It is known to all ardent movie lovers that Bollywood is no more the brilliant movie spewing machine it used in its peak in the nineties. Old timers can recollect only with a sense of nostalgia how method actors like Chunkey Pandey, Shakti Kapoor and Govinda, in creative collaboration with such avant-garde directors as David Dhawan, Harinam Singh and Kanti Shah, through their untiring dedication and hard work, managed to reach the pinnacle of cinematic artistry, with such varied and classy works as ‘Shola aur Shabnam’, ‘Eena Meena Deeka’, ‘Lal Badshaah’, ‘Dacait Queen’, ‘Phoolan Hasina Ramkali’, ‘Qatil Chudail’ and others. Never before since the Italian renaissance, has a group of such like-minded and yet variously talented artists, through their unbridled enthusiasm and collective passion, delivered such a rich collection of era defining works in such a limited period of time.
But, as the hero used to warn the heroine in such movies, in shrilled background voice while dancing frenetically around trees and being followed by a troupe of overweight middle-aged back up dancers, good times do not last forever. The selling out of our nation’s soul through the so-called liberal economic policies of Manmohan Singh, set in motion a chain of events that resulted in virtual decimation of all our prized heritages, cultural prides and indigenous small industries, including our movies. The Americanization and globalization of Bollywood has resulted in filmmakers forsaking all their proud legacies and instead engaging in a self-destructive race of making cheap imitation Hollywood movies (and not even good ones like the Kimi Katkar starrer ‘Tarzan’.)
In this period of doom and gloom, the only silver lining of hope has been the arrival of the new cultural phenomenon of remaking South Indian classics. The re-emergence of the super star middle aged out of shape male hero, the twenty years younger super dumb totally hot female heroine, the hero’s comedy sidekick, one dimensional mustachioed distortion of facial muscles called the villain, some super shoddy choreography and special effects and finally the head pounding loud noise playing throughout the movie (also known as background music) have left all the Bollywood aficionados enthralled – after all, who does not like a bit of the sweet nineties in this day and age of globalized assembly line production of banalities. While nothing can compare the joy of watching original Bollywood masterpieces of the nineties (after all, who else can ask existential questions like, “Choli ke piche kya hai?”), as the Bengalis say – When you cannot have milk, be happy with buttermilk.
It is thus with great joy that I welcome the release of ‘Gabbar is back’. ‘Gabbar’, like most of these South Indian remakes, has everything going for it. It has a hero who performs physics defying stunts while playing the role of a physics professor. It has a heroine who stars in the movie for a lot of reasons, but acting skill is not one of them. It has a villain who clenches fists, shouts in anger and gets beaten by the hero and repeats this cycle again and again, until someone tells him the movie got over. It has a plotline which is so one-dimensional that you cannot even call it a line anymore. It has a gratuitous item number featuring a once promising actress, long past her days of modest glory. It also has another cameo by a well known actress, presumably done for free, which just reminds us how nothing good has ever even done for free. It has background music which is slightly better than what would come out when a bunch of horny, stoned monkeys are locked inside a room packed with musical instruments. In other words, this movie is just awesome.
But like all great movies, its greatness lies beyond the obvious. The creators of the movie (God bless them) intelligently leaves behind subtle hints and deliberate question marks through out the movie, which if deeply studied can leave you more mind fucked than a reading of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. For example, consider the following lyrics:
Kundi mat khadkao raja
Seedha andar aao raja
Ha aah ha
Kundi mat khadkao raja
Seedha andar aao raja
Phool bicha perfume laga ke
Mood banao taaja taaja
Now a lot of people may find the lyrics too vulgar for their tastes. But what do they do not understand is like all great Hindi film songs (e.g., ‘sarkailo khatiya jada lage’ and ‘tutak tutak tutiya’ ), this too is an allegory. This is actually a veiled criticism of the vile Land Acquisition Act. Here the lyricist is alluding to our morally bankrupt governments inviting foreign direct investors (‘Seedha andar aao raja’) to not only penetrate the soul of our holy nation but also offering so many sops and benefits (‘Phool bicha perfume laga ke’) in order to get them in the mood for doling out fresh, greenfield projects (‘mood banao taaja taaja’).
Here are a few of the other mind boggling questions that haunt the viewer as he walks away satisfied after 131 minutes well spent watching this tour de force (I am sure there are far more of them, but it will take a true connoisseur to intricately extract them from deep within this movie):
- Why is the director of this movie called Krish? Has anyone ever heard of a director who wanted to conceal his name in the opening credits? Or is it a reference to the great superhero that Gabbar is, who unlike Batman, is a hero, Mumbai neither deserves nor needs? Or is the director a real superhero, an idea not to be entirely disregarded considering the awesomeness of the movie?
- Why does the villain call himself a brand, ad nauseam? And why does the climax look like a sloppy B-school marketing competition with the hero and the villain fighting over who has a higher brand value?
- Why is google more concerned with Shruti Hassan’s maa-behen than her?
- Why does Gabbar abduct ten tehsildars at a time, when he kills only one and releases the rest?
- Why, after delivering a baby in a car with the help of nothing but an internet search engine, is Shruti Hassan only worried about cutting an umbilical cord with a Swiss knife?
- Why did I watch this movie?
- Why would a college be named ‘National College’? Although on second thoughts, if an IPL team can be called ‘Mumbai Indians’, a college can also be named ‘National College’. But how does it manage to offer law, physics and medicine in the same campus?
- How can three poorly constructed buildings collapse at the same time and be reduced to rubbles?
- Where is a crocin when I need one?
- Why does the body of the villain bounce on the lawn after being given an almighty kick by Gabbar, like a Mitchell Johnson bouncer on a first day WACA pitch?
The movie provides no answers to these searching questions. But, I guess, in order to be a great movie, you have to have a few questions un-answered for the audience at the end (think about ‘Birdman’ or ‘Inception’ or ‘Jaani Dushman – Ek Anokhi Kahani’). But what this movie provides is two and a half hours of stupendous fun and throwback to the great days of the nineties, for which we can always be grateful to Krish, whoever the fuck he is.