Midway through India Pakistan, Karthick (Vijay Antony) and Mellina (Sushma Raj) – Chennai-based lawyers both – find themselves in a village. Karthick is hanging out with some guys who think Mellina is easy: andha maadhiri ponnu. It’s the kind of cheap talk you hear all too often about urban women who have a mind of their own. Karthick says she isn’t, and as proof, he goes up to her (the others are watching) and begins a conversation. By now, she’s developed feelings for him, and she’s been wondering how to tell him – this seems like a good opportunity. After a while, he places a hand on hers. She places her hand on his. According to her, she’s saying she loves him. According to him, she’s failed the “test.” (He thought she’d snatch her hand away and shoot him the kind of look Saritha used to bestow on her tormentors.)
Even given the long tradition of misogyny in our cinema, this “test” looks like a new low – but Mellina gives it back to Karthick. She says, “Who are you to give me a test? Who are these other men to talk about my character?” The scene doesn’t have a payoff – she storms off, and it’s interval point. The thread is never really picked up again. But still, the mere fact that a generally empty-headed entertainer endows its heroine with spunk and spirit and does not make apologies for her made me want to give the director, N Anand, a small bar of chocolate – despite his making light of a rape incident, despite another moment where Karthick slaps Mellina.
Given these scenarios, you may think the film is about the romantic relationship between Karthick and Mellina, but that’s just one part. India Pakistan is insanely overstuffed with plot and characters. For a while, given that Karthick and Mellina are arguing for opposing sides of a case in court, I imagined we were in for an update of Adam’s Rib, where Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn played a couple who turned into warring lawyers. But soon, the story takes a detour into that village – and this is probably a good thing. The leads have no snap, no sparkle, and the only place we get some screwball energy is during the song India naan Pakistan nee. At least, the village gives us other, more interesting characters.
We get a chap who wants to marry Mellina. (He thinks “city girls” are beautiful.) We get two local big shots (Pasupathy and MS Baskar), who are fighting over a tract of land. (It’s this case that Karthick and Mellina have taken on.) Back in the city, we have a corrupt cop who’s after an incriminating DVD. Then there’s all the stuff between Karthick and Mellina, who can’t decide whether they’re meant to be together (cue: happy song) or not (sad song).
That’s way too much happening – nearly two hours and forty minutes – for a film that just wants to be a light-hearted entertainer. And the director doesn’t push his gags enough. Still, the laughs keep coming. It’s strange how a film that begins well and ends badly makes us feel it’s not so good, whereas a film that begins badly and ends reasonably well makes us feel it’s not so bad. India Pakistan is one of those not-so-bad films, thanks to solid contributions by MS Baskar (who holds his hands out and waits for the almighty’s sign before doing anything, much to the annoyance of others) and Manobala (the stretch where he loses his dhoti in a mall is a riot). I wished we’d seen more of them and less of the lazy comedy track written around Jagan. N Anand has a knack for the absurd. I’d be interested in watching a pure comedy by him – but please, nothing more than a couple of hours.
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As an aside, can someone take a look at what constitutes “family entertainment”? India Pakistan comes with a “U” certificate, and it has a gag about a prostitute, a scene where an angry cop bashes up a goon with a long, rusty pole (the clang on the soundtrack is terrifying), and a bit where a sidekick watches a recording of an encounter killing and comments that it’s like a Vijayakanth movie. I laughed like everyone else in the theatre, but a second later, I felt uneasy about how numb we’ve become to violence. The cop’s bullet enters the back of the head. We see blood spray out. The camera shifts to the victim’s face. We see the bullet hole in the middle of the forehead. And we laugh when someone says, “It’s just like a movie.” Something’s very wrong.
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