STRUT A LONG JOURNEY
All the macho posturing in the world cannot save this wannabe thriller from being a drag.
OCT 11, 2009 – FOR ALL THE KAMINEY-KINDLED ANALYSIS ABOUT Vishal Bhardwaj’s kinship to Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, it’s really Sanjay Gupta who’s cornered that particular movie market. Gupta locates his films at the intersection of existentialism and explosive violence, even if everything remains on the level of stylised surface cool. (Dig deep and there’s little beneath: few characters to care about, fewer emotions to connect with.) For a number of reasons, Gupta’s films are fairly gripping while you’re watching them. There’s, for instance, the abbreviated running time. (There’s no danger of this director venturing into three-and-a-half hour ruminations on Zodiac-themed romances.) There’s the fact that his movies, like the old masala movies, deal with real men, bruised by life and battered by love. (And let’s face it, whether Saif Ali Khan in Love Aaj Kal or Ranbir Kapoor in Wake Up Sid, the multiplexes these days are overrun with overgrown boys.)
Gupta’s work is refreshingly adult in the non-family-oriented (as opposed to steamy) sense, the brutal yang to the yin of something equally adult like Life in a Metro, but whose violence was psychological, not physical. And his films are invariably well-crafted, buffed to a high sheen by super-slick cinematography and staged with sensational swagger. Why, then, don’t we readily embrace the prospect of viewing one of his productions? Why the mild disdain for his films that we don’t have for films far inferior? Is it because they are such flagrant rip-offs from niche foreign cinema (which means that the abovementioned pluses of Gupta’s filmmaking are, in reality, the pluses of the original films)? Or is it because they’re so off-puttingly wannabe – so Western in tone and tenor that the only reason the characters speak in Hindi seems to be the consideration that, otherwise, the films wouldn’t play in India?
Watching Acid Factory (produced by Gupta, directed by Suparn Verma, reportedly inspired by a relatively unknown Hollywood thriller named… Unknown), I concluded it’s mostly the latter. You haven’t lived till you’ve heard the wannabe-hardboiled dialogue – which appears thought out in English, then translated into ungainly Hindi – drip from the lips of such titans of thesping as Fardeen Khan, Aftab Shivdasani and Dino Morea. (With each doing his darnedest to channel a world-weary noir protagonist routed through the modern-day action hero, you wonder just how exactly they cast these films. Based on who’s right for the part? Or whoever’s cheap and available?) In a stunt sequence at the beginning, Fardeen has to drive a car alongside a monster truck and leap into the latter – and his cigarette stays stuck to his lips till the instant his feet lift off, at which point he flicks it away ever so casually.
He is, in other words, way too cool to be worrying about stubbing out the smoke earlier (in order to focus on that death-defying leap), and he’s just taking a leaf from his film, which is way too cool to be anything else but cool. In this universe, posturing is everything – the cars are Lamborghini Murciélagos, the firearms are Smith & Wesson, the women are in backless catsuits, and the men in slow-motion stride towards the camera. Because even blatant exercises in style need some semblance of substance, we have the plot of several men (including Danny Denzongpa and Manoj Bajpai, who overacts like mad) waking up with temporary amnesia in the titular location. Who are they? Why are they there? Will they get out alive? Only the last question is of import to the audience, because once it’s answered, we can get out of the theatre alive.
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