bollywood

Many years ago, after watching a mind-numbing atrocity called Aala Vandhaan (Tamil film), I swore to never again spend money on a Kamal Haasan movie.  I broke this promise by watching Viswaroopam. Although I don’t do movie reviews on What Ho!, I really must do this to get a few things out of my system.

First, if I were to list out the many flaws in this movie, being offensive to Muslims would not make the cut.

Second, there are no spoilers in this review. The movie is about a Kathak dancer who turns out to be an Al Qaeda fellow who turns out to be an Indian RAW agent who foils a bid by Al Qaeda to blow up New York city. If you are the type who sits on the edge of your seat waiting to find out if Kamal will foil the bid of a one-eyed sheikh, all I can say is that you should have drunk more Complan while growing up.

Third, this review will offend the sentiments of an increasingly fringe group known as Kamal fans, of which I’m probably still one. Brothers and sisters of the fringe group, I anticipate your anguish upon reading this. But look upon this as a much needed dose of tough love and reality that all of us, Mr. Kamal Haasan included, sorely need. If you’re offended, be offended. Stay offended. Outrage. Do your thing. Like I’m doing my thing here.

Dey PR people, you may call this a spy thriller. I don’t.

A supposed ‘spy thriller’, the movie has neither proper spooks nor is thrilling. Unless you count a RAW agent deputed in Afghanistan with nothing more than an interesting surname as a spy. Or unless you get your thrills from amateurish buffoonery performed by a confused and overweight man running around with an even more confused and equally overweight FBI dude and two clueless but not overweight women in tow. For heaven’s sake, while our one eyed Al Qaeda sheikh apparently learnt to speak Tamil on an all-expenses paid trip to Coimbatore, our Tamil dude didn’t bother with the ABCs of Pashtun before going into the field. If only he had read the ‘Lonely Planet’s guide to Afghanistan’, he’d have found that they speak a different language over there.

The film has Kashmiri Sambaar..

The story (Caution: I use this word loosely) is of a Tamilian chap whose mother inexplicably appends the surname Kashmiri to his Wisam Ahmed, making him out to be some sort of a Kashmiri sambaar. Why Wisam? Because it goes well with Viswanath? So it can be shortened to ‘Wiz’? Only the Lord knows. The first we hear of this “Kashmiri” dude is when his wife admits to marrying him so she could come to the US to get a PhD. Tam Brahms can be a resourceful lot when it comes to finding new routes to America. But, this innovative approach to getting American PhDs through marriages to Kathak dancers paints the Tam Brahm academic commitment in a refreshingly new light. By the way, this is the only propah mea culpa we get in a movie littered with far more egregious blunders.

And Kathak dancing, chicken eating Tam Brahm chicks …

Wisam surfaces at the opening as Viswanath, an effeminate Kathak dancer, whose Tam Brahm wifey Dr. Nirupama’s biggest complaints about him are his girly, long hair and lack of manliness, and not strangely enough about his cavorting freely with his much younger, nubile, chicken eating Tam Brahm dance students. On behalf of all Tam Brahms, I’d like to thank Kamal for his use of the slur ‘paapaathi’ to describe a Tam Brahm woman, and getting this formality out of the way within the first 10 minutes of the film. Considering the other names he’s called the community in the past, we’ll take this as a compliment. Other noteworthy points about Mrs Wisam aka Mrs Viswanath aka Dr. Nirupama, in addition to being portrayed as a  pucca stereotypical scaredy cat Tam Brahm, are that she’s a ‘nuclear oncologist’, is dating her boss, having her husband tailed by a private detective and generally considered by all to be a clueless moron.

The bizzare murder of the aforesaid detective, the details of which are best left untouched, leads to the uncovering of Viswanath as first Taufiq, then Nasser and then Wisam Ahmed, all in a matter of a few minutes. What, O Good Lord, was the point of those three names?

When they cut costs, do they also cut casts?

And why was I not surprised to find out that the boss dating Kamal’s wife eventually turns out to be a complete a-hole, dealing with terrorists and the like? Hey, no man looks forward to another guy dating his wife. But, to paint the other guy as a terrorist reveals insecurity and a certain lack of imagination. I’ll admit that there are budget constraints while making a film. But, to start bundling completely disparate traits and activities into the same character to save money? I draw the line there. And I wonder, how do they cast roles?

Kamal: “Hey you random fellow, here’s your part. You’ll play the suave suit-coat guy. You will speak Tamil with an American accent. You will run a nuclear oncology lab. You will first employ and then date my wife but you may not lay a finger on her at any point in time cuz we don’t like that kind of crap. By the way, you’re the main money launderer for Al Qaeda. And if we can squeeze it in, we’ll also try and get you to play the lead pitcher for the New York Yankees. And yes, you will be shot at point blank range at some point like the dirty dog that you are. Enna thambi, what do you think?”

Random Fellow: Ok, saar. Kamal padathila chance kadaikkum naa, enna venum naalum pannuven, saar. (I’ll do anything to get a chance in a Kamal film)

Okay folks, this is the INTERMISSION.  Go get your popcorn and then come back to watch me lose my way and destroy any semblance of the plot in the second half.

And the review resumes…

Viswanath is thus exposed as Wisam, rendering his repertoire of Kathak skills unusable and forcing all to flee through a secret hidden door down to the basement when they could have simply taken the steps downstairs to the garage. Before fleeing, he does find time for a hair cut and slip on a trendy leather jacket, thus causing his previously unyielding wife to instantly fall in mad love with him.

I have a lot of friends who have obtained PhDs. I’ve noticed them to be generally intelligent and quick to absorb complex information. If tested, I’m confident that they will score above average IQ-wise. For example, if I were to tell them that I was a secret agent named Wisam masquerading as a Kathak dancer named Viswanath, they would raise their eyebrows in surprise. They might ask me a few follow up questions. But they would get it in about 30 seconds. Aanaa, appadi illiyey indha Dr. Nirupama madam. (Alas, this Dr. Nirupama Madam is not like that.) What to do? Her wide eyed histrionics at every trivial revelation makes you wonder if she got her Ph.D. from Madurai Idly shop at a discount. Kodumai. Aanaalum romba kodumai saar.

And then you have Andrea Jeremiah who plays the other Indian RAW agent whose name I forget and whose only noteworthy contributions to this fine film are to offer to take Kamal’s pants off and generally tower above him in those scenes in which they let her appear.

Where do they upload the photos? Flickr?

Rahul Bose tries to come across as a gullible one-eyed Al Qaeda honcho, Omar, who loses his family in an American air strike. Dey Omar, I’ll tell you one thing. If you keep bombing other fellows, those fellows will bomb you back, da. You might want to live in a different pin code from your family, boss. This fellow Omar tries to get sympathy, but his weird looking glass eye and repeated attempts to blow up NYC unfortunately prevent him from getting any. Rahul Bose as Omar puts up a good show in the movie. Omar grunts. He whispers. He speaks Tamil. He smiles broadly as his people take group photos with a 14 megapixel fixed-lens camera. He’s, in fact, the most believable guy in the entire circus.

Oh.. the difficulty in finding good foreigners in a foreign country..

While we’re on the subject of casting, I have to mention the firangi guys. There are white guys. There is one African guy. And one African American woman. Of the Caucasians, the “MI-6″ guy takes the cake. Note to Indian film makers: When casting white fellows, please don’t cast guys who look like they passed out while doing drugs in the sixties and woke up only recently, as secret service agents. Think a little bigger. Well, just think. The African guy is the guy who’s supposed to blow things up. And why he prepares for it by shaving his entire body like he’s about to plunge into a pool for an Olympic freestyle gold medal is never explained. And did they hire that African American woman who plays the FBI interrogator from the checkout counter at a local supermarket? Dammit, Kamal. You can do better than this. You should have done better than this. You feel my pain, right?

The Faraday Shield

The lesser said about the FBI guy the better. But I will say more. He looks like a guy who would not even be cast in a used car commercial in the heartland of America. And they’ve made him out to be some sort of a mentally challenged individual. When he finds out that Kamal is a RAW agent, his mind is BLOWN. “Who are you?” he asks. Let me clue you in, my FBI dost. We were all asking the same bloody question too, at that point. And wearing a jacket with FBI emblazoned on it does not make you an FBI guy. Knowing shyte does. And you don’t rush into a room when you have a nuclear bomb sitting in the middle of it. You call the bomb squad. And if you don’t call the bomb squad, at least have the decency to conduct a public debate over if you should cut the blue wire or the green wire. Dude, we have all watched enough Bruce Willis movies to know this shyte. At this juncture, I’m sorely tempted to talk about something called the “Faraday shield.” But I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll be nice and let it be an unpleasant surprise for you.

The right to free speech.. and making rubbish..

There were a lot of people whose sentiments were apparently hurt by this movie. They got the screening of the movie suspended in Tamil Nadu. They have now got some scenes removed. They have created the impression that this movie is offensive to Muslims. I watched the ‘uncut’ version in Bangalore. It really is nowhere close to being offensive to any group but perhaps sincere Kamal well-wishers. Dey people, if you don’t like what you hear about it, don’t watch the film. Criticize. Yell. Shout. But don’t shut down someone’s shop because he’s not selling what you want to buy. We live in India. Not in Afghanistan. We are a free, democratic country. We’re like that. We tolerate stuff. Everything goes. Even rubbish. Even blasphemy. Although this film is not blasphemous that way. The most worrisome part of the movie came at the end, with the threat of a sequel left looming large over our heads.

The best comical film since MMKR..

Viswaroopam ends up as a deflated balloon called Buss-waroopam with its hodgepodge of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, FBI, Kathak, Tam Brahms and other podalankai (snake gourd) things. The nicest thing I’m willing to say about it is that it’s possibly the best comical film Kamal has made since Michael Madana Kaama Rajan. I did get a few laughs out of it.

Before we go: Dear Kamal Haasan Sir..

Dear Kamal sir, you’re a great actor. But you’re not a good director. Please stop directing films. And you’re a great actor only when you work with good directors. So work with only the good ones. As for me, I’m going to watch Nayagan yet again for the hundredth time to cleanse all these disturbingly bad memories. And I’m going back into my self-imposed ban on Kamal films and stay there. I refuse to watch a once-great actor descend into the pits of mediocrity and destroy the image I have of him.

And as for you people..

Please go watch Viswaroopam because Kamal Haasan deserves our support. Perhaps, just this one last time.

Note: This review has been cleared by the Censor Board, cut by 223 words, then approved by 58 fringe groups and blessed by Amma before being published.

I’ve watched my share of Bollywood films. And here are some powerful lessons Bollywood has taught me on this rocky journey.

Disclaimer: Truth be told, I enjoyed watching some of the films referred to here. And of course, I mean all of this in a somewhat flippant, irreverent and humorous manner. :)

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

I came away from this movie convinced about the urgent need for a Jan Lokpal who will be dedicated to making sure that Karan Johar will never make a film again. KANK makes a telling point that if there are two couples, both unhappily married, the last thing they should do is to ask KJo to make a film about their marriages.

Veer Zaara

The biggest lesson from that incorrigible romantic Yash Chopra, bless his soul, was not in the movie. It’s in what happens after Veer and Zaara get married, a story yet untold. They lived as man and wife happily for many years until discovering that Zaara had, in fact, been born in India and adopted and raised by Pakistani parents. Since there’s nothing like the disappointment of marrying a fellow Indian when it comes to killing romance, Veer and Zaara naturally filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Which just goes to prove that age old truism when it comes to selecting a mate, “Only opposites attract.”

Devdas

I can’t say I learnt anything from the fifteen minutes of watching this film, by which time I had swooned and fallen senseless by the coffee table. As I lay pondering in the ambulance on its way to the emergency ward, it dawned on me that if you spray enough perfume on it, even rubbish will exude an exhilarating aroma before it knocks you senseless with poison gases.

Munnabhai MBBS

If a lout coming in from the street can fake his way through medical college and rehabilitate a brain-dead person, the day is not far before computers begin replacing doctors. I was astonished to find that chronically ill people preferred “magic hugs” from a fake doctor from the neighborhood slum over systematic medical care. I was, however, not astonished to see some of them die before the movie ended.

Kal Ho Naa Ho

Until I witnessed this magnificent opus, I was just another ignorant puppy cruising merrily through the park of life. The movie’s brilliance stunned me in ways I would have never thought possible. For example, if you see a guy strolling around with a wistful smile, and breaking frequently into song and dance routines, it can mean only one thing. That he will reveal at some suitably inconvenient time later that he has cancer. And what I discovered about this guy was that – amazingly enough – for the sole reason that he has cancer, he can give Dalai Lama a run for his money when it comes to making profound observations on life. And, he does all of this with aplomb, wearing orange cargo pants and partying it up with neighbors who look like models from an ethnically diverse Benetton ad. MIND = BLOWN.

Lagaan

Cricket is a game of such glorious uncertainties that a bunch of untrained, clueless country bumpkins can beat the guys who invented the game on any given day. It was equally revelatory to  discover that English belles find short, tanned, rustic Indians irresistible.

Zindagi Na Milegi Do Bara

If you put three guys in the Spanish countryside, I guess it’s only a matter of time before they start dancing in the village square. I found this film to an excellent example of the oft-used Bollywood formula which involves shooting film footage in exotic locations first, then adding a soundtrack and finally inserting dialogues and actors into it, before releasing in theaters.

Chak De India

There are many lessons we can learn from sports. Put Bollywood and sports together and the possibilities begin to boggle the mind. The best coaches are mediocre players who’ve suffered some grievous humiliation in their own playing days. I confidently predict that Ravindra Jadeja will become one of the all-time greatest Indian cricket coaches around 2025.

Never ever miss a penalty stroke against Pakistan. Especially when you’re down 0-1, in the final few minutes of the game. The movie nicely drove home the point that, but for India-Pak sporting contests, we would all have turned into unpatriotic wretches by now.

Dabangg

You can be an aggressive fellow with anger management issues. You can be an eve teaser. You can even be a corrupt cop. No problem. All will be forgiven and forgotten if you are the local Robin Hood Pandey with a cool pair of Rayban glasses. Heck, if you’re the charismatic, roguish Chulbul, you can even suffocate the neighborhood ruffian to death right before you scamper off to tie the knot and walk around the fire with the girl of your choice in tow. And while this might seem obvious, it’s worth calling out that it’s never advisable to let a gloomy looking chap, whose factory just burnt down, bring a crate of mangoes into the premises.

Hum Tum

This movie provides rare insights for men on the fine art of wooing women. The best way to win a woman over, I observed, is to be sensitive, patient and thoughtful. You must give her enough space and time. This is how it works. Fall madly in love with her. Wait for her to marry some one else. Then bide your time patiently until her husband dies in a car crash. And, that’s when you make your move. To set her up with your best friend. By this time, the woman cannot have failed to notice the bizarre patterns in your behavior. She will naturally interpret it as ‘your feelings’ towards her. Deny the allegations immediately because you’re a sensitive guy and wouldn’t want to rush her. Then, accept these feelings exactly one year later. By this time, since you’ve exhausted all other options, go ahead and marry her. And have a baby girl right away. This movie taught me the important lesson that you should take an excruciating amount of time before you get married, but you must not bat an eyelid before having a baby.

A Wednesday

As Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar warned, “beware of lean, hungry men.” Nasiruddin Shah’s character has so many layers and much to teach us. He’s lean. He’s hungry. He’s disgruntled. He’s learnt how to rig computers, phones and SIM cards to be untraceable. He’s second to none when it comes to assembling remote detonators and dirty bombs. This movie makes a pretty solid case that higher education in engineering and science is a complete waste of time when Wikipedia is handily available.

Tare Zameen Par

If you’ve not been a good student while in school, don’t worry about it. Someday, like Aamir Khan, you too can make a movie to explain it away. This movie opened my eyes to the possibility that an art teacher hired on a temporary basis will go to extraordinary lengths to make his job permanent. It taught me that most fathers are evil men who want their children to do crazy things like study well, get great jobs and lead comfortable lives, while, at the end of the day, it is art teachers who continue to remain solitary beacons of hope to children everywhere.

Ra One

Sometimes one person’s bad karma manifests itself as a desire to make this really horrible movie which many others will watch due to their own bad karma. Let’s please observe a moment of silence in memory of the suffering, and unite in our firm resolve to never let a tragic calamity of such horrific proportion ever repeat in our lifetimes.

3 Idiots

Watching a movie can sometimes be the only way to wipe out the bad memories of the book it’s based on. Amen.

Talaash

When your subordinates see you making empty gestures in the air, and having conversations with an imaginary girlfriend, and yet they don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback about it, then something is clearly amiss with your management style. These are exactly the sorts of things they don’t teach at the IIMs. Talaash puts forth a powerful new management concept which involves building vibrant, friendly teams, and encourages open dialogue with things other than ghosts. It was fascinating to learn that women continue to wear high heels, lipstick and short skirts long after they are dead, but dispense with high heels, lipstick and short skirts if they’ve been married a while.

Recently watched a movie called Tere Bin Laden, which brings us to the topic of Bollywood. There are many jobs that people do in this world. Each requires a skill of some sort. Indefatigable fortitude goes with postman territory. Rain or shine, the mail never stops. A civil engineer has to display more than average propensity for complex problem solving. Good taxi drivers are blessed with stellar reflexes. And the list goes on. The only known exception to this rule is the Bollywood script writer.

The Indian movie industry is the largest in the world, based on number of movies released. Bollywood, which accounts for a lion’s share, has the distinction of making the most number of horror movies which don’t have ghosts in them. In a country with an abundance of culture, creative talent and money, it is hard to understand this depressing scarcity of quality cinema. The story of Bollywood has followed a script that seems eerily written by one of their own – devoid of plot elements and empty of memorable moments. Some one once said that if you gave typewriters to a thousand monkeys, it was only a matter of time before one of them came up with Hamlet. Well, more than a thousand have been at work in Mumbai for over fifty years, and so far, it’s just been much ado about nothing.

Seems like Bollywood goes “Didn’t ask for a good script. Asked for a script by Tuesday”. Scripts are not just tailored for actors. They  are also written by tailors.

Take a typical Bollywood script these days -

Boy goes to airport to pick up fiancee, who he last met when he was a toddler. Coincidentally, around the same time, girl escapes from mafia uncle by resorting to the proven technique of running on open roads in high heels to elude shiny 200 horsepower BMWs. Girl inexplicably lands up within earshot of boy, overhears conversation about long awaited fiancee, and decides that best course of action is to pretend to be the aforementioned fiancee. What better way to kill a few weeks on the run than to shack up with a complete stranger.

Boy is ecstatic that fiancee resembles Preity Zinta and not Om Puri, rushes home with girl in tow and a song on the lips. Girl learns about boy’s troubled childhood, his existential angst, PAN number and blood group – all via song, and falls madly in love. The next several weeks are spent dancing the flamenco on mountain tops and grassy knolls. Boy-girl swiss vacations, as a rule, are always interrupted by one untimely demise or another. This time, it is daadi-ma’s turn. Reluctantly, boy and girl foot it back. After brief hiatus, dancing makes a come back – this time, it’s salsa on the streets of maximum city in pouring rain.

Meanwhile, mafia uncle uses google maps on his Samsung phone to figure out girl’s coordinates, loads up AK47 and heads over pronto. Coincidentally, boy and girl get into tiff around the same time. The boy happily hands mother of his unborn child back to mafia chacha. At this juncture, mother of boy, hitherto presumed blind and dumb, suddenly starts spouting gospel truths on true love to her beloved son, exhorting him to rescue girl. Boy has change of heart in the time it takes to say “Ready”, but not before indulging in random drinking binge. Original fiancee  surfaces in item number during drinking binge before disapparating back into the void. Boy heads over to mafia uncle’s massive, walled estate, where local hoodlums, Caucasians, municipal corporators, Lalit Modi, shady UN officials, Shiv Sena and Al Qaeda have all gathered in the living room. A few scuffles and an obligatory bleeding lip later, boy rescues girl and they are back to dancing the cha-cha near waterfalls, lakes and other water bodies on remote islands. The End.

And, we wring our hands as to why we haven’t won an Oscar yet. Folks, we are going to need a lot more than a thousand monkeys to pull that off.

ps: Two thumbs up for Tere Bin Laden.