A few scenes into Anant Mahadevan’s The Xposé, I sat up. Could this actually be a cunningly disguised sci-fi epic? Consider the evidence. It’s 1968. We’re neck-deep in the Bombay film industry. A starlet in a bikini top and a sarong sprints out of the sea in a shot that won’t be seen on the Hindi screen till 1982, when Parveen Babi, in a similar outfit, sprinted out of the sea in Yeh Nazdeekiyan. More time travel awaits us. Another starlet is dressed (or should we say undressed?) like Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram, and a song from that film, Chanchal sheetal nirmal komal, is invoked in the title of the film being shot, Ujjwal Sheetal Nirmal, which now makes it look like the world’s first feature about a detergent. Fast-forward three years, to 1995, when Rajinikanth, in Baasha, uttered one of his most famous punch lines: Naan oru thadava sonna… These words are mouthed, in 1968, by a “South star” named Ravi Kumar. This actor is played by Himesh Reshammiya, and I fear for his life. What The Xposé is saying is that this line was Reshammiya’s long before it was Rajinikanth’s. Which Superstar fan is not going to grab a machete and buy the first air ticket to Mumbai?
A little later, though, the film begins to look like a postmodern experiment. Here we are, on the sets of Ravi Kumar’s film – and I kid you not, the walls are covered with van Gogh reproductions. The logical viewer may find himself wondering which Hindi film, from that era, evinced such interest in nineteenth-century European art, but the point may be that this is beyond simple rationalisation, much like the unlit cigarette that’s always found between Ravi Kumar’s fingers. He used to smoke when younger, but he gave up the habit when his father caught him. But he doesn’t want to let go of the habit entirely either. The unlit cigarette, I suppose, is some kind of statement. Perhaps it’s an up-yours to Anbumani Ramadoss. The statutory anti-smoking warning appears whenever Ravi Kumar appears, practically daring him to light up. Somewhere, Godard is smiling.
Speaking of whom, a poster of Le Mépris adorns the wall of the filmmaker Bobby Chadha (Ashwin Dhar). We think he’s going to change the face of cinema. Instead, he demands to see his heroine in a bikini. At the other end of the movie-viewing spectrum, we have Subba Prasad (Anant Mahadevan), whose walls are adorned with posters of Aayirathil Oruvan and Pudhiya Paravai. A starlet who auditions for him asks what she should do. He says, with a straight face, “Na dance, na expression, na pose – sirf expose.” (The two heroines, Sonali Raut and Zoya Afroz follow this advice to the T.) And finally, The Xposé settles into the genre it was always going for: horror. Not the traditional kind, with screaming ghouls – though one could make a fairly airtight case that Reshammiya, with his eerie knack for turning vowels into nasal consonants, comes close. No, The Xposé involves an entirely different kind of terror, the audience’s realisation that there’s still an hour-and-a-half to go. And Yo Yo Honey Singh is in the cast.
There is a good movie to be made from the premise of a starlet being murdered and the question of who the killer is. A small group of characters, introduced one by one, with each person having a motive – an Agatha Christie-style game is instantly at play. The best film of this type is Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Khamosh, which turned a similar storyline into a solid exercise in claustrophobia. But The Xposé – despite murder, a catfight, a daring rescue from a computer-generated fire, multiple twist endings, and at least one partially revealed nipple – manages to remain terminally dull. And just what is Irrfan Khan doing here? Perhaps indulging in a little exposé of his own, about the vagaries of an actor’s life. One minute, you’re in an Oscar-winning Ang Lee epic. The next, you’re playing narrator in the film of a hero who cannot spell. Tell me Mr. Khan, are you really under that much karzzzz?
* Yeh Nazdeekiyan = see here
* Chanchal sheetal nirmal komal = see here
* Naan oru thadava sonna… = see here
* Anbumani Ramadoss = see here
* Le Mépris = see here
* Aayirathil Oruvan = see here
* Pudhiya Paravai = see here
* “Na dance, na expression, na pose – sirf expose.” = “I just need you to take your clothes off.”
* Yo Yo Honey Singh = Sorry, I can’t bring myself to go there
* Khamosh = see here
* karzzzz = loan, debt; also this
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.