Sunday, August 31, 2008
Hoping for an Indian summer
I'm not exactly a movie buff or an authority on the silver screen, but I have a healthy interest and like to think I have a broad, if shallow knowledge of film.
There are precious few films I won't watch and have enjoyed films from a number of countries in every genre, but one area that is daunting to get into is also one prolific sources world-wide: Bollywood.
There are lots of generalisations that you could vicariously pick up about mainstream Indian cinema- the size of the business globally, the long running times and the fondness of musical numbers, but the films themselves present a barrier to those outside the Indian community.
Being a fan of film I don't want to miss out, wherever cinematic goodness can potentially be found, so thought I'd start of safe with a film called One 2 Ka 4. It had a tempting 18 certificate stuck to the cover with Bollywood superstar Sharukh Khan looking moody and armed, and the blurb on the reverse telling a tale of cops, revenge and such.
First thing to mention is that One 2 Ka 4 was actually rated 15 by the BBFC so it's odd that the distribution company, Spark Worldwide limited, went and plastered an 18 rating sticker on the DVD case. This is what they had to say on the back:
"Javed (Jakie Shroff) and Arun (Shah Rukh Khan) are members of a special task force that combats drug trafficking. Their main target is a notorious drug lord called KKV (Nirmal Pandey). After a tense encounter, they do succeed in arresting him, but KKV, with his powerful connection manages to get acquitted in court. Javed entire life revolves around his four motherless children. Into this idyllic existence, comes a dastardly ambush; a sudden and cruel burst of gun fire that kills Javed. Arun is devastated. He decides that from now on he will look after Javed's orphaned children. But the children hate him and refuse to have anything to do with him. In sheer desperation, he turns to Geeta (Juhi Chawla) a loud and talkative rustic girl whom Javed had befriended. Geeta comes home with Arun and wins over the children. And then, one day,. as he tails KKV to a nightclub, Arun sees him dancing with a stunningly sexy woman. Its Geeta! Shocked out of his wits, he rushes home angrily confronts Geets. She bursts into tears and swears she was at home all the while. Arun is confussed but all the more determined to solve the mystery and get to the truth."
A fairly familiar story of a pair of cops, one a widower with children, who is killed during a drug lead and leaves his children in the care of the younger partner, played by Bollywood heartthrob Sharukh Khan.
There is a very strange moment (although probably normal in Bollywood films) when the film gets an intermission. The film pauses precisely at the point of when Khan realises his village-girl nanny has a secret identity, blacks out, and then resumes but in reverse, rewinding through the scene. The film then starts up again to bring us up to the point of a cliffhanger, which is a fairly useful device to give you a reminder of what’s going on, were you to be mucking about in the cinema looking for snacks and things for fifteen minutes.
The action scenes are inept with the cops running about like they're in an amateur production, pistols in both fists pointing and firing seemingly without aiming. There is slow-motion and acrobatics, but the overall feel is that of a parody rather than of pleasingly balletic gunplay. Not only is this strange after years of decent action films from both Hollywood and Hong Kong to draw influence from, but when taking into account the care and attention taken in the choreography of the songs it seems odd that some of that wasn’t applied to the action. Obviously the priorities of Bollywood lie elsewhere, but it is strange to think that the majority of Bollywood productions are essentially romantic comedy musicals.
I would of course be happy for anyone to point out a wider range of genre explorations within Bollywood (as opposed to the more arthouse side of Indian cinema), but from what little I know every film will essentially boil down to some romance and songs, possibly with comedy.
The climactic action scene is pretty good though, despite the awkward combat there is lots going on with a truck driving into a plane, a massive shoot-out with people leaping through the air, explosions and Khan pasting the guy who killed his partner before killing him with a prototype engine fan.
Kahn’s love interest, played by Juhi Chawla, is absolutely beautiful and a great comic actress, but the main villain KKV, played by Nirmal Pandey, is a revelation, so scenery-chewingly over the top that he comes out the other side of hammy, convincing you as a slimy drug dealer who is totally and utterly unhinged.
All in all it’s entertaining and funny, the songs are either good or good enough to put up with and most have inventive or bizarre settings, but it really does feel its full three hours.