Just at the time when Salman has been installed in a Jodhpur jail (at least for the moment), I happened to watch Jaan-e-mann and recently attended a screening of Marigold, his much touted Hollywood film, or crossover film as some were calling it.
The movie is directed by Willard Carroll, a man who glimpsed Salman onscreen when he dropped into a Madras cinema to watch Chori Chori Chupke Chupke. He was wowed by the musclebound Khan’s performance, watched the actor’s entire catalogue of movies, and scripted his own film for him.
Marigold is also the name of the lead actress in Carroll’s film, played by Heroes’ Ali Larter. She’s a girl with a diva complex who is repeatedly cast in crappy, sexploitation films that end in a number (Basic Instinct 3, Fatal Attraction 3) and she jets off to Goa (where her luggage is lost en route) to make Kama Sutra 3. But she arrives to find out that the production office has shut down, the filmmakers are in jail, and she has no return ticket.
Lucky for her, and us, she encounters Rani (the wonderful Suchitra Pillai who I wish would get her own lead in a film) who offers to help her out. They stop by a film set in Goa and Marigold is spotted by the director and cast in a musical number. She also meets the arrogant lead actor and the mellow choreographer, Prem, played by hamara Salman Khan.
Ok, at this point some of you may well say “What? Sallu as a choreographer? But he’s so athletic and dances with his shoulders!” That was my reaction too. He’s no twinkletoes, and I will confess I was never a big fan of his before. Sure, I was temporarily swayed, or blinded rather, by his glistening shirtlessness for that Oh Oh Jaane Jaana song in Pyar Kiya To Darna Kiya, but after that momentary loss of reason, I went back to being a non-Salman fan. (Unlike this girl!)
But can I tell you something? I liked him as Prem. He was there in all his stoner dude, American-accented glory, but he was also incredibly low-key. Granted, he goes from meeting Marigold to falling in love with her in zero to sixty, but once he’s smitten, he plays this guy who has no doubts about his love for the girl and is totally into her, and that confidence was really appealing. And he never had to take his shirt off once.
Ali Larter is pretty, and looked quite cute in some of the filmi outfits they dress her in, but she’s brittle, and stays so even after she’s supposed to have melted and fallen for Prem. I confess I must be one of the few people in this country who doesn’t watch Heroes, so I don’t know if she’s improved since the time Marigold was filmed (2005).
The action moves from Goa to Bombay, Prem helps Marigold to learn how to dance, they go to Elephanta Island, and Prem reveals over dinner one night that he’s a Rajasthani prince. He invites Marigold to accompany to him to his sister’s wedding (cue the traditional clothes) and the Cali girl learns that Prem has been betrothed for years to another girl.
When I interviewed him, the director said that he wasn’t making a Bollywood film, and I think how you appreciate this movie may depend on your familiarity, or the lack thereof, with mainstream Hindi movies. For me, with my viewing history, it’s hard to come to Marigold with fresh eyes. And so for me, the filmi elements in the movie were a tease, but not satisfying enough. If this were ten years ago in August, and I was just starting out on this cinematic safar, my reaction might have been stronger.
See it or skip it?
It’s a tough call. If you love Salman, or you’re curious to see him in an English-speaking role, or you’re such a diehard filmi fan you’ll watch anything related to the Bombay film industry, then definitely go for it.
After ingesting over 150 movies, Carroll has definitely got a feeling for filmi touches, and the cool design of the onscreen images that mark the change of scenes are done by the director himself.
My favorite part of the film? A brief appearance by Helen – the one and only Helen – at the start of the movie as Prem’s grandmother.
Stay tuned for an interview with Carroll about his moviemaking experiences with Salman in India.