Tuesday, November 9, 2010
So, once again, I am left defending a film I genuinely enjoyed against an onslaught of critics. Make no mistake, Action Replayy’s plot made absolutely no sense and I said as much in my review. Other complaints against the frothy film were that it was cheezy, campy, ridiculous, and pointless. I’m not going to argue with any of that. It’s all true more or less. The only reason for the 1970s setting was for them to give us, the viewers, a whomping eye full of bright prints, bright interiors, and bright costumes. There weren’t even very many 1970s filmi references. The film doesn’t take place in 1970s Bombay or in Farah Khan’s meta-1970s Bollywood, it takes place in the same over-the-top existence of films like Amar Akbar Anthony and Parvarish.
Yes, I absolutely went in with a soft spot for Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai. I enjoy seeing both of them act. I realize that isn’t the case for everybody but I thought they both did a (dare I say it) superb job. Akshay almost never used his comedy shouting voice* and Aishwarya is vintage Mean Girls as Mala.
And, yes, I just have a fondness for gleefully nonsensical plots. I like that not too much time was spent on how the time travel worked - that pedantic stuff gets boring really fast, unless it’s a super-clever movie like Primer.** Who really cares about how the time travel works? In Star Trek IV, they just swing around the sun really fast. Do nerds complain about it? Sure, but that’s what nerds love to do - and I say this as a nerd who is discussing this on her blog right now. Regular audiences probably didn’t care too much. The point of the film wasn’t time travel and it wasn’t Bunty - who really annoyed me with his slacker hipster act - but getting Mala and Kishen together.
I’m sure you all read Beth’s review of Action Replayy. And while she picked up on some of the same criticisms as most of the other reputable critics, she had an additional complaint that I would like to address:
The idea seems to be that confident, energetic, rude Mala, called a goonda by her friends, must be turned seedhi-saadhi while mild-mannered, home-oriented Kishen must become a swaggering jerk for them to fall in love thoroughly enough to sustain their marriage 33 years later. It didn't play out quite as starkly as that, but that seems to be the tack Bunty takes for most of his interfering. Don't get me wrong - I love to meddle, but this particular set of personality makeovers gets a big raspberry from me. There's a big difference between rude and meek - which of course Mala largely is by the end, relying on Kishen to stand up to her bossy mother (Kiron Kher underused in her usual crazy Maa thing)'s objections to their union. Fortunately Kishen retains his good-heartedness, though I didn't catch any kind of conversation about why he felt uncomfortable pretending to be a jackass as a technique for making someone fall in love with him.
Now, I picked up on the Taming of the Shrew references, too, but unlike Beth, the personality transformation didn’t bother me. (And to quote Dr. Katz) And let me tell you why:
What I saw in the Mala-Kishen relationship was that both of their personalities were off balance. Kishen was perpetually subservient and Mala was one of those bullies who bullies to hide her inner pain. It wasn't like Kishen was perfect and took a bet to make Mala into a perfect woman... She's All That, My Fair Lady, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc. are all far more odious in this regard. The point of Action Replayy is that they BOTH need fixing.
So, for the emotional narrative to work, Mala would have to learn to lean on somebody and Kishen would have to learn to stand up for himself. Being a strong-willed woman, myself, I know it’s hard to learn how to give up control and let somebody care about you. Kishen’s “jerk” act was just that - an act - but he used it to break through her massive shields. I hope it goes without saying that this kind of thing is unacceptable in real life and while I certainly wouldn’t encourage anybody to emulate Kishen’s behavior, the overly dramatic resolution to their problems is exactly fitting in the 1970s Bollywood style they were going for. It’s not supposed to be realistic any more than Amar, Akbar, and Anthony were supposed to be a realistic depiction of brothers separated at birth.
Mala and Kishen’s union makes their uneven personalities whole and sets the filmi world to rights - just like Ram and Shyam or Seeta and Geeta or Amar, Akbar, and Anthony.
Kishen, with the help of Bunty, gives Mala a taste of her own medicine and once she begins to take Kishen seriously, she realizes that he’s a good guy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that story at all. And if Kishen is the one standing up to Mala’s Maa at the end, I put forth that it’s because Bollywood is still male-driven and the film is, at the end, Akshay’s film. Obviously, he will have the final word. I’m not saying that this is a good thing but you can’t blame a single film for the ills of the entire industry.
(And as far as “girl-taming” goes, I thought Deepika’s character in Bachna Ae Haseeno is a far worse example... along with dippy Sonam in I Hate Luv Storys who also gets "tamed" by a guy. It's worse in my book because they are supposed to be more "real." )
While I completely respect Beth’s point of view and I do understand where she is coming from, I think this highlights the divide in Bollywood movie viewers. There are some of us who prefer more realistic characters and stories, just zazzed up a bit with a some filmi magic - things like Veer-Zaara or Kal Ho Naa Ho. And there are others of us who prefer that films are bigger than life - comedy is loud and accompanied by sound effects; melodrama and romance become matters of life and death; song picturizations are huge affairs with eye-searing costumes; and the plots are ridiculously ornate and filled with all our favorite henchmen and vamps. These categories are not mutually exclusive (obviously) and, for example, while I am a fan of over-the-top, I also count the more realistic films Rangeela and Dil Chahta Hai among my all time favorites, but when it comes to films that lean excessively towards one or the other sides of the spectrum, the divide shows up.
Maybe it’s because I spent so many of my formative years watching science fiction, East Asian dramas, and the stupid comedy of The Three Stooges but I don’t need characters to be well-rounded and I don’t need them to be realistic. It is enough for me that the emotional narrative bring itself to a close. Mala and Kishen don’t need to be full enough characters to exist outside the realm of Action Replayy because that’s not the point. They are pegs in the masala machine and the satisfying resolution is to bring them together, in gloriously tacky clothes.
With sound effects.
* Incidentally, it’s the same voice he uses for Internet communications, if you’ve ever watched his video blogs. It’s as if he doesn’t trust that the sound will carry all the way across the Internets. I think it’s extremely charming.
** See, I don’t only like stupid movies!
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl