Watching Holiday, AR Murugadoss’s remake of his Tamil hit Thuppakki, we are able to see better what made the earlier film work. One, the fact that the other big-budget, hero-worshipping Tamil films that year – Thaandavam and Maattrraan – turned out to be terrible, and Thuppakki showed up just in time for audiences who were despairing of seeing a movie from a major hero that made at least a smidgen of sense. Two, it was a Tamil film set in Mumbai – the plot about hunting down terrorists was essentially that of Sarfarosh, but with more masala – and yet, the hero and his cohorts weren’t the usual rubes flailing about in an alienating “North India.” They spoke Hindi and English when needed, like how people who’ve made their homes elsewhere do. Holiday is set in Mumbai and this cultural connotation, this colour, is lost. It’s just business as usual.
Three, and most important, Murugadoss found a balance between the demands of the story and the desire to enshrine his hero. So on the one hand we followed the sober tale of a soldier in the Indian Army (namely, the Character) who wipes out a significant threat from a terrorist organisation’s sleeper cells, and on the other, we basked in thrills from a hero (namely, the Archetype) who swaggers through this mission in style. And after seeing Holiday, I think we can safely declare that it was Vijay who made Thuppakki work – rather, our expectations of a Vijay movie. The bar is usually set so low that Thuppakki came as a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising was the decision to make Vijay play a part far removed from the ones he usually plays. The typical Vijay masala movie is about street smarts, but here he was genuinely intelligent. If Kamal Haasan was shown cracking a Rubik’s cube, we’d yawn and say where’s the surprise in that (and we’d expect him to move to on to one with twelve sides), but with Vijay, these gimmicks seemed fresh. Plus, he was a sadistic vigilante, who took out a toolkit and snapped off fingers of terrorists. And then he shot them dead. We’d never seen Vijay like this, and what would have been a sub-par Kamal Haasan thriller ended up seeming a fairly impressive masala outing.
In other words, the star’s image had a lot to do with our perception of Thuppakki, and without that particular star, the film’s flaws stand out in sharp relief. Akshay Kumar is a good action hero, a good comedian, probably better than Vijay in both these departments, but he doesn’t have what Vijay has, a unique image – he’s a rather generic presence in his films. When he does the “mass moment” scenes, they don’t send a frisson through us, the way they would when these moments are enacted by popular stars with a strong image. He cannot carry a bad film. His films are good if the writing/directing is good, and here, these aspects are far from satisfactory. Holiday, like Thuppakki, is too long. The romantic track (with Sonakshi Sinha) is too bland, too sexist, too redundant. The emotional beats are weak – we aren’t invested enough in the characters to chew our nails over their fate. Murugadoss told me, in an interview recently, that in his remakes (like Ghajini) he fixes the problems in the original film. Didn’t he think these were problems? Or is the real problem the fact that there’s no Aamir Khan this time around?
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.