Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Crew: Girls just wanna have fun and break the law – Bollywood finally gets it (Review 801)


Release date:

March 29, 2024


Rajesh A. Krishnan


Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kriti Sanon, Rajesh Sharma, Saswata Chatterjee, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Kapil Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh, Trupti Khamkar




Why are women-centric films always about serious issues? Why don’t we get to act in crazy comedies of the kind routinely made for guys? I remember Madhuri Dixit Nene raising these questions in an interview she gave me about 20 years back while I was with The Indian Express. Back then, blue moons would pass between goofy, fun flicks revolving around women, such as Seeta aur Geeta (1972) starring Hema Malini, Khoobsurat (1980) with Rekha, Chaalbaaz (1989) headlined by the great Sridevi, and Dixit’s own Raja (1995). The Hindi film industry’s approach to comedies is still unfair to women, but it has improved in recent years, owing considerably to the producer Rhea Kapoor whose latest screen adventure is Crew, jointly produced by Ektaa Kapoor, directed by Rajesh A. Krishnan, written by Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri.     

Starring Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kriti Sanon, Crew comes not far behind 2023’s Thank You for Coming! in which Bhumi Pednekar’s character (spoiler alert, hehe) attained sexual nirvana at her own hands after years of trial and error in bed with men. In Crew, Geeta Sethi (Tabu), Jasmine (Kapoor Khan) and Divya Rana (Sanon) have settled for their respective Plan Bs because Plan A has not (or not yet) worked out. They are flight attendants on a sinking ship called Kohinoor Airlines run by the stinking rich and corrupt Vijay Walia. The minimal effort invested in disguising the real-life entities referenced here is just one of the sources of amusement coming at us from all directions in Crew 


Geeta has long wanted to use her PF to start an eatery in Goa with her husband (Kapil Sharma), but Kohinoor is not paying up. Jasmine is waiting for her business idea to find takers. Divya was an academic achiever and ace athlete in school whose actual aim was to be a pilot. As Kohinoor gradually goes under and the friends see their dreams receding further into the distance, they decide to break the law in a bid to improve their bank balances and ultimately, to also get back at the unscrupulous Walia. Their mini scams culminate in one big fat heist.  


Crew has no pretensions to being intellectual. The tone is determinedly flip for the most part. To dismiss it as mindless would be wrong though. In a cinematic universe where Dixit Nene’s hope for women is still only being fulfilled in baby steps, Crew’s significance lies in the way it defies the industry’s tradition of equating “women-centric” with “grave” and “weepie”.  


Discrimination, harassment and violence are intrinsic to the experience of being female in most cultures, but laughter is one of the tools that helps us survive – and finally, finally, the Hindi film industry seems to be getting it. Crew is part of the emerging trend sparked by this realisation. The bonus here is that, as with other women-led Hindi film comedies so far, the director and writers of Crew too demonstrate that it is possible to elicit laughs without being sexist in the way makers of mass-targeted men-centric comedies usually are.  


After years of crass quips about women’s bodies and rape jokes in men-centric comedies, it is a pleasure to see the agency in a film’s humour being handed to its women characters, and to watch these women crack up as they toss double entendre about themselves at each other without trivialising violence or themselves or women at large. When a passenger gets handsy with one of the trio in Crew, his conduct is not humourised. What is humourised is his shock at a woman striking back. And guess what, Dudes Who Write Sexist Comedy? Team Mehra & Suri have written an entire women-centred comedy film without a single wisecrack about the rape of men. 


The lesson from Crew for the likes of Indra Kumar (the Masti series) and Sajid Khan (Housefull 2) is this: you can joke about sex without demeaning other genders, without making light of violence, and without lazily aiming at the oppressed and their oppression. 


The film is high on energy owing to its unrelenting plot developments and infectious music, in particular the reboot of the blockbuster number Choli ke peeche from Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak (1993) and Sona kitna sona hai remixed from David Dhawan’s Hero No. 1 (1997). Geeta, Jasmine and Divya are spunky, funny and flawed. Though they have a mountain of troubles on their plates, their ruminative and sorrowful moments are never maudlin.  


Crew’s script and craft could have done with some polishing up though. There is, for instance, an awkwardly shot post-interval scene in which the three women hide behind a luggage trolley, and for some seconds, it looks like a decapitated Kapoor Khan’s head is on top of a suitcase. Sanon does not come off much better in that frame. If this was intentional, it would have been a hoot, but it comes across as unwitting. Greater finesse would have made Crew a better film and a different film but as things stand, it is both entertaining and thoughtful, despite its rough edges.  


I want to believe that Crew’s and Laapataa Ladies’ simultaneous success at the box office marks an important turning point for the representation of women in mainstream Hindi cinema. For the record, both are very different. Laapataa Ladies is sublime and finessed. Crew is rambunctious (in a good way) but some of the writing also feels hurried. The heist, for instance, is simplistic. What makes it work nevertheless is that the narrative pace and the cast’s conviction leave little time for analysis. Frankly, I have felt no differently about most heist films I have watched. This genre tends to demand a suspension of disbelief. A filmmaker’s challenge is to convince the audience that the film is worth that effort. Krishnan is very much up to the task. 


Geeta, Jasmine and Divya get equal treatment and space in Crew’s screenplay. Cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan has also shot them without celebrating one body over the other, without being sheepish about any one’s girth or complexion, without de-emphasising any one’s age.  

Tabu is now reportedly 52, Kapoor Khan is 43, Sanon is 33. The camera does not make any visible distinction between them. Any concessions made have been made unobtrusively.  


Dhawan’s work in Crew, no doubt in keeping with Krishnan’s vision, is a reminder that, as I wrote in The Economic Times in the context of Laapataa Ladies, “‘The male gaze’ is not merely ‘the gaze of a man’. It is the gaze of a man who lacks empathy... Likewise, ‘the female gaze’ is not merely ‘the gaze of a woman’. It is the gaze of a woman who possesses empathy.” Illustrating this premise, the women in Crew are treated as people, not mere bodies. That each in her own way has a fabulous body is a bonus, which too is celebrated unapologetically. 


Given the care that has gone into these choices, I do not see why Crew’s soundtrack is dominated by male voices or why the heroines are shown lip syncing to a male singer’s voice in the end 


In an interview she gave me after Veere Di Wedding, Rhea Kapoor had explained why she got Badshah to sing Tareefanfor the central female quartet: “The idea came from this Beyonce-Jay Z video where Beyonce has kind of taken on Jay Z’s mantle and kind of raps for him – there’s something so f*cking empowering about that.” The problem is that a woman singing for a man has been used over time as a comical device in films, so describing the reverse – a man singing for a woman actor – as “empowering” comes from the same subconscious conditioning that has got even progressive women equating the “balls”, not the uterus or vagina, with courage. 


This discordant note particularly stands out because Kapoor, Krishnan & Co have got so much else right here. Quite unusually for an overtly commercial film, Crew’s scriptwriters do not view the presence of a male romantic partner as mandatory to complete a woman. The leads don’t measure their self-worth in such terms either. Geeta has a warm relationship with her spouse that is unconventional going by society’s expectations of who ought to be the income provider in a family. Without batting an eyelid, the writers write Jasmine as a single woman, while Divya bumps into an old flame (Diljit Dosanjh).  


There is so much that Crew does unobtrusively while doggedly entertaining us, that its politics could easily be underrated. Its attitude to women apart, note how a turbanned Sikh is not only the romantic interest of a glamorous woman, Dhawan’s camerawork and Dosanjh’s vibe in the role purposefully make the man sexy. This is not a lens that usually falls on Sikh men in Hindi cinema who have for decades been positioned variously as boisterous, patriotic, dutiful, loyal, comical, buffoonish, innocent and loveable, but rarely as hotties. Nice touch.  


Krishnan’s first film, Lootcase (2020), too dealt with a primary character’s questionable morality and ill-gotten wealth. It was well begun but half done. In Crew, he lives up to the initial promise of a lark right till the end without once treating the audience like idiots or insensitive jerks.  


The smart script is elevated by Tabu, Kapoor Khan and Sanon’s crackling chemistry. The casting coup goes well beyond their stardom. The three come across as real-life friends who had a blast while shooting this film. Their enjoyment is contagious and makes for a cracking combination with their natural affinity for comedy, adding yet another feather to Rhea Kapoor’s expanding filmography of resolutely women-centric, resolutely hilarious-not-stupid Hindi cinema.  


Rating (out of 5 stars): 3.5   


Running time:

120 minutes 


Visuals courtesy: IMDB 


RELATED LINK: Read my column in The Economic Times on Laapataa Ladies and the female gaze published on February 18, 2024 


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