With almost 2000 movies per year on average (according to Wikipedia), it’s widely known that India has the largest film production industry in the world, yet for some reason the films rarely cross over into other parts of the globe. So it’s difficult to contextualize The Man Who Feels No Pain, the first Bollywood film to be included in TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, and the first Bollywood film I’ve ever watched from start to finish, except to say that it fits perfectly into the program that boasts the best in international genre filmmaking. The Man Who Feels No Pain is a straight-up action extravaganza, paying homage to Asian martial arts films and American action movies in equal measure.
Abhimanyu Dassani stars as Surya, an idealistic young man born without any pain receptors and raised on a steady diet of Heroes v Bad Guys on VHS. Given the amount of films directly referenced, I’m surprised the filmmakers never acknowledge this is basically the same idea as Kick-Ass, but anyway, moving on. Like so many other crime fighters, he loses a parent to petty criminals at a young age, so it’s easy to see where this is going. He’s raised mostly by his grandfather, who instills into him the importance of honour and hydration. I’m not sure if his constant thirst and sensitive eyes have anything to do with his condition, but the goggles and hydration pack make for a pretty neat superhero getup.
With its expertly choreographed fight scenes, slick camera work, and charming characters, there’s a lot to enjoy in The Man Who Feels No Pain, however the main storyline takes far too long to get going. The script has a lot to set up, and it’s about an hour in before we meet the main villain: the twin brother of Surya’s idol (both played by Gulshan Devaiah), a one-legged Karate master whom he watched defeat 100 opponents in a Kumite tournament his grandfather had on tape. Of course there’s a love interest that motivates Surya as well, but the villain’s motives are never really that clear. Things begin to get a little convoluted and bloated, with more than enough slow-mo kicks but not enough actual story to justify its 2+ hour runtime.
Like its protagonist, The Man Who Feels No Pain feels earnest and wears its heart on its sleeve, but I can’t help but feel like this is 10 pounds of popcorn in a 5 pound bag. Perhaps they should have saved a few kernels for a sequel.