THE YEAR OF THE DOG?
If the first Hindi release of 2009 had a mouth, it’d go “woof.” Plus, a fitfully amusing mockumentary.
JAN 11, 2009 – IN A COUNTRY THAT SWEARS BY AUSPICIOUS BEGINNINGS, is it fair for Bollywood to dump on us, so early in January, Kaashh… Mere Hote? If the first Hindi film of the year is one that features Johny Lever as a madman cop in rouge and lipstick and pendant earrings – he thinks he’s (gulp!) Aishwarya Rai – what does it augur for the rest of 2009? But that’s the least of the unwelcome surprises thrown up by BH Tharun Kumar’s eye-bogglingly dreadful love triangle. Who knew, for instance, that we hadn’t seen the last of Hemant Birje (a.k.a. the muscle man from Tarzan that teenage boys in the mid-eighties envied and execrated with every ounce of their adolescent breath, considering the actor’s prurient proximity to his button-popping co-star)?
And, for that matter, did anyone guess that Sneha Ullal (a.k.a. the girl whose hand Aishwarya Rai let go, twentysomething years ago, at a Kumbh Mela) would return to haunt the silver screen? And that she’d actually make an impression as something of an actress when compared to her blank-slate hero? (Newcomer Kumar Saahil offers, by way of performance, a couple of nifty options; he wiggles his eyebrows and he cracks a smile, though he appears charmingly unaware that these actions aren’t necessarily independent of each other.) And that we’d be treated, in this day and age, to one of those romantic interludes where the heroine squeals, “I hate you, I hate you,” when she really, really luurrves her man?
Kaashh… Mere Hote is intended as one of the many illegitimate offspring of Fatal Attraction, with a damaged-goods vixen training her psycho-kinetic eyes on the hapless hero. (Sana Khan plays this vamp, capable of communicating with dogs and queen bees; oh, she can also make birthday cakes explode by simply looking hard in their direction. Strangely though, these freaky powers don’t help her at all when she needs them in the climax, which actually has the gall to proffer a message about the perils of teen love.) But what the film really wants to be is a profound meditation on the many levels of human stupidity.
We’re used to films that treat the audiences like morons, but Kaashh… Mere Hote may be something of a first – the characters, themselves, treat one another like morons. The heroine asks, at one point, “Kya?” Then, cleverly intuiting that the hero needs more prompting, she adds, “Kya hua?” Finally, just to make sure the essence of her communication doesn’t get lost in translation, she tosses in an option in another language, “What happened?” But this is nothing compared to Rajesh Khanna’s fourfold declaration of his vision impairment. “I’m blind. I can’t see. Main nahin dekh sakta. Main andha hoon,” he yells, as if offering multiple choices to a contestant on a game show. In that vein, we too shall declare: This film is no good. It’s bad. It sucks. Total bakwaas hai, boss.
INDIA’S FIRST MOCKUMENTARY, TITLED THE PRESIDENT IS COMING, is a sweeping satire on, among other things, the current American president, but a big laugh-out-loud moment, early on, makes us wonder if it’s a former incumbent who is the subject of Kunaal Roy Kapur’s film, and if the title actually carries a sexual connotation – not that the president is about to arrive so much as he’s about to… uh, come. At a briefing sequence in the White House, a press secretary announces to the media, “The President wants a young Indian.” Instantly, a reporter leans forward and asks, “How young?” And the secretary hastily clarifies, “No, it’s not like that.”
Well, it’s like this. President Bush visits India and wants to meet a young Indian achiever. (Evidently, this desire to shake hands with a shining representative of the Third World was long before shoes were being pelted on his person.) The American consulate in India, therefore, hires Samantha (Shernaz Patel, playing an endearingly goofy cross between a dominatrix and a Catholic schoolmarm) to pick the lucky desi whose hand will end up in a Presidential clasp. When asked how she will go about this process, she replies, “The American way.” And when asked if this means the process would involve democratic voting, she shakes her head and reveals, “Reality TV.” The contestants are subjected to a series of tests, Survivor-style, to arrive at the eventual winner.
The stage is thus set for a loopy free-for-all – about the obsequiousness of Indians regarding all things (and people) white, about Bushisms (like the famously derided remark about imports coming from overseas), about air-headed North Indians and the equally stereotyped number-crunching South Indians. Some of the gags revolving around the contestants (Konkona Sen Sharma, Satchit Puranik, Vivek Gomber, Anand Tiwari, Namit Das, and a delightful Ira Dubey) work, some of them don’t – and perhaps there needed to be more of the free-associative lunacy we associate with, say, the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest (like the delectably deadpan bit involving Dharmendra) – but the zany geniality carries the film to a sparkling finish. Like the best satires, The President is Coming proves that there’s nothing quite as funny as the truth – if only we’d stop squirming about it.
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