Review: Bombay to Bangkok

Posted on January 19, 2008


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Bombay boy falls for Bangkok girl in an underwhelming outing from Nagesh Kukunoor.

JAN 20, 2008 – HERE’S WHAT I THINK HAPPENED WITH NAGESH KUKUNOOR as he sat down to write his latest movie. After the creative crests of Iqbal and Dor, he must have reckoned that a law-of-averages trough was just around the corner – so rather than expend time and energy on an ambitious project that was bound to misfire anyway, why not simply sit this one out with a trifle hardly worth his time or ours. He may have also decided, along the way, to pay homage to the screwball sprit of Preston Sturges, who never met a nutty character he didn’t like or an out-there situation that he couldn’t shoehorn into his screenplays. And so we have ourselves the high-concept low achievement that is Bombay to Bangkok.

This title is indicative of where the story begins and where it ends – Bombay boy Shankar (Shreyas Talpade) runs off to Bangkok with a stash of loot belonging to a gangster (played gamely by a Distinguished Actor, who walks away with the single scene he’s in) – but to fully describe the journey Kukunoor attempts to take us through, the film would have to be called Road Movie to Flat-out Farce to Rom-com. It’s certainly an ambitious mix, but one that sounds better than it plays out. The road-movie and the rom-com aspects are far too generic to be of any interest, and only the sporadic bursts of comedy – like a superb fart joke that’s actually written into a scene and not just a gratuitous add-on to gross you out – keep your eyes from glazing over from the pointless tedium of it all (though, in all honesty, the late-night screening I caught the film at may have been a factor in my eyes almost glazing over).

One of the reasons to purchase a ticket for Bombay to Bangkok – or at least pause at the TV channel it’s playing on a few months hence – is the big, burly, Bangkok-based Sardar named Rash (Manmeet Singh, in a series of shirts with Hawaiian prints, each more flamboyant than the last) who ends up translator when Shankar falls for the Thai-speaking Jasmine (Lena Christensen). In one of the film’s sweetest scenes, he gives Shankar two scraps of paper – one with the Thai equivalent of Hindi words, the other with the reverse – so that Shankar and Jasmine can get along when they take off on a trip together. This is the very definition of a crowd-pleasing character (and a crowd-pleasing moment), and Singh piles on the good-natured shtick with such charm, you wish the film had invented a story around him – instead of the one between Shankar and Jasmine, who completely fail to convince you that they have feelings for (leave alone a future with) each other.

And even if this film had to be about an opposites-attract couple, you wish it had set out to detail the against-all-odds romance between the gangster Jamal Khan (an uproarious Vijay Maurya, playing this character as a teddy bear with a fondness for rap and bling) and the psychiatrist Rati (the terrific Jeneva Talwar). Jam K (which is how Jamal prefers to be called) is the son of the don from whom Shankar stole the money – he lands up in Bangkok in pursuit of the loot, but not after getting a hilarious lesson in geography from Shankar’s mother – and whether it’s fumbling with the zipper on his jacket in order to cover up as his father approaches or declaring his love for Rati entirely in singsong verse, he’s such a scene-stealer that he leaves a big hole on the screen whenever he’s not around.

After Iqbal and Dor, it appeared that Kukunoor had become an unlikely torchbearer of the middle-of-the-road legacy of the early Hrishikesh Mukherjee – there’s an inspired homage to the latter’s Bawarchi here, when Shankar (who’s a cook, like Rajesh Khanna in the earlier movie) whips up a desi feast as the background score bursts into that film’s Bhor aayi gaya andhiyara – but after Bombay to Bangkok, I’m not sure that’s what he wants to be. But wherever Kukunoor goes with his future ventures – with big stars like Akshay Kumar and John Abraham – it’s going to be fun to watch, if only because this director never really plays it safe. Even in a project as misbegotten as this one, you can hear the strains of the different drummer that Kukunoor marches to. He takes us all the way to Bangkok, and yet he can barely bring himself to care about the pretty scenery waiting to be snapped up on film. Elsewhere, he lets The Blue Danube play on the soundtrack when a prostitute and her client are getting undressed. There’s probably an in-joke there somewhere, in two people in Bangkok taking their clothes off to a Strauss waltz – but even if I couldn’t find it, I was happy the moment existed. Of such eccentricities are interesting filmmakers made.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi