THE FAST AND THE FOOLISH
The “director duo” serves up a thriller that doesn’t have a single dull moment in it – or a single brain cell, for that matter.
MAR 23, 2008 – CONSIDERING THAT RACE REVOLVES AROUND A HOMICIDE that will cause an insurance policy to cough up twice the insured amount, considering the double crosses and the femme fatale who’s discovered to have been a tramp from an early age and the claims investigator whose instincts yell “murder” when the facts apparently say “accident,” and considering that a significant part of the opening portions are explained away with a voiceover, you could make a case that Abbas-Mustan’s latest feature is based on Double Indemnity – but no court in this land would buy your argument. If scraps from that classic noir are indeed present here, they’ve been smelted down into one of those generic pieces of glitter-trash that only an especially mediocre filmmaker can forge – something so indiscriminately filled with acts of narrative rug-pulling that you wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end, the perp was revealed to be a little green man from Mars. These twists are intended to keep you jumping out of your seat with well-I-never squeals, and while they certainly ensure that the pace of Race never flags, most of these contrivances are so stupid and so dependent on mind-boggling levels of coincidence that you can’t take a minute of it seriously.
That, of course, may be the whole point to this sort of entertainment – that you don’t want to take a minute of it seriously – but deriving undemanding fun for a couple of hours is one thing, and laughing hard at the clueless wannabe-ness of it all is quite another. What Race wants to be is some sort of edge-of-the-seat thriller, filled as much with twisty plot points as tooth-breaking dialogue. (“Zindagi ki race mein insaan ko ek saathi ki zaroorat hai,” goes a description of relationships in racing metaphors.) And if you’re not rolling your eyes at the glum portentousness of these lines, you’ll be cracking up at the clumsy attempts at character delineation. How do you know Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan) is a daredevil? Because he takes a dive from a hot air balloon into a race car and zooms off towards a cliff and brakes just in time. And how do you know his brother Rajiv (Akshaye Khanna, who surely has done something dreadful that Abbas-Mustan have photographic evidence of; how else can you explain this once-fine actor’s inexplicable allegiance to the director duo?) is a lush? Because he wakes up every morning to a chilled glass of beer. And how do you know that these siblings are men’s men? Because they run a stud farm. Named “Stallions.” No wonder the film is essentially a record of their epic pissing contest, each one aiming higher and farther in increasingly insane instances of macho one-upmanship.
The sole point of interest for me in Race was watching what is becoming of mainstream Hindi cinema. Abbas-Mustan were never the best of filmmakers, but when they made a Baazigar, there was at least an attempt to infuse a Hindi-ness, an Indian-ness, even if the source material came from the West – for instance, with Rakhee’s maternal bonding with Shah Rukh Khan, which created sympathy for the hero because it was his mother’s mental condition that drove him to those killings. Today, in Race, barely a trace of emotion flickers across Saif as he presses a remote-control button and sets off a bomb that kills someone who betrayed him. These characters have Christian weddings and Christian funerals – who knows? Maybe there are no crematoria in Durban, where Race is set – and even the songs they sing are no longer about pyaar and beqaraar and intezaar. When Katrina Kaif – the looks-hot-acts-not trio is completed by Bipasha Basu and Sameera Reddy – expresses her love for Saif, her body approximates a sine curve as she croons, “Touch me, kiss me, hold me,” and later, when he proposes to her and a song ensues, his intentions are expressed through this lyric: “I’m craving for your body now.” Somewhere in between, Anil Kapoor plays a fruit-chomping, Karamchand-like investigator who, upon hearing that his assistant’s heart is going dhak-dhak, places his hand on her itsy-bitsy bikini top to verify the fact. Had Manoj Kumar been asked to sum up Race with a one-liner, here’s what he’d have said: The ghor Kalyug our elders prophesied is upon us, and it’s playing at a multiplex near you.
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