Bol Bachchan

This sure is turning out to be a season of movies set in Rajasthan (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Trishna, and now Bol Bachchan).  Who can blame them – what with the havelis and camels and colorful turbans and such.  And boy, does Bol Bachchan have colors all over – practically every shot is a swirl of yellows, oranges, greens and reds, and sun, sun, sun everywhere.

With a story line that veers and twists all over the place, let’s just leave it at this: AB 2.0 and Asin play a brother and sister (Abbas and Sania Ali) who exit Delhi after losing a court case and their right to family property.  Upon arriving in Ranakpur, Abbas breaks open the cobwebbed lock on an unused temple in order to save a child who’s fallen into a tank of water.  In a moment of panic – and to prevent the supposed communal unrest that would result if the townspeople came to learn that a Muslim had broken into a Hindu temple – a family friend lies and says that Abbas’ name is Abhishek Bachchan, which rapidly snowballs into a series of mix-ups and more lies, most of which occur so as to avoid the wrath of the truth-loving and hyper-muscled pehlawan and local leader Prithviraj (Ajay Devgan), he of the always epauletted kurta (seriously, he has one in every color).

One part of this charade involves Abhi (Abhishek) having to create and play the part of his own twin brother, the fey and fawning (and oh-so-gay-tonight) Abbas, whom Prithvi hires to be a dance instructor for his over-protected sister Radhika (Prachi Desai).  As Abbas sashays around, waving his limp wrists to and fro, he succeeds in charming his pupil and also awakening the suspicions of one of Prithvi’s long-serving managers.

And this is where I had a problem.  On the one hand, as someone who finds this Bachchan bachcha extremely aesthetically pleasing, I’m happy to watch his leggy, slightly meatier self caper around doing practically anything on screen, and even though I feel like a bad girl for saying this, I was amused by Gay Abhi’s signature “Na dhin dhinna” head and hand gesture (picture a man-loving, North Indian equivalent of Joey Tribbiani on Friends and his classic “How you doin’?” greeting).

But, as I watched the floral-shirted (cue Shut Up and Bounce) Abbas put through his paces, auditioning while accompanied by a canon of the past year’s filmi song hits, I couldn’t help but keep thinking “Really?  Yet another super-swishy gay character for us to laugh at?”  It saddens me that even in 2012, and with all the hoopla in the past couple of years about how wonderful the Hindi film industry has become again and all the tie-ups with multinationals, etc etc, even still, the cheapest, quickest way too many of Mumbai’s film people will reach for a laugh (think Boman Irani & Ritesh Deshmukh at last year’s IIFAs or on Koffee with Karan, and Shreyas Talpade & his cohost on the BIG Star Entertainment awards) is to have one man, or more, pretend he’s a homosexual.  And just in case you might miss that, better be safe and make sure Girlfriend is writ so large, you could see her being sassy from outer space.

That was my reaction on Thursday night, while watching the film.  On Friday, I started to think “Well, maybe it’s not the thought of the character actually being gay that director Rohit Shetty wants us to laugh at, maybe it’s the ham-fistedness of the heterosexual character in his clueless attempt to pretend he’s gay that’s supposed to be funny.”  I sure hope it’s the latter… and that the same thought has flashed through the grey matter of the audiences who’ve plonked down all that money yesterday and today, but I have my doubts.

In a film directed by and starring three industry sons (one – Ajay Devgan – is also a producer), you wouldn’t be far off if you were expecting a lot of filmi references, and there are oodles, beginning with the flashy title song, harkening back to Amar, Akbar, Anthony, except now the former Anthony Gonsalves’ ride egg has been pimped up to a Fabergé.  It’s a goofy, silly song (and that nasal “Pennnnndolllummmm!”), but, just as I’m helpless before the son, so too am I before the pater familias – even with his many jibes at people from my part of the world – and I watch him doing his trademark Amitabh horizontally-wavy-quasi-hula-girl-hands dance move, sandwiched between dozens of lovelies young enough to be his granddaughters, thinking “Bless his heart; look at him go!  Still a charmer.”

In addition to the Bachchan incense that wafts throughout (references to his films, a sampling of his voice used as a sound effect, Abhi repeatedly beginning sentences with “Mere Pita-ji kehte hai ki…”), there are also in-jokes (says the manager of a theater troupe: “This always happens in our line, one becomes a producer and he wants to make changes.”) and Shetty continues the homage, shall we call it, to Southern flics in the fight scenes where the hero administers one punch to a group of 10 men surrounding him, and poof, they all fly outward in slo-mo like a chrysanthemum firework, and car chases will inevitably lead to trucks and buses hopscotching over one another (cue Nick Lowe).

With a movie running to some 2.5 hours, the action sequences are where (surprise, surprise) I would have trimmed considerably.  Do we really need yet another film (ya Hindi ya Tamil) where a bus or car skids off over the edge of some hill/mountain/etc and leaves us locked into – literally – a (minium) 10-minute cliffhanger, where we have no doubt as  to what the outcome will be?

But I’m just a female, what do I know?

Which brings me to something else – the women in this film!  First, Asin Thottumkal and Prachi Desai are excess ornaments, barely considered in this manly lovefest, which is a pity, because both have done more in their respective pasts.  But that doesn’t surprise me so much, given how hero-oriented the industry is.

What really got my dander up was the treatment of Archana Puran Singh’s character, whom Abhishek sees performing a mujra and tries to convince to play the part of his mother so he can fool Prithvi.  When we see her on stage, speaking in rhyme about love and longing, the all-male audience howl with laughter and ridicule at the idea of someone her age having romantic or (hold on to your petticoats) sexual feelings, which becomes a running joke throughout the film.

It was one thing when we tittered at APS as the flirty Miss Braganza in KKHH, but here, it’s just plain nasty, as she’s portrayed as this comical, grasping, pathetic figure who still wants to be in the game, but doesn’t realize what a foolish notion that is for someone of her clearly advanced decrepitude.  (Good Heavens, the poor dear is all of what, 40-something?)  As with attitudes toward gay people, I guess it will take the Hindi film industry a good while to actually accept that ladies above 35 are more than either sexless Maas or frustrated cougars.  In the US, it took us a decade to get from the hypocrisy of Jack Nicholson’s character being aghast at Kathy Bates nudity as she joined him in the hot tub in About Schmidt, to get to two-timing, doobie-puffing Meryl Streep having a good laugh with her girlfriends over her fling with her slimy ex- in It’s Complicated.

See it or skip it?

If not for those two major objections, I might have said “Meh, why not?  It’s ok as a summer flic, with some funny lines and plays on language, and there’s Abhishek Bachchan”, but I just can’t recommend spending money to reward such a stereotypical gay portrayal, even if it is just a summer movie.

Think back to one year ago (Delhi Belly, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara), and consider what an embarrassment of riches that was compared to this.

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