I wonder who coined the phrase “dishoom-dishoom.” It has to be an Indian, and it has to have come from watching Indian cinema. No other filmic tradition has featured, so consistently, the action sequences that produce this sound. It’s a great bit of onomatopoeia – close your eyes and say the phrase loud, with that faintly echoey effect, and you can imagine the hero’s fist sinking into the villain’s solar plexus. There’s quite a bit of that in Tevar, and like in most movies today, the old-fashioned dishoom-dishoom is spruced up with wire-fu choreography. Earlier, the villain would receive a punch and fall down instantly, or maybe he’d stagger a bit before falling down. Now, he flies 50 feet away, as if he were sucked into a giant, invisible alien magnet that found him attractive and then changed its mind at the last minute.
I usually find these action sequences tedious. It’s the same thing, over and over – there’s no real choreography, and there’s very little fresh imagination. Moreover, they tend to go on and on. I saw Taken 3 recently. The film is terrible, as generic as they come, but the hand-combat stretches are swift and short. But in our films – in the climactic stretch – the hero has to fight off the villain’s goons first, and then he has to take on the villain, and for a while, the godlike strength he displayed while dispatching those goons vanishes and he’s at the receiving end of punch after slo-mo punch from the villain, and then he’s knifed and he falls on the ground as dust clouds rise around, and the heroine screams in distress and runs towards him, and the villain stops her and drags her away, and then, as the background goes silent, the camera zooms in on the hero and we see an eye flicker open, a finger waver unsteadily…
Amit Ravindernath Sharma, the director of Tevar, understands the need to do something about this. He knows he can’t do much with that climactic stretch, but elsewhere he gives us variety. And apart from the dishoom-dishoom, he focuses on chases. Car chases. Bike chases. Chases during rains. Chases during Holi. Chases on foot. The latter turn out to be the most interesting. They are staged in the intricate network of narrow alleys in Agra and Mathura, and you can imagine the cameraman having dropped twenty kilos during the shoot.
Scene for scene, Tevar is beautifully filmed – and part of this beauty comes from its locations, which contribute “local” props like the istriwallah’s iron and the halwai’s ladle to the fight sequences. We keep ruing the fact that rural India has vanished from our screens, but small-town India has taken its place, and this is equally fascinating. Masala movies are typically set in near-mythical villages lorded over by demons, but the small town adds a little more texture – these ancient good-versus-evil scenarios now play out in a world of Facebook and phone cameras and the Chicago Bulls jacket on the leading man (Pintoo, played by Arjun Kapoor, who really needs to learn how to hold back; there are times he seems to be acting in his own little silent movie). But the India around him hasn’t changed too much. It’s noisy and colourful, and the frames burst with life. Sharma is a genuine filmmaker. His scenes are artfully lit, staged, populated with extras – he makes a masala movie as if he’s making something loftier, worthier, and Tevar is the better for it.
At heart, the film is a compendium of masala-movie clichés. (It’s a remake of the Telugu blockbuster Okkadu, which was remade in Tamil as Ghilli.) It’s the kind of film where you have a song (a nicely choreographed number that goes “Main to Superman, Salman ka fan”) to show that the hero can dance and then you follow it up with an action sequence to show that the hero can fight. The people surrounding Pintoo are clichés too. There’s the quietly exasperated father (Raj Babbar), the paratha-dispensing mother (Deepti Naval), the perky sister, the loyal, cheerful, and not-exactly-career-minded pals – even the villain is a cliché, a bad guy with big connections. Gajendar Singh (Manoj Bajpai) is the brother of the home minster, and he makes a habit of donning florid scarves and killing enemies on the roads, in broad daylight. But the way Bajpai plays the character is far from cliché – he shows us what a good actor can do with a stock part. Around midway, after one of those chases, Pintoo finds that he has the upper hand and decides to have some fun. He orders Gajender and his goons to take their pants off. There’s no rage on Bajpai’s face – just bemused amazement, as if he cannot believe that this kid has reduced him to this.
This plot point comes about because Pintoo wants to save Radhika (Sonakshi Sinha) from the love-struck Gajendar, and Bajpai is good in these falling-in-love portions too. When Gajendar sees Radhika, the soundtrack erupts with Kora kaagaz tha yeh man mera, and if we are to take the song literally, then this is the first time he’s fallen in love – hence the shyness. In Gangs of Wasseypur, Bajpai played a tough guy who goes butter-soft in the presence of women – he’s playing a similar character here, but with an undertone of menace. He has a terrific scene where he barges into Radhika’s college and tells her that he wants to marry her. He doesn’t raise his voice, but underneath the proposition you can sense the threat. Marry me… or else.
One of the more interesting aspects of this story is that we have a love angle, however one-sided, between the villain and the heroine, but for the longest time, there’s nothing between hero and heroine. Pintoo is one of those men we don’t see that much anymore, the hero drawn from the Hanuman-bhakt archetype, respectful and protective of women but not really into following them around with songs destined to add to the repertoire of the Eve-teasers in the audience. He’d rather play kabaddi with his guy friends. The film’s great visual joke is that the Taj Mahal looms over his neighbourhood, practically begging him to fall in love, or maybe mocking his lack of interest in it. And when he does fall for Radhika (and when she falls for him), we see it as the result of a natural progression of events, not as something “cute.” You see why she falls for him, and how – and the director stages this realisation in a song video that also features… dishoom-dishoom. Only, now, she’s the one who’s hit in the solar plexus – that sudden realisation, that thunderbolt. The cost of this artsiness is that Tevar isn’t as electric as it should have been, though that’s also a function of the film being at least a half-hour too long. Win some, lose some, I guess.
- tevar= scowl / attitude
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