What was meant to be a lighthearted caper sinks like a ton of lead. Plus, technically accomplished pabulum for poppets.
DEC 26, 2010 – IN THE IMPROBABLE EVENT that a case is made for Farah Khan as an auteur, her leitmotif would be the assumption of another identity. In Main Hoon Na, her first and finest film, an army officer assumes the identity of a college student. In Om Shanti Om, her middling follow-up, a young actress assumes the identity of an older star. Now, in Tees Maar Khan, a conman named Tabrez (Akshay Kumar) assumes the identity of a filmmaker in order to make away with a consignment of antiques. And looking at this shapeless, graceless, charmless, rhythmless mess, you could be forgiven for wondering if the director herself hasn’t assumed another identity, trading her brashly (and confidently) witty self for someone so unsure of her instincts, so desperate for a hit, that the soundtrack practically creaks and groans with the exertions. Farah Khan used to be effortlessly fun. Now she’s holding a gun to our head and demanding that we laugh. The difference is dismaying.
Almost all the good gags announce themselves in the first few minutes – the cheerfully bizarre opening-credits number that plays like a James Bond titles sequence set in a sac of amniotic fluid; the thieves, competitors to Tabrez (aka Tees Maar Khan), with delectably demented modus operandi that I won’t spoil for you; the announcement of Tabrez’s pregnant (and movie-mad) mother when her water breaks. (“Tanki phat gayi,” she wails in front of her black-and-white television set, watching a scene from a 1970s potboiler where a fully filled water tank explodes.) A little later, Katrina Kaif (as Anya, Tabrez’s bubble-headed starlet-girlfriend) makes her entry in the well-shot, well-scored Sheela ki jawani song sequence, brandishing a belly button that seems to have a life of its own – and as the curtains come down on this number, you might just as well leave. The film, hereupon, sinks faster than an iceberg-struck passenger liner in the mid-Atlantic.
A lot of failed entertainers give us the sense that fun was had at least at the scripting stage – that heads were thrown back, thighs were slapped, sides were split – and we tell ourselves that none of this translated to the execution. But with Tees Maar Khan, there isn’t any sense of enjoyment even in the writing phase, unless you imagine hoots and fist pumps for such high-school-level gags as the one where an airplane carrying a wanted criminal is named Con Air. Ha ha! The rest of the film unfolds as a procession of dreadful dialogue, endlessly repeated, and unfunny in-jokes – a reference to the long-gestating Mr. India sequel, or the sledgehammer poke-in-the-ribs about an Oscar-hungry Bollywood star (played by Akshaye Khanna, whose presence in a film, for a while now, has sadly turned into a surefire signifier that it’s going to be a stinker). For a story supposedly structured around a train heist, there are alarming shifts in tone, like a segue into sentiment with Tabrez’s growing affection for a band of villagers terrorised by a headless ghost on a horse. Free-associative nonsense, in theory, is as valid a way of making movies as any, but when the filmmaker’s instincts are unsound, it becomes plain nonsense. Tees Maar Khan is simultaneously frantic and flat, like a hasty gulp from bottle of beer that’s been left uncorked for months.
When a regular-sized movie dies on us, we shrug our shoulders and walk into the sunlight. But when something that cost the GDP of small nation is so lazily written and so atrociously performed, there is a sense of outrage – as part of the disappointed audience, yes, but also on behalf of the great numbers of struggling filmmakers who’d be grateful for just the wardrobe budget of Tees Maar Khan. And perhaps those of us who delighted in Main Hoon Na, who enjoyed its knowing and deliberate invocation of the silly seventies, are upset that someone we counted on as a surefire cure for the blues has herself turned out to be the cause of a minor bout of depression. Imagine my plight, for instance, if this film is a financial success and inspires a few dozen clones that I have to drag myself to, all in the name of duty! Suffocated by the air of self-congratulation, the mind wandered and wondered, among other things, about this director’s fascination with the number three. (Her third outing. She’s the real-life mother of triplets and her production company bears the name Three’s Company. The hero is attended to by three sidekicks, and when the scene shifts to the village, we are introduced to three epicene extras… See what a devil’s workshop a critic’s idle mind becomes?)
Farah Khan’s signature moment would seem to be the generous closing-credits party she orchestrates for her cast and crew – but there’s a moment in the film that’s monumentally more significant. Tabrez decides he’s going to throw himself an Eid celebration. It’s long past Eid, but he doesn’t care because every day, for him, is a festival. He picks up the phone and dials the number of Salman Khan, who, of course, he’s so intimate with that he uses the nickname of Sallu. The latter arrives, makes the festivities more festive, and leaves. And looking at Tabrez here, you wonder if that’s Farah Khan herself. Every film she makes, she throws herself a celebration. With her dizzying array of intimate insider-contacts, she has to barely pick up the phone and stars descend on her sets in twinkling droves. Perhaps she’s the real Tees Maar Khan, the conwoman who’s just made off with a couple of precious hours of our lives – and after making us pay for this privilege.
IF THE GENIALLY LOOPY Asterix characters acquired pan-Indian accents and wandered onto the sets of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the result might be something like Kireet Khurana’s Toonpur Ka Superrhero. Aditya (Ajay Devgn, cast opposite real-life wife Kajol, who plays his on-screen wife as well) is an action star kidnapped by the cartoon residents of Toonpur in order to decimate the resident villains. The intent, apparently, is manic mayhem hewn to video-game rules, but the result is… Well, is there any point carping about a mix of animation and live action aimed squarely at kids? But surely even films seeking to occupy children can strive to be more than just the blandly competent (and brightly coloured) fare that plays routinely on kiddie channels on television – pabulum for poppets! I suppose the one time I cracked a smile was when the Cacofonix character – a Bappi Lahiri look-alike – loses a blingy necklace and wails, “Chain bina chain kahan re.” The well-placed PJ can enhance any experience – well, almost.
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