a serious crush on VD. But when the role was found to be insubstantial Ananya Pandey was summoned to step in.
5. Vijay plays a MMA (mixed martial arts) expert in Liger. He trained in this particular strain of the martial arts for three months before he started to shoot. His stunts in the film are going to give Tiger Shroff a run for his money.