Akshay Kumar’s new film wants to crown him box office emperor. What it doesn’t want is to be any good.
AUG 10, 2008 – THE CHARACTER THAT SONU SOOD PLAYS in Anees Bazmee’s Singh is Kinng is named Lucky, but perhaps Akshay Kumar (who plays Happy Singh) should have been the beneficiary of that felicitous moniker. The numerous ways that Happy gets lucky – except, of course, that way, he being a good Indian boy and all – make it appear that he was born under a shooting star, and grew up in a nursery littered with horseshoes and four-leafed clovers, with a giant Buddha by the bedside whose belly was flattened by constant rubbing. When Happy lands up in Australia – he’s come there looking for Lucky, who’s a don who needs to be carted back to India, back to their village – he has nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and a flower lady (Kirron Kher) just happens to stumble upon him. Not only is she Indian, she’s a Punjabi too – as well as the mother of Sonia (Katrina Kaif), whom Happy had fallen in love with in Egypt, where he just happened to end up when he inadvertently swapped flight tickets with a stranger, who just happened to be Puneet (Ranvir Shorey), Sonia’s boyfriend.
Incredulous coincidences have always been a staple of the cinema, even the ones we revere as classics, and – warning: wildly inappropriate comparison ahead – I was reminded, suddenly, of Casablanca. (I know. I know.) Now there’s something that’s widely considered an all-time great, and yet, its plot is kicked into motion by the happenstance – at least, it seems that way for a while – of Ingrid Bergman finding herself, one evening, in Humphrey Bogart’s nightclub. They were lovers long ago and they lost touch, and now, after all these years, she conveniently winds up in his proximity. We’re beginning to roll our eyes, when Bogart remarks, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” The reason that line is remembered today isn’t simply that it’s been crafted just so – it practically roils in rhyme – but because, with it, Bogart essentially dissipates our misgivings about the situation. He himself finds it ridiculous, and he’s drawing our attention to it – and therefore, we’re stranded without weapons. That’s what good writing can do – disarm our scepticism, or, to use a phrase more widely prevalent today, make us suspend our disbelief.
But who cares about good writing anymore, especially in a moviegoing culture where brain-dead films are considered the same as brain-dead filmmaking? In other words, not requiring the audience to apply themselves while watching a film has become a license for not applying yourself while making the film – when the reality is what they say about dying being comparatively easy. The best brain-dead comedy requires a lot more thought and work – besides actors who know the precise second to slip on that banana peel – than, say, a straight-up drama, where a reasonably involving storyline is capable of covering up a multitude of sins both behind and in front of the camera. Then again, the point of Singh is Kinng isn’t so much comedy as the coronation of Akshay Kumar as box office kinng. Don’t take my word for it. Just watch the sequence where Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan are reduced to mere sidekicks. The scene, actually, involves a few goons carrying out a kidnapping while wearing masks of these superstars, but isn’t the subtext unmistakable? And with that kind of overarching agendum, who’s got the time to be bothered about trivialities like writing?
Akshay Kumar continues to work on – or, perhaps, hammer in – the earthy self-effacing simpleton persona that’s worked so well for him of late. I’ll give him this much – it’s an extremely clever strategy to distinguish himself from every other hero (except maybe Sunny Deol). “You guys are welcome to the multiplex audiences,” the actor appears to be announcing in film after film, “and I’ll lord over the rest of the country, through the single screens.” (He seems to have leafed through the rulebooks of the big heroes of Tamil and Telugu cinema.) But in Singh is Kinng, he’s barely got a part to play. He’s there from beginning to end, but you don’t get the sense of joy in the performance that was there in, say, Tashan (which, for all its faults, at least gave him a nicely detailed character). Happy has a scene where he serves aloo parathas for breakfast, and when Puneet winces, he vows that, henceforth, the “Angrezon-wala breakfast” will be served, which, according to him, consists of doodh and chiwda. (Get it? He’s such a wholesome son-of-the-soil, he can’t even say “cornflakes.” Take that, you Kellogg’s-slurping PVR/INOX frequenters.)
But what are we to make of this scene? Who is it serving – Happy Singh, the character, or Akshay Kumar, the actor? Because if it were about the character, wouldn’t someone this clueless about modern urban life find himself at sea in Australia? Wouldn’t his adventures mirror those of the earthy self-effacing simpleton Bihari that Madhavan played in Ramji Londonwaley? Oh, but I’m sorry – thinking isn’t allowed in films such as this one. (I keep forgetting that. Damn!) And thus the Singh is Kinng juggernaut rolls on, throwing at us a shaky love triangle, several intolerable moments of four-hanky sentiment, a gratuitous love-conquers-all message (“Nafrat ko sirf pyaar se hi mitaya jaa sakta hai”), and even a dance item by Javed Jaffrey. (Why? Who knows? Maybe the actor felt it was time to remind audiences that he still has the loose limbs from his Bol baby bol days.) It’s all one sloppy mess of comedy and action and drama – with two exquisite high points. One is Manoj Pahwa’s hilarious throwaway dig about Shah Rukh Khan, and the other is a blessedly politically incorrect sight gag involving a patient in a wheelchair. Or maybe they’re not all that great, and maybe they just appear to be high points because, unlike the rest of Singh is Kinng, they at least leave you with the illusion of being entertained.
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