June 15, 2018
Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor, Jacqueline Fernandez, Bobby Deol, Daisy Shah, Saqib Saleem, Freddy Daruwalla
In a ritual that male stars of the Hindi film industry have followed with religious fervour for too long now, Salman Khan and Bobby Deol strip off their shirts in the closing minutes of Race 3 for an extended sequence of hand-to-hand combat. Some directors in recent years have managed to lend heat or humour to this over-familiar cliché, as Ali Abbas Zafar did last year with Tiger Zinda Hai when Khan’s character – hilariously and memorably – gave ISIS the full blast of his naked torso. Remo D’souza’s Race 3 lacks the panache to turn such triteness on its head and/or to keep it still interesting.
In 2008, Saif Ali Khan redefined “debonair” and directors Abbas-Mustan reinvigorated the action thriller genre in Bollywood with Race, in the able company of Bipasha Basu, Anil Kapoor, Akshaye Khanna and others. The film wove double crosses into double crosses into further double crosses in a novel fashion and was justifiably rewarded with massive box-office collections. The surprise element was gone in 2013’s Race 2, but it remained kinda fun albeit forgettable.
Race 3 is an example of a franchise failing to recognise its own strengths and shooting itself in the foot in the bargain.
One Khan’s entry into this money-spinning series resulted in another Khan’s exit. And Abbas-Mustan have been replaced by D’souza (F.A.L.T.U., ABCD: Any Body Can Dance). The loss is the film’s, entirely.
Salman Khan here plays Sikander Singh, nephew of the dubious billionaire business tycoon Shamsher Singh (Anil Kapoor). We are introduced to Sanjana (Daisy Shah) and Suraj (Saqib Saleem) as Shamsher’s twin children who resent the attention and affection he showers on Sikander. Yash (Bobby Deol) enters this explosive family mix as a fond employee, along with a beautiful traitor who goes by the name Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandez). Shamsher leads a life of luxury in the Middle East but has not forgotten his days in his village in Allahabad.
Since this is the Race series, it goes without saying that twists are piled upon twists unrelentingly from start to finish, and in the suspense department, this third instalment does fare better than Race 2 – which was too obviously conscious of its desire to startle the audience at every turn – although it is not a patch on Race 1. The best of Part 3’s mystery elements are not enough compensation though for the dilution of several pluses that made Race what it was.
In the matter of acting, it goes without saying that Salman is no match for Saif. In Race 3, his face appears even more immobile than it has been in his earlier films. That alone might have been excusable since Salman has in recent years made up for what he lacks in the histrionics department with charming self-deprecation and amusing quirks. Not here.
Race 3’s screenplay by Shiraz Ahmed and the dialogues by Ahmed with Kiran Kotrial have been written not with commitment to the story at hand, as much as a deep and abiding commitment to the leading man (whose company has co-produced this film with Tips) and his by now legendary connect with his core fan following – the rest of the audience be damned.
This is never clearer than in the finale when Khan looks at the camera and directly addresses his fans, as has been his wont through most of his career. Khan a.k.a. Sikander makes them a thinly veiled promise that there will be a Race 4 and teases them by refusing to confirm that he will be a part of it. The problem with this device is that it assumes everyone in the hall is a devotee, and effectively excludes the rest.
In a similar scene just moments earlier, Kapoor too confirms that there will be a Race 4 and he will feature in it. Yet, he remains in character as Shamsher while delivering those lines, he does not stare at the camera and the lines are written in such a way that though the intent is clear, they simultaneously also take the story forward. This is the difference between a star and an actor, a star who is playing to the gallery and an actor whose sincerity to his craft extends to immersing himself in his role even in the silliest of works.
Further emphasising this film’s Salmania is a comment about the dispensability of women – whether in big-banner commercial ventures (as producers, directors and analysts have openly said in the past) or in men’s lives is unclear. When Jessica saves Sikander’s neck in Race 3, she asks him: Main nahin hoti toh kya karte (If I weren’t around, what would you have done)? Koi aur hoti (there would have been another woman), he replies without batting an eyelid, giving her a speaking look.
Read: women don’t matter. Yeah, we got that.
Fernandez and Shah are good with their stunts, and it is particularly nice to see Sanjana cocking a snook at those who are cynical about women and action by modifying her tight skirt for a fight scene in which she turns her stilettos – a constraint in such a scenario, you would assume – into a deadly weapon. Sadly, Shah lacks presence and it is exasperating to imagine that D’souza or his producers felt she could equal Basu’s charisma that was such an important part of Race.
Oh wait. I forgot. Women don’t matter?
Race 2 was replete with bombastic dialoguebaazi. Fortunately for Race 3, silly lines like, “Ise dil nahin Dell kholke dikhao (gist: instead of talking so much, show him the video we have on your Dell computer)” that Sanjana tosses at Suraj do not come too often.
The film has been released both in regular 2D and 3D. I watched the 3D version and I found it rewarding in the sense that it had the effect of drawing a viewer into its world while being intermittently shocking, even if the determination to impress in 3D got too glaring twice when Salman throws his sunglasses at the screen, once early on and once towards the end.
Kapoor is the best thing about this film, even though he is constrained by the not-so-imaginative writing and staccato rhythm of the screenplay that follows this pattern from beginning to end: high-adrenaline action, song, action, song, action, song, action, song. That arrangement is especially problematic because the soundtrack is packed with colourless compositions, redeemed only by Selfish with music by Vishal Mishra, sung by Atif Aslam and Iulia Vantur. “Ek baar baby, selfish hoke, apne liye jiyo na (Just once, baby, be selfish and live for yourself),” it goes. I approve of the sentiment.
The Allah duhai hai reprise retains the original robust tune, but much of its impact is watered down by the way songs are used in the film.
For the record, Kapoor looks handsome and immensely dignified with a grey beard and hair. That he is playing his age ends up underlining the fact that 52-going-on-53-year-old Khan is not. Sikander is 35 years old. Seriously? Why?
Race 3 is perhaps Khan’s way of assuring fans that he does not intend to make a habit of films like the gutsy, politically subversive Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) and the thoughtful even if flawed Tubelight (2017).
To be fair to him and to D’souza, some of the whodunnitandwhy in Race 3 is genuinely engaging, but the film needed more where that came from. Besides, the narrative style is tired and ends up adding nothing new to the Race franchise. Everyone and everything looks pretty and is dressed pretty in Race 3. The evidently expensive production design and the visuals by DoP Ayananka Bose – especially that aerial shot of vehicles in a desert looking like ants from high up above – give the film its polish.
You know what would have added depth to that polish? Saif Ali Khan and a better laid out screenplay.
Rating (out of five stars): *3/4
CBFC Rating (India):
A version of this review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_3