Where does one begin with a film like this? I need to resist exploding with excitement with each word I write. Director Vasan Bala’s second feature (the first being Peddlers) is like every other Midnight Madness film that screens at TIFF, in that it is an experience best shared with an audience. The first film from India to join Midnight Madness programming, The Man Who Feels No Pain, is a power-punching martial arts Bollywood bonanza.
Born with a rare disease known as congenital insensitivity to pain (you can Google it, as the protagonist explains via voice-over narration), a young boy named Surya literally feels no pain. Every great hero has a tragic origin and it is no different here (save for a few embellishments acknowledged by the narrator himself due to his obsessive movie watching). Surya first gets his martial arts education through action movies. For the sharp-eyed, you can find some gems in the fast-cutting montage of VHS-watching like Secret Rivals. One tape in particular features a 100-man kumite, inspiring him to set out on his own 100-man beatdown.
Abhimanyu Dassani stars as Surya, all grown up and still looking to prove himself as a fighter and more importantly, right the wrongs. Though he acts like a child who never grew up (and with his condition and over-protective father, it’s no surprise) you feel compelled to join him on his ridiculous crusade. Radhika Madan plays his childhood friend, Supri. Under the tutelage of one-legged Karate master Manni (played by Gulshan Devaiah) she provides almost 50% of the ass-kicking on screen. And she’s going to make fighting with a scarf a thing. Gulshan has a most impressive dual role as both the master Manni and his evil twin brother Jimmy.
Onto the action. The only other Bollywood fight films I’ve seen are of the older kind, the kind that involves sliding under a carriage while on a horse. I must admit, I was surprised by the fights in this particular film, in a good way. The trailer shows off super slow motion shots which do make up a lot of the film’s highlights, but what it doesn’t show is the more grounded (with both feet planted or in Manni’s case, one) hard hitting choreography. Now’s a good time to mention that Eric Jacobus and Dennis Ruel from The Stunt People have designed/coordinated the action. All this came to be when the director saw Rope-A-Dope and contacted Eric, wanting him to take on the action for this film. So expect the choreography to be fun and fluid but never detracting from the story. Eric challenged the audience to find any visible stunt doubles and as I recall, there were none. The actors did a most impressive job performing their own fights.
Even if you ignore the action, there’s something very special here. It’s got everything. It is genuinely funny, not only in its use of parody and pop culture references but its characters are as humourous as they are charming. The music is also noteworthy, many musical set pieces really completed the whole experience for me, but it may not be for everyone. You have to allow youself to be swepped up in all the wonder and romance along with the fantastical action.
The audience at the screening I attended seemed unanimous in its enjoyment. It’s silly. It has heart and wit. It has some of the most engaging fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. It’s something to be enjoyed by all, regardless of where you come from.
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THE MAN WHO FEELS NO PAIN (2018)
This film is a joyful ride through the ridiculous, but for all the pain the title hero doesn't feel, you will definitely feel it when it's being dished out on his adversaries. The fight scenes aren't just stylized fluff, they are as hard hitting as some of Hong Kong and Thailand's best.
- Entertaining from start to finish. The film feels full of life with its humour, music and action set pieces.
- The constant undercutting of cliché epic moments is at first clever but may have been done one too many times. Sometimes it robs you of a satisfying end to an action scene.