Finally, a 2008 release that had some excitement, fun and good looks.
Tashan opened today and the cinema where I saw it in New York was full.
Though Saif and Kareena have been a couple now – publicly at least – since last October, there is also a gossipy frisson of “So, this is where they spent so much time as a romantic pair, then fell in love, eh?” around this film. Only the couple themselves know when things really began between them (surely not as far back as Omkara?), but you can be sure that some people buying tickets have that curiosity to see them as an onscreen couple.
And you can see from the opening why Saif (even with that awful Village People Biker Guy moustache that he sports here) and Kareena are each cool and hot in equal measures.
Saif Ali Khan is Jimmy Cliff, not the reggae star but a Bombay boy who works at a call centre, teaches English, and dates his cute female students. “India was rocking and so was I” he declares to us. Yes, Jimmy breaks the fourth wall quite often, with brief asides. He also narrates the story via voiceover. He wears mod clothes (including a flashy large red belt) and is effortlessly charming as he plays the typical guy who has commitment issues.
Jimmy is caught unaware by the striking Pooja – a very seedhi saadhi girl decked out in heavy silver ethnic jewelry, a long, high-waisted kurta, churidars and lots of kohl – when she is conveniently caught in an afternoon downpour right outside his classroom. He follows his smaller brain (clearly the one calling the shots) and is totally ensnared by the raven-haired, light-eyed Bebo, who lures him back to the home of Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor), a comical, vain and murderous don who wants to learn English.
With Jimmy firmly under her thumb, Pooja spins a woeful tale about a debt owed to Bhaiyyaji and soon they’re plotting to steal some of the don’s extortion money to use to pay him back. From here on in, we have one twist after another, almost always set in motion by Bebo’s character, who morphs into a hot babe wearing the tiniest of Daisy Dukes and using her charms to get the men around her to obey.
Along the way, Bhaiyyaji reaches out to fellow Kanpur native Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar) to help him recover his stolen money. His entrance onscreen is hilarious; he’s acting in a Ram Lila and, aside from arriving late (on his motorbike, up the stairs of the temple, of course), he’s also having trouble with his part of the script. “Who wrote these lines?” he thunders, and a terrified stagehand tremblingly utters “Tulsidas.”
Bachchan may not know his lines, but he considers himself a very religious and pro-Hindustan guy. On the road, he prays at a little temple in his room, and he berates Jimmy for listening to rock music, changing the radio station to old filmi music, saying “You’re in India, listen to Indian music.”
After leaving Bombay, the actors caper all over Ladakh and Rajasthan, as well skirting around Kerala and Haridwar. Kareena, now in full bombshell mode, performs the item number of the film – Chhaliya - in a green bikini and other size 0 wisps of clothing, singing, rather disingenuously, “don’t look at me like that, boy.”
There’s one bit of comic relief when the Jimmy-Pooja-Bachchan trio are trying to get out of Ladakh without being spotted by the police and take over an American film crew who are there to shoot “Happy Widows.” The trio don cheap blonde wigs and join the firangi film crew to perform Dil Dance Maare. See if Poo 2 doesn’t remind you of anyone, perhaps a certain infamous heiress?
And yes, as usual, the poor gringos are a bit slow on the uptake, the bumbling boobs in a phoren land, not even realizing that the Bachchan they’ve encountered is not that Bachchan. Oh well, at least they were better dressed than in most other films.
The music is ok, but I was most disappointed by the Sukhwinder song Dil Haare song. Visually, Kareena looks lovely, even when her beau is surrounded by a bevy of seaweed-wearing girls,
or when she’s coaxed into a rather questionable choice of footwear,
but the song itself is just very meh. Some of the other songs are more memorable, but there’s nothing so, so, so thrilling that you won’t be able to get it out of your head. (Update: I take that back, I was listening to Challiya and Dil Dance Maare this morning on the train, and I kept repeating them. Now they’ve really grown on me.)
This being a YashRaj film, the visuals are, overall, terrific. Costumes, even with quirky twists like Bebo’s wayward braces and diva sunglasses, and Akki’s ever-present cotton head/neck gear, make everyone look good in their roles, especially the over-the-top Bhaiyyaji. Hats off to Aki Narula.
Ladakh and Rajasthan look postcard-perfect. And the action scenes are, if not always actually suspenseful, at least they will keep you wondering what the next step is. BUT, two problems: first, in the big encounter with the cops, Akshay gets a prolonged action sequence, and the latter part was well choreographed, but the way they led him from where he was, to where the guns were, with a lot of leaping and jumping, just seemed too implausible for words (and yes, I know, we are talking about a big Bollywood release here and all that implies).
And here’s where I found the biggest disappointment of the movie – the (sadly) inevitable Big Shootout that Goes On Way Too Long at the end. Why, why, WHY did we have to have it? Here I’d been happily carried along on this spring Friday evening by a fast-paced movie by a first-time director (Vijay Krishna Acharya wrote Dhoom and Dhoom 2) who’d done some interesting, different things, and then he fell back on the same old chestnut that everyone else does. A funny thing happened too. When the scene ended, most of the audience stood up and started to leave, only to realize that there was one more brief scene to go.
Before I close, allow me to return to my old bugbear: the subtitles. Meu Deus! How hard can it be to get them right in a nation of so many English-speakers, and in a film coming from the great Yash Raj studios?
First, we get the bleeding obvious unnecessarily spelled out onscreen:
– “aaagh (shouting with pain)”
Then there’s the curious translations. Majnu becomes Romeo. Bhaiyyaji says he wants “every dime back.” Really? Paise would have been too odd for the firangis to figure out? A threat is changed from “”¦or I’ll be playing cricket with you“ to “…or I’ll be playing cricket with your balls.” Why? Do the Angrez reading the subtitles need the extra testicular oomph?
While I’m at it, let me put a plea out here to filmmakers when they’re sending people forth to do their upcoming release’s website: if you’re going to have a button on the site called “Press Kit”, please make it something that actually contains additional information about the film crew and the making of the movie, and not just a glossy fanzine.
See it or skip it?
See it. It’s a fun road trip with an attractive trio, there are multiple filmi references, and some very pretty song picturizations.