The special-effects parts are great fun, but the rest of this superhero movie is a snooze.
JUN 25, 2006 – SOMEONE SHOULD PASS A LAW that any director who wants to sign Hrithik Roshan should first be made to watch the early portions of Lakshya, specifically the Agar main kahoon song sequence. It’s a magnificently choreographed number – it’s not just about the steps; each movement, each shot, each lyric adds to the situation of boyfriend and girlfriend mock-fighting while declaring love – and it’s possibly Hrithik’s greatest five minutes on screen. He’s so funny, so charming, so much of an endearing goofball, so true to character – but more than anything, he’s so relaxed. That’s one thing he rarely is in his films. He always has veins throbbing on his neck, or his nostrils are quivering, or there’s a muscle in those oak arms that’s twitching. Most filmmakers want him to do these things; they want him to act, to give 200 percent to scenes that need only 20 – and you wish they’d just let him be, the way he was allowed to be in those moments in Lakshya.
Hrithik isn’t allowed to be in Krrish either. (That name… Doesn’t it sound like Velcro being ripped off?) He plays Krishna/Krrish, who’s inherited the superpowers that the alien Jadoo gave his father Rohit (in Koi… Mil Gaya), and from the very first shots we see of him – biceps rippling, chest heaving, neck muscles clenched – it’s clear he’ll be going for bombast. But at least in this case, you can say Hrithik had no choice. He had to play it this way because superhero movies, by nature, are about grand themes and grander protagonists, so he can’t just sit back and be a slacker. Yet – and despite the blood and sweat that’s clearly gone into his portrayal – I preferred the child-man Rohit to the superstud Krishna. That was a fussy, pull-out-all-the-stops performance too, but that character had a beguiling humanity that’s hard to detect in the all-too-perfect Krishna.
When I saw Koi… Mil Gaya for the first time, I made the mistake of treating it as science fiction for all ages. (The fact that it had elements of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – both classic instances of science fiction for all ages – may have had something to do with this.) But when I caught it again recently, I saw that it was really sci-fi for kids, in the tradition of The Absent Minded Professor or The Cat from Outer Space. And Hrithik’s performance, with the gurgly talk and the gangly walk, fit right in. Krrish, though, isn’t sci-fi for kids. It isn’t exactly sci-fi for adults either. It’s sci-fi for those who like a certain kind of Bollywood movie – one in which a grandmother senses that her grandson has returned home because she can hear his heartbeat: “Mujhe tere dil ki dhadkan jo sunai deti hai.”
Such dialogue is from another age, yes, but then, Rakesh Roshan’s filmmaking itself is from another age. Other masala-movie makers like Karan Johar or Yash Chopra have moved on with the times. They have an eye for locale, an ear for contemporary language, a sense of arranging things on screen for maximum visual impact. They don’t clutter up their frames with in-your-face product endorsements – we see so much of a certain detergent and a certain brand of potato wafers that, during the end credits, I was half-tempted to check if the supporting cast included Tide and Lays– and the staging of their songs has an element of romance that’s completely missing here. Rajesh Roshan’s tunes aren’t bad, but the picturisation of most songs is a deadly bore. Only the Dil na diya sequence, set in a high-energy circus-carnival atmosphere, works; it’s a jolt of electricity that revives the movie after a catatonic first half, and it leads to the one moment of pure pop grandeur in Krrish: the scene where Krrish rescues a child from a burning building and realises that the powers he’s been using for fun thus far are actually meant for a higher purpose. In other words, his transformation from man to superman is literally forged by fire.
That’s the kind of thing Rakesh Roshan does well. He knows how to milk certain themes for all their melodramatic value. He did, after all, single-handedly resurrect the reincarnation genre (with Karan Arjun) when everyone thought it was dead, and his Khoon Bhari Maang was one of the most potent you-go-girl dramas in Bollywood. But with a superhero theme, he’s hugely out of his depth; rather, with a western superhero theme, he’s hugely out of his depth. That distinction is important because our heroes, by the very nature of their function in masala movies, are essentially superheroes. They can beat up ten people all at once, and if they’re Rajinikanth in the Tamil film Chandramukhi, they can twirl a leg round-and-round so fast, they generate a gust of wind that concentrates into a storm. But what Krrish is after is the whole Superman-superhero thing – the story of a boy/man who is blessed with powers and learns to use them (at great personal cost) for the greater good of humanity.
That arc, though, is bafflingly sidelined. For large stretches, all we see is Krishna pursuing Priya (Priyanka Chopra, in a ridiculously motivated role that makes you want to invent a special category at next year’s awards shows: Most Annoying Lead, Female.) So much time is devoted to their utterly uninspired falling-in-love shenanigans that a key moment – one that should have occurred some twenty minutes into the movie – gets pushed to the second half. That’s how long we have to wait for Krishna to become Krrish, much like we had to wait almost till the interval to catch a glimpse of Jadoo in Koi… Mil Gaya. And even before, there’s no scene that lets us in on the wonder of the discovery of his powers. We see Krishna as a child, playing cricket; he swings at the ball, the bat slips from his hands and goes into orbit, and… we merely cut away to the next sequence, without absorbing what that action must have meant both to Krishna and to the people around him.
I thought an Indian superhero would provide a great opportunity to revisit and contemporise our own superhero texts like The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. But almost everything here is from the west. The young Krishna is tested for IQ in a scene that reminds you of the young Anakin Skywalker being interrogated by the Jedi council. There’s a megalomaniac villain (Naseeruddin Shah, having a high old time) trying to predict the future through a computer, and the staging of these portions are right out of Minority Report. Krishna has a white horse, like Hero from the Phantom comics. (There’s a beautiful little throwaway bit where he leaps into the air while trying to outrun the animal; he lands lightly on its back and, using it as a springboard, takes off again.) And the nicely done meet-cute of Krishna and Priya goes back to Superman, where the Man of Steel catches Lois Lane as she’s about to fall from a height. In that film, this sequence is played for spectacle as well as laughs. Superman says, “Easy miss, I’ve got you,” and she yells back, “But who’s got you?” That’s what these movies need – a sense of the otherworldliness, the wide-eyed magic of it all, but also the silliness of it all. Without that, it isn’t about the superhero anymore; it’s just about the special effects.
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