Friday, September 30, 2011

REVIEW 77: SAHEB BIWI AUR GANGSTER

Release date:
September 30, 2011
Director:
Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast:
Mahie Gill, Jimmy Shergill, Randeep Hooda


This is the most sex I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hindi film which has no apparent ambition to be sleazy. Thankfully the scenes have been shot aesthetically. And while they’re a significant part of Saheb Biwi aur Gangster (SBAG), there’s more to this film than the beds and rock formations against which its protagonists give vent to their lust.

SBAG is the story of Saheb, scion of an erstwhile royal family in North India with political ambitions, a wife driven crazy by neglect, a mistress on whom he fritters away his dwindling wealth and a stepmother who maintains a tight hold on the purse strings. Saheb’s desperation to keep up appearances & his decadent lifestyle lead to a rivalry with local criminal Gainda Singh who plants his man Babbloo in the household as the driver of Saheb’s wife aka Chhoti Bahu. This mole completes the titular trio of a Saheb (Jimmy Shergill), a Biwi (Mahie Gill) and a Gangster (Randeep Hooda). Political intrigue, crime and betrayal … throw them into the pot with these protagonists and you get an enjoyable film neatly wrapped up in just two hours.

The strength of SBAG is its snug writing by Tigmanshu Dhulia (also the director) and Sanjay Chouhan. The story is a complete departure from all the politics-meets-the-underworld films we’ve seen in recent years; the dialogues are neat and crisp. With Dhulia at the helm of affairs, the lead actors deliver top-notch performances whether it’s Shergill as the arrogant yet desperate king-without-a-kingdom, Gill as his wife whose lunacy hides more than meets the eye, or Hooda – my pick of this cast – who switches chameleon-like from aggression to insecurity, opportunism, jealousy, helpless passion and heartbreak without overdoing the emotions for even a moment. It’s a mystery why Indian filmdom has had so little to offer this talented and attractive actor who we first saw on the big screen in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. Rajeev Gupta delivers a brilliant supporting performance as a slimy state minister Prabhu Tiwari whose backstabbing leads to comical yet chilling situations, while Vipin Sharma as Gainda Singh is remarkable during his interactions with Tiwari.

Is Saheb Biwi aur Gangster a remake of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam? Let’s just call it a tribute. Not only is that 1960s classic in a league of its own, this modern interpretation rewrites Abrar Alvi’s characters completely. Gill’s Chhoti Bahu is far less helpless and vulnerable than Meena Kumari’s Chhoti Bahu in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. And the ferociously lustful sexual encounters between her and Babbloo are a million miles away from the movingly hesitant relationship that developed between Guru Dutt’s Bhoothnath and his memsahib all those years ago.

Director Tigmanshu Dhulia builds on his strong foundation in SBAG with a steady hand that keeps this film pacy throughout. He is the man behind that wonderful love-and-crime-on-the-Allahabad-University-campus thriller Haasil that arrived and disappeared from theatres in 2003, done in by its pathetic promotions. His subsequent films – Charas and this year’s Shagird – haven’t matched up to that brilliant debut, though in Shagird he did give us one of the most interesting characters Nana Patekar has ever played. Saheb Biwi aur Gangster isn’t on the same level as Haasil, but it’s highly entertaining all the same. One memorable scene features Saheb at a window, speaking on the phone to the minister as he watches Babbloo standing below and talking on the phone too; Babbloo is at that very moment in conversation with Gainda Singh who happens to be in the minister’s room at precisely the same time. In an earlier scene infused with an uncommon blend of comedy and high tension, Saheb arrives at Tiwari’s office, while Tiwari is closeted with Gainda Singh. Hide in the toilet, the minister tells Singh in a state of panic. Singh’s protestations, Saheb’s entry and their confrontation are smoothly put together. The locations have been well chosen to convey the film’s small-town setting. And the art director’s work on Saheb’s palace is an apt signifier of bygone glory.

Where the film flounders is in serving up some tacky extras who are part of an unexpectedly poorly handled shootout involving Saheb, his mistress, his loyal lieutenant Kanhaiya, Babbloo and Gainda Singh; a couple of superfluous sex scenes that seemed to have been thrown in for effect; a couple of not-so-credible plot twists especially a crucial one involving a character behind a curtain to whom Chhoti Bahu makes a confession; and music that sounds pleasant enough, yet is too much like something you’ve heard before. But much is forgiven if you succumb to the overall impact of this unusual film.

Very very nice, Mr Dhulia!
.
Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating:                       A without cuts (Hard to believe but true! The Indian Censors are growing up!)
Running time:                        120 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy: http://www.sahibbiwiaurgangster.com/     

Saturday, September 24, 2011

REVIEW 76: MAUSAM

Release date:
September 23, 2011
Director:
Pankaj Kapur
Cast:
Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor


I can’t believe that Pankaj Kapur has done what he’s done to Mausam! About one hour into the film I found myself thinking, Great job Mr K – you’ve got a winner on your hands. And then the film went on and on and on … and on and on and on … coming up with twists and turns that seemed deliberately and painstakingly contrived (no other word for it!) to keep the lead pair apart! Oh Mr Kapur, how could you have willfully spoilt what could have been a gem of a film?!


The basic story is this: Harry is a carefree youngster in Mallukot in Punjab. The year is 1992, the state is remembering to forget the ghosts of its recent terror-torn past, and Harry is surrounded by family, friends, happiness and laughter. Enter the beautiful Aayat who’s been sent to a relative’s home here by her father to escape from terror-stricken Kashmir. When Harry says to his friends one sunny afternoon in Mallukot, “Bluestar mara nahin, Ayodhya paida ho gaya,” you know this will not be a simple love story. Harry is smitten by Aayat but before she can reveal her feelings to him, she leaves Mallukot without a word. The years pass, they meet, they part again, and the cosmos seems to be plotting against them. Mausam takes us through a decade in India’s communal calendar – the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Mumbai bomb blasts, Kargil, the Gujarat riots – and global events that keep two young lovers apart.

I can imagine what debutant director Pankaj Kapur was striving for in this film – an epic tale of star-crossed lovers torn apart by historical events, at the scale of Dr Zhivago. Perhaps as a tribute to David Lean’s classic, there’s even a scene in Mausam in which Harry on a moving train spots Aayat outside while she fails to see him. But Yuri Zhivago and Lara were separated by credible circumstances and events that flowed naturally and believably. Many of the developments that keep Harry and Aayat away from each other, however, seem to arise from their own foolishness or the scriptwriter’s lack of imagination. The first part of the film in Mallukot is well-written and well-directed, but years later when the couple are re-united and Aayat explains to Harry the reason for her disappearance, all I could think was: “And you couldn’t have just walked over to his house and told him that back then?!!!” Too many coincidences, too much happenstance … calls don’t get connected, people aren’t at home just when the protagonists phone them, people don’t try again if they get an answering machine the first time … I could have forgetten all those in the tenderness of Harry and Aayat’s final coming together IF the director had not then proceeded to stretch the story even further with a baby and a white horse that is meant to be symbolic but really looks quite silly! And nothing, yes nothing, screams out a director or producer’s lack of confidence in their product more than a song-and-dance at the end that’s in complete contrast to the mood of the entire film.

But let me dwell on the loveliness of the first hour of Mausam for a while. The languorous, old-world romance between Harry and Aayat is so appealingly different from the frenzied pace of love we’re more used to seeing in Hindi films since the 1970s. The couple are rarely shown touching, but when he sees her on an upstairs balcony in her home, he caresses her shadow that falls on the wall below. In the first real ‘conversation’ they have, they write notes to each other while seated in the same room, because they don’t want to awaken his sister who is lying fast asleep between them. There’s energy, humour, poignancy and pathos in that tightly executed first half, and actors Shahid Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor carry it through with conviction.

Shahid is completely, utterly loveable as the chirpy, youthful Harry with not a care in the world. But he doesn’t quite manage to pull off the more intense, older Squadron Leader Harinder Singh in later years, despite some very subtle make-up changes that add a few barely noticeable lines to his forehead to signify the passage of time. Sonam as Aayat is given barely any meat to sink her teeth into, but within those limitations she sustains her part throughout, playing a diffident yet mischievous girl in the first half and the tragic woman in Part 2.

A word about Shahid’s moustache in his Air Force officer avatar – doesn’t work! If the team was looking for a way to make that likeable boyish face appear older, they should have opted for the stubble and then beard he adopts right towards the end.

At a political level, the film starts off on solid ground but ends on a whimper. By making Aayat a Muslim, Mausam bravely makes the point that terror has affected the lives of everyone in Kashmir irrespective of religion. But unlike director Onir’s beautiful 2011 film I Am that takes a tough position on the misfortunes of Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, unlike that lovely Dharm in which Pankaj Kapur played a Hindu priest who adopts a child without realising that it was born of Muslim parents, Mausam plays it safe. Considering that there are many right wing elements in our society who believe Godhra was a justification for the Gujarat riots, Mausam’s decision to skip Godhra entirely and jump straight to the Gujarat riots feels like a cop-out, providing fodder to fundamentalist Hindus who accuse secular, moderate Hindus of being apologists for the Muslim community. Forget that tricky question, Mausam even pussyfoots around the communal divide between our lead couple – we are told that her father worries because Harry is a Punjabi and Aayat is a Kashmiri, not because of their religious differences. Oh c’mon, after the Saif Ali Khan-Kareena Kapoor-starrer Kurbaan in 2009 in which a man frankly raises concerns about his prospective son-in-law’s religion, such gingerly behavior from Mausam appears odd.

So on the assets side of its balance sheet, Mausam has an attractive lead pair with good on-screen chemistry, a strong supporting cast, two good songs (Rabba main toh mar gaya oye and Saj dhaj ke), lovely locations (from rural India to Scotland and Switzerland), and striking cinematography. Its liabilities are a screenplay that weakens as the film moves along, self-indulgent direction and its unnecessary length – no, we didn’t need to see that Mozart concert or Aayat taking ballet lessons or all those extreme close-ups! What a lost opportunity Mausam is! 

Rating (out of five): **1/2

CBFC Rating:                        U without cuts
Running time:                        170 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi


Photograph courtesy: http://mausam-thefilm.com/    

Saturday, September 10, 2011

REVIEW 75: MERE BROTHER KI DULHAN

Release date:
September 9, 2011
Director:
Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast:
Katrina Kaif, Imran Khan, Ali Zafar, Kanwaljeet Singh, Parikshit Sahni, Tara D’souza


It’s not tough to guess the final outcome of Mere Brother ki Dulhan (MBKD) once you’ve read the title, seen the promos and watched the first 15 minutes of the film. But that doesn’t matter because of course, it’s the journey to the climax that counts.

Mere Brother ki Dulhan is the story of two brothers and a new woman in their lives. Fresh from a break-up with his girlfriend in London where he lives and works, Luv Agnihotri (Ali Zafar) asks his brother Kush (Imran Khan) to find him a bride. Kush zeroes in on wild child Dimple Dixit (Katrina Kaif). But before Luv returns to India to get hitched, Kush and Dimple fall in love with each other. Question is: Will they act on those feelings? And how will they extricate themselves from this complicated mess?

Debutant director Ali Abbas Zafar – who is credited with the story, screenplay and dialogues – clearly has a penchant for humour, but isn’t consistent with it here. He also appears to have instructed his leading lady to spend the entire duration of MBKD with her eyes widened to saucer size, which is fine in places, but feels over-the-top elsewhere. In an industry that tends to focus most of its time, money and skills on its male leading stars, it’s refreshing to see that this film revolves largely around Katrina. She throws herself into the role with gusto, but there’s a difference between being cute and cutesy and she crosses that line too often with her performance, which made me sorely miss director Imtiaz Ali’s handling of the madcap Geet played by Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met. The fault here lies with the actress’ and the director’s interpretation of a female rebel: being a free spirit is not the same as being an ass. Katrina’s Dimple in several places comes across as ditsy (like her character in Tees Maar Khan last year), foolish, immature and childish, instead of alluringly, irresistibly crazy which I suspect is the intention. Having seen her in this year’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, we know she’s capable of much better.

Despite this, there’s something appealing about the youthful shenanigans of the film’s lead trio. It helps that MBKD does not ask to be taken too seriously (which is why I’m willing to pretend that I didn’t notice that the placement of Dimple’s fingers on her guitar don’t match the music that’s actually playing in the background or that the routes the film’s various players take when they get to Delhi show a poor understanding of the Capital’s map). Imran and Katrina don’t share the same chemistry as Imran and Deepika did in Break ke Baad, but there’s an ease in their interactions that’s likeable. Pakistani actor Ali Zafar (who Bollywood discovered in Tere Bin Laden) has a rather studied style of dialogue delivery, but he still fits the part of the elder brother who dithers in relationships. And it’s nice to see the trouble that’s gone into casting Kush’s best buddies, Luv’s ex (newcomer Tara D’souza) and the lead couple’s parents, especially Dimple’s elegantly dignified dad who’s in the foreign service (Kanwaljeet Singh) and Luv-Kush’s army colonel father (Parikshit Sahni).

The search for Kush’s bride leads to comical situations as one has come to expect in contemporary films about arranged marriages, but MBKD does not dwell upon them to the point of repetitiveness, nor does the film mock the practice. A point is also quietly made when a creep in MBKD assumes that Dimple the rock chick would sleep with him because that’s what such women do: Luv cautions her that any woman like her will repeatedly encounter such men in India but no, that does not mean she should change. That’s a fine line to tread and Ali Abbas Zafar does it wisely and well. Having said that, I do wish that the film had not made such a point of Dimple’s smoking and drinking ways as part of the ‘liberal woman’ package – it’s almost as though Hindi filmdom is collectively convinced that every ‘liberal’ woman would necessarily be fond of alcohol. Dimple swills booze and smokes beedis, but her life’s ambition is restricted to marrying a rich guy whose money she can blithely spend.

On the downside then, too much in this film is underlined and then re-stressed in the effort to be funny. The bride’s pre-wedding panic, for instance, seems contrived. And her drunken scene atop a jeep is decidedly flat ... as are many of the references to other Hindi films (the bow to Dabangg is so forced and so planned that I could see it coming from a mile). On the plus side though, there is much in the film that is genuinely funny, my favourite scene being the one in which Kush and Luv’s ex-girlfriend Piali play badminton with Piya tu ab to aaja in the background. And unlike many films of this genre, it does not let go of its light touch in favour of mawkish melodrama in the climax.

In the ultimate analysis then, MBKD is an inconsistent film that feels somewhat like a fling – I’m not in love with it, it’s forgettable, but it was fun while it lasted.

Rating (out of five): **1/2

CBFC Rating:                       U/A without cuts
Running time:                        142 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi


Friday, September 9, 2011

REVIEW 74: MUMMY PUNJABI

Release date:
August 31, 2011
Director:
Pammi Somal
Cast:
Kirron Kher, Kanwaljeet Singh, Jackie Shroff, Sachin Sharma, Viraf Patel, Nimisha Goswami, Urvashi Gandhi, Simran Vaid, Special appearance by Gurdass Mann


The saddest part of watching Mummy Punjabi is the realisation that Kirron Kher deserves better, but is tragically limited by the Hindi film industry because of its narrow vision for female character actors. Equally sad is the fact that the concept of this film is very real and the basic storyline is moving. But as we all know, that is just not enough.

Mummy Punjabi is about an elderly couple in Chandigarh with children of marriageable age. Mom (Kirron Kher) – the focal point of the film – is an attractive and feisty busybody who spends her days trying to get brides for her two sons. For reasons that are explained only in passing, she’s not worried about her daughter at all. Dad seems to love her despite the jibes he constantly throws her way and his open condescension towards her. The film follows the mother’s efforts to plan out her children’s lives and the loneliness the elderly must contend with when their young ones leave the nest, capturing the human tendency to work towards certain goals while not watching out for the inevitable consequences.

It’s the story of lakhs of well-off Punjabi couples who send their children to the West in search of what they believe is a better life, forgetting that the US is not quite around the corner. Debutant director Pammi Somal knows Chandigarh and its people well. That’s clear right from the choice of her heroine’s name (Kher is “Baby” in the film, though everyone addresses her as “Mummyji”) to the poignance of that spacious house and sprawling lawns with no one but a gray-haired husband and wife to occupy it towards the end. But though Baby/Mummyji is a character that’s been well-thought-out, well cast and well acted, the same can’t be said of the rest of the players in the film.

Inconsistent screenplay, characterisation and casting; indifferent music; questionable production values; attention-diverting sub-plots ... Mummy Punjabi suffers from all this and more. Mummyji and her husband feel like real people. But their nosy and glamorous maid (played by Divya Dutta) comes across as a caricature. Too much footage is devoted to this irritating satellite character. Other supporting roles are played by actors with limited charisma and/or talent. And Jackie Shroff lumbers through his performance as Mummyji’s devoted suitor from her college days, with a beard and turban that seem to greatly weigh him down.

Kher has played the loud Punjabi mother so many times that I bet she knows this role like the back of her hand. She balances out her character’s boisterousness in Mummy Punjabi with some emotionally wrenching moments. Kanwaljeet (playing Mummyji’s husband) is an attractive actor who has aged with both dignity and grace. But he is hemmed in here by some very awkward dialogue writing.

Where Mummy Punjabi worked for me is in the latter half of the second half, when the couple must cope with an empty nest. The mellowing of their relationship, the companionship they provide each other, the apparent purposelessness of their lives all added up to give me a lump in my throat. Good job here, Ms Somal! I also appreciate the fact that the film adopts a non-judgmental tone towards the children: they do love their parents but are simply caught up in the circle of life and with the business of living. This is an interesting contrast to that hit mainstream film on the elderly, Baghban, in which every single one of Amitabh-Hema’s sons and their wives are painted as personifications of evil, perhaps because moderation is not as immediately attractive to mainstream viewers as extreme positions and exaggerations. Unfortunately, Mummy Punjabi takes too long to arrive at this juncture, and there’s no escaping the overall amateurish feel of this film which is trying too hard to be cute, cool and funny in too many places (right from the silly title to Mummyji’s pathetic English) and is downright stupid in parts (I barfed at the marriage bureau owner’s overtures towards Mummyji).

Worst of all, the film has been made in English, but for reasons best known to the production house, they previewed the dubbed Hindi version for the Delhi press. The mismatch between the lip movements of the actors and the dialogues we hear is exceedingly distracting in this version (cleverer translations, anyone?). But despite my devotion to duty, I could not bring myself to visit a theatre to watch this film a second time, to check if the English original is any better. Another two hours of my life frittered away?! No way!

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating:                       U without cuts
Running time:                        122 Minutes
Language:                              English (a dubbed Hindi version has also been released)

Photograph courtesy: http://mummypunjabi.com/

Saturday, September 3, 2011

REVIEW 73: THAT GIRL IN YELLOW BOOTS

Release date:
August 31, 2011
Director:
Anurag Kashyap
Cast:
Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah, Prashant Prakash, Naseeruddin Shah, Puja Sarup, Kartik Krishnan


 Unusual title, unusual storyline, intriguing first half, a second half that dissipates the pre-interval gains, resulting in a film that’s overall a disappointing experience … that sums up my feelings towards That Girl In Yellow Boots.

The promising opening introduces us to Ruth (Kalki Koechlin), a British national in Mumbai, struggling to renew her visa while she searches for her Indian father who left the family when she was a child. Ruth works in a massage parlour and is open to giving her male clients a “handshake” for an additional Rs 1,000. The visa authorities, the police, her no-good boyfriend’s creditor … they’re all out to exploit this white girl with the sleazy job, knowing that she’s desperate to stay on in Mumbai at all costs.

So far so good. Kalki is spot-on as the tourist who works without a work permit, knowing the “favours” she will have to dole out to those who discover the truth. The smaller roles too are well performed especially by debutant Prashant Prakash as Ruth’s junkie boyfriend who is not above exploiting her in his own way; Shaitan’s virulently violent Gulshan Devaiah who lends him money and now wants Ruth to pay up in kind; Naseeruddin Shah as Ruth’s fond client who wants nothing more than an honest massage from her; and Puja Sarup as the massage parlour manager/receptionist whose frivolous and incessant telephone chatter is hilarious. Aided by some good dialogue writing, these sundry characters go about their daily business in precisely the way you’d expect them to in the so-called City of Dreams.

This is not a Mumbai of glamour and glitz, nor is it about slime, grime, the basest elements in the underworld or extreme poverty. This is Semi-Middle Mumbai, where the builder who wants a “handshake” from Ruth is embarrassed at the demands he’s making, where Ruth likes to keep her floor spotlessly clean but can do nothing about those filthy walls. With the help of Rajeev Ravi’s atmospheric cinematography and Wasiq Khan’s production design, director Anurag Kashyap brings to us this disturbing Mumbai and his hemmed-in characters in a way only he can, with his distinctive sense of humour, in a style that’s as real and natural as it gets. Ruth is a particularly interesting creature – despite the abuse she is subjected to, she still manages to retain a certain feisty sense of independence that is almost inspiring. I particularly enjoyed hearing her dip into her constantly expanding Hindi vocabulary to tell a cheating autorickshaw driver: main firangan hoon isliye mujhe ch****a banane ki koshish mat karna.

But the story goes awry in the second half when a straightforward account is given an unexpected twist that suddenly makes it feel like a thriller-you-never-expected-it-to-be. No doubt the intention was to put the spotlight on a serious issue (I won’t say what), but the progression of events feels forced and the ending contrived. I must add that this is the one and only issue I had with Kashyap’s debut film as a director, the very brilliant Paanch that was inexplicably not released by the producer even after a Censor ban on it was lifted about a decade back: that film too took an unforeseen turn right at the end, a turn that came across as being completely unnatural and jarring in comparison with the mood of the rest of the film. I remember discovering back then that that climax was not Kashyap’s choice but was shoved down his throat by the producer. But Kashyap himself is the producer of That Girl In Yellow Boots so I wonder where this ending came from.

More’s the pity because I really did like the look and feel of the first half of That Girl In Yellow Boots, and the concept is certainly uncommon. Despite my reservations about the film’s climax, I also enjoyed that cleverly inserted fleeting look-in by Rajat Kapoor – a guest appearance that serves to throw us off track, that actually serves a purpose instead of being a mere gimmick! Don’t ask me what I mean – you’ll know if you watch the film. My lips are sealed!

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating:                       A with four sound cuts
Running time:                        115 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Thursday, September 1, 2011

REVIEW 72: BODYGUARD

Release date:
August 31, 2011
Director:
Siddique
Cast:
Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Rajat Rawail, a teeny appearance by Vidya Sinha (yes Vidya of Chhoti si Baat and Rajnigandha fame)

Okay, so Salman Khan is cute. We get it!!! He was cute in Partner. He was cute in Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya. He was incredibly cute in Wanted and Dabangg. He was cute even in Ready with its unabashed reliance on his cuteness and fan following to carry it through. He is cute once again in Bodyguard, but even a cute megastar needs a real movie wrapped around him. And by that I mean an M-O-V-I-E, not a mere stringing together of scenes that are so dependent on the leading man’s ability to drive his followers crazy, that the team has not made much of an effort to tighten the editing, sharpen the dialogue writing or rev up the wit.

Here are a few things that work in favour of Bodyguard:
1.      Salman is cute
2.      Salman gives us generous displays of his well-sculpted torso
3.      Kareena is pretty
4.      Kareena’s wardrobe is pretty too

But points 1-4 apply to pretty much every movie that these two stars have worked in. So iske aage kuchh kijiye please.

Bodyguard is the Hindi remake of the hit 2010 Malayalam film of the same name starring Dileep and Nayantara. Its Tamil version Kaavalan with Vijay and Asin was released earlier this year to an enthusiastic response. Siddique has directed all three films. The story here remains the same as the original. Lovely Singh (Salman) is hired as the private security guard of Divya (Kareena), the daughter of a rich man. Irritated by Lovely’s over-zealous devotion to duty, Divya tries to distract him by calling him from her cellphone pretending to be an admirer. Since her number shows up as a “private number” on Lovely’s phone, he doesn’t realise that the girl claiming to be Chhaya at the other end of the line is in fact his Divya Madam. Gradually, Lovely starts developing feelings for the faceless Chhaya, and before she knows it, Divya too falls in love with him. But can their love withstand her father’s opposition? And when Lovely realises that Chhaya is Divya, will he agree to continue the relationship or bow to her family’s wishes?

That’s the kernel of the story. If you’ve seen the film’s southern Indian forebears, you’ll know how the rest plays out. The plus point of Bodyguard is that Salman gets more likeable with each film, though of course what he’s doing is not acting – it’s called Being Salman Khan. No complaints with that, so long as the star and the story are put together well enough to deliver an entertaining package. Sadly, though Bodyguard starts off well enough with generous doses of humour and Salmanness, it starts dragging post interval and fizzles out completely in the end.

Unlike the heroines of many of Salman’s recent films, in Bodyguard Kareena is not treated merely as a glamorous appendage to the hero’s antics. She has a substantial part to play in the film. But neither Salman’s charisma, nor Kareena’s acting and eye-catching kurtas can compensate for Bodyguard’s overall dullness. The music too is not particularly memorable, despite the sweet-but-that’s-about-it title track composed by Himesh Reshammiya and Pritam’s I love you which is well sung and melodic though generic. And Katrina Kaif’s minuscule appearance in one number doesn’t serve any purpose.

Salman’s directors in recent years have made every effort to build him up as a sort of Rajinikanth of the North. Well, the Rajini package is what it is because of wacky dialogue writing and brilliantly executed, imaginatively conceived action sequences. Bodyguard doesn’t offer us much beyond a character telling Lovely Singh, “Tum bodyguard nahin, Itchguard ho” with no contextual relevance whatsoever. And Lovely’s mantra in the film, “Mujhpar ek ehsaan karna ki mujh par kabhi ehsaan na karna”, is hardly hard-hitting or clever enough to merit the repeat play it gets in the film. The stunts in Bodyguard are not particularly novel either. In fact, the film’s action choreographer even borrows from Dabangg’s climax in which the wind ripped the shirt off the tall, strapping villain (Sonu Sood) and then tore the shirt off Chulbul Pandey (Salman) to drive home the point that the comparatively gigantic bad guy was no match for our heroic little package of dynamite. Witness the final fight in Bodyguard with a similar sequence of events but half the impact. What Salman needs are more ingenious fight directors and writers who could give him more Salman-esque lines such as Wanted’s “Ek baar jo maine commitment ki, toh main khud ki bhi nahin sunta”. Without any of these ingredients, Bodyguard ends up as a sort-of-entertaining film with an enjoyable-even-if-mindless first half, good-looking lead players and several clich├ęs; a film that appears to take committed fans terribly for granted.

My favourite moment in Bodyguard is when a member of Divya’s household (Rajat Rawail in an interesting debut) reads “private number” as “Parvati Nambiar”. Now why couldn’t we have had more of that in the film?

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating:                       U/A without cuts
Running time:                        131 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

PS: Does the “masala” tag give writers and directors the right to be irresponsible and insensitive? So okay, some jokes about disabilities (however offensive) have to be accepted in the interests of realism, because they reflect the street language of our country. But while the world debates the correctness and acceptability of terms such as midget / dwarf / vertically challenged person / person of slight stature / little people, here in India, in a scene in Bodyguard Lovely Singh blithely refers to Divya’s small-sized classmate as a “handbag” to be contrasted with a “suitcase”! Oh wait, I’m not allowed to have such objections to a “masala” film, right Bollywood?!

Photograph courtesy: http://www.bodyguardthefilm.com/