Monday, June 20, 2011

Veer: A real old-fashioned pot boiler!

Salman Khan is not an actor known for getting overly involved in his projects. Aamir and Hrithik do one film at a time, completely transforming themselves for a character; Shahrukh is deeply involved in production and promotion; Akshay is continually trying to branch out into artier films; and Salman is content to do whatever his family, friends, and fans want to see from him. Salman treats films as a job rather than an artistic outlet - for that, he has his painting and his charitable foundation. So, when word began to circulate sometime during 2006 that Salman Khan was writing a film, people were understandably curious.

The 2000s were not a kind decade to Salman. Outside of a few low-brow comedy hits -
Muhjse Shaadi Karogi, No Entry, Partner, etc. - he couldn’t seem to find a formula that really clicked with audiences. Despite many sincere and emotional performances in films like Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001) and Tere Naam (2003), the zeitgeist had turned in favor of the youthful, urbane, and cool. You might call it the Dil Chahta Hai decade, focused on questions of yuppie romance and incorporating more Western-style narratives into films. Was it this change in the cultural zeitgeist that inspired Salman to finally begin writing his own film? A film that would be and say all the things he wanted? Well, it’s one question I plan to ask Salman if I ever get the chance because the historical fantasy of Veer is essentially the opposite of something like contemporary romantic-comedy Hum Tum - a riotous and extremely earnest display of herogiri firmly rooted in the masala films of the 1970s and 80s.

From all accounts, the process of bringing Salman’s deeply personal work to screen was difficult. All through 2007, 2008, and 2009 reports trickled out from the sets. There was controversy over leading lady Zarine Khan, a newcomer who was said to bear a striking resemblance to Salman’s real life girlfriend Katrina Kaif. Zarine had been asked to put on weight for the role and perhaps the ‘Fat-rina’ puns flew fast and furious. Director Anil Sharma, who had previously helmed the expensive
masala hits Gadar (2001) and The Hero (2003), seemed to have gotten himself in over his head. Instead of computerized special effects, Veer was going to be a real epic. Shooting crept along slowly with hundreds of horses and thousands of extras in battle gear camped on location. Part the historic Amber Fort in Jaipur where they were shooting collapsed and injured 15 people, causing longer delays in shooting. And as the film went into post-production, Salman reportedly was unhappy with certain aspects of the film and demanded changes. Just to add icing to the cake of controversy that was being baked, Salman got his buddies Sajid-Wajid, better known for their club hits, in to do the music and plenty of ink was spilled over whether the brothers would be up to the challenge of writing ‘period music.’

Meanwhile, while the machinery of
Veer was sluggishly churning along, something unexpected happened in the fall of 2009 - Salman Khan had a super hit with the deliciously fun Wanted, a remake of the Telugu hit Pokiri. An amazing and wonderful thing for Salman’s career overall probably hit the final nail in the coffin for Veer. Wanted is a real post-modern masala film made with a giant wink to the audience; nothing in the film is taken too seriously other than Salman’s pursuit of bad-assery. With Veer coming just months after Wanted, audience expectations were high - and audience expectations were for another film like Wanted. When Veer was finally released in January 2010, just weeks after Aamir Khan’s blockbuster 3 Idiots, it would have had to have been the next Sholay to cut through the hysteria and the film ultimately failed to draw in the crowds.

Veer, quite simply put, is a throwback to a time when things like ‘historic accuracy’ and ‘irony’ didn’t mean as much as they do today. The story begins in the 1920s. A British journalist and her father are traveling to interview a fierce Pindari leader in Rajasthan. When they ask him why he is so fierce, he answers with a flashback to the 1860s where we see a betrayal of the Pindaris, led by warrior Prithvi (a welcome Mithun Chakraborty,) by the slimy king of Madhavghar, (an also-welcome Jackie Shroff.) The king (gleefully) has 4500 Pindaris slaughtered and Prithvi, understandably angry, cuts off the king’s hand in retaliation. Prithvi returns back home and swears revenge, a revenge that will be carried out by his new baby son.

Fast forward a generous “25” years later and that baby is now Veer (Salman Khan), who enjoys raiding British trains full of loot with his brother Punya (Salman’s real life brother Sohail Khan.) It’s one of these raids that he meet a mysterious and
zaftig princess (Zarine Khan) and falls in love at first sight. With the help of some helpful Christian monks, Veer and Punya are shipped off to London to study the English, with the goal of learning the ways of the enemy. These two are no wallflowers and Veer and Punya find trouble (and class warfare) at the college, making enemies of the college administration along with a pair of ritzy Indian brothers (Aryan Vaid and Puru Rajkumar). Psst... guess who their sister is!

The princess and Veer find some romance but when he finds out her true heritage (i.e. the daughter of the guy who slaughtered his people) he kills her brothers and sulks off back to Rajasthan to sort out his feelings.

As we enter the second act, the princess is crowned next in line to the throne by a golden-handed Jackie Shroff in a sequence so creepy that it made me wish that they had brought back the
Filmfare Best Villain award. Veer has decided to win her over - despite the slaughter on both sides - with an elaborate ruse that involves winning trust through fighting Sohail Khan in a tiger costume and then posing as a ritzy prince of a kingdom so far away nobody has ever heard it. Also, Lisa Lazarus turns up to swan about the palace being white as the daughter to the yellow-haired Steve (William Chubb), the king’s British partner-in-crime. The simplest way to describe the rest of the act is: events transpire that lead to an epic battle featuring a shirtless Veer fighting shirtless Rhino (Dutch bodybuilder Roy Bronsgeest) for the hand of the princess. (Guess who wins!) Veer then fights his father Prithvi over the question of whether or not to fight the people of Madhavghar and then (together) they fight the British.

We end back in the 1920s with Salman Khan playing Veer’s “25” year old son.

The real Pindaris seem to have been active at the
beginning of the 19th century but in Veer, historical accuracy never even enters into the equation, other than Zarine Khan’s highly publicized healthy look. Veer is about as historically accurate (and realistic) as Magadheera and almost as entertaining. Salman Khan is clearly a) an old-fashioned kind of guy and b) someone who loves his father and brother. There have been many times over the years that I’ve wanted to say, in the style of Plastic Regina George to Gretchen, “Stop trying to make Sohail happen.” But in Veer, the two brothers are having the time of their lives. Actually, everybody seems to be having a pretty good time - whether it’s Mithun doing “Pindari dancing,” Jackie Shroff chewing the scenery, or the hordes of extras grinning like crazy in the background. Veer has an infectious energy and despite the convoluted plot, I found myself drifting along accepting everything that happened next without too much concern for what had just happened before.

I’m not going to say that
Veer is a good film - because it’s not - but I found it to be well worth watching and I’m deeply disappointed that I missed seeing it on the big screen because director Anil Sharma really uses all those horses and extras and landscape to make a vibrant visual palate. If ever my attention drifted from the action, there were dozens of things to catch it. The costume design is probably best described as ‘enthusiastic.’ Colorful frocks, outrageous hats, ridiculous fur vest, wigs mimicking hair not found in nature, opera gloves, and plenty of tight trousers are all on display. And the extra time and money spent to shoot on location means plenty of gorgeous scenery, too.

Salman Khan is fully engaged in this story and he does what he does best - be a
hero. His jodi with brother Sohail was really fun and if his chemistry with Zarine was a bit lacking... well, it didn’t really bother me all that much. Salman really just throws his heart into everything he does in Veer and that kind of enthusiasm is catching. Whether he is dancing or fighting or emoting or guffawing, Salman believes in it and every emotion is 100% earnest. I’ve never felt that Salman was a good actor but he is a great hero when he wants to be. In Veer he wrote for himself the kind of role that doesn’t really exist anymore in Hindi cinema - emotional, earnest, romantic, comedic, devout, and macho all rolled into one. (Well, Krrish fills this niche, too but it’s still pretty rare.) Veer isn’t cynical; Veer doesn’t care about status or hip t-shirts; Veer isn’t busy mocking Hindi film cliches; Veer doesn’t know a size zero woman from Silk Smitha; Veer respects his parents; Veer is strong enough to rip out a man’s intestines; and Veer dances despite his lack of dance skills.

Can we talk about Zarine Khan for a second? First of all, shame on every single so-called critic who mocked her weight or called her Fat-rina. Yes, Zarine in her debut is bigger than heroines today but she is by no means outside the range of healthy female figures. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - when we police women into a single acceptable body type, everybody loses. She does a fine job with the role of the princess and I thought she looked gorgeous in both her English dresses and her princess outfits. Not too much acting was required of her but I thought she had a really nice on-screen presence and drew my eye whenever she showed up.

As for the rest, Mithun just dominated whenever he was onscreen. He seemed to having fun with playing the almighty warrior Prithvi. I hadn’t mentioned her before but Neena Gupta was really sparkling as Veer’s mother. Sohail was Sohail. The sleazy royal brothers, Aryan Vaid and Puru Rajkumar, were
excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much Puru Rajkumar’s haughty looks added to my enjoyment of various scenes. Jackie Shroff was the real stand-out, though, and his villainous performance definitely stacks up with baddies like Prakash Raaj and Pradeep Rawat.

Salim Khan allegedly had a hand in punching up the script and there are a few places where one senses a more reasoned mind amongst the chaos. In between silly Salman gags (the sort we’re all familiar with from his
Twitter feed) and the Salman herogiri, you could see an effort to place greater India within the context of the British Empire. For one thing the film actually depicts African and various types of Asian students during the London portions of the film. And there are a handful of dialogues relating to the ways the corporate West still pulls strings in numerous countries around the world.

Another thread that I found really fascinating is possible that it was added in by Jackie Shroff himself. His king is really creepily interested in the princess - really he’s a love rival. During the coronation ceremony I was half convinced that he was going to try to marry her himself! That disturbing undertone really added some zest to the events in the second half.

At a certain point in the film it dawned on me that Salman probably identifies more with the older style of films that Mithun was making back in the day than with the
youngistan films coming out now. And maybe that’s one of the reasons he has been able to tap into something that really resonates with large sections of the Bollywood audience, who are perhaps tired of inward looking urban middle-class youths concerned only with romance and ‘edgy’ experimental films that involve one actor or actress playing numerous roles. So, why didn’t audiences turn up for Veer?

Timing certainly played a part of it. Coming so soon after
3 Idiots, any film would have had to be a cinematic masterpiece to make a favorable impression in comparison and Veer, ambitious as it is, is no masterpiece. And maybe Veer was just too trapped in the past for mainstream audiences, who have come to enjoy a bit of ‘cool’ and ‘meta’ in their entertainment - Veer was just too much, too long, too many songs, and too much bling.

But for me, it was just right. Maybe it wasn’t the right film at the right time but I don’t think
Veer deserves the scorn heaped upon it.

Now for some pictures!

There are some beautiful landscape scenes... Rajasthan! Not computer generated!

The Pindaris!

Jackie Shroff being evil! Look, would you trust this MoFo?

"Save your attitude for your enemies... and say hello to my little friends!"




~~ Flash Forward "25" years ~~

This poncho he's wearing rides up at one point during this train heist... he's wearing nothing underneath it. (Naturally!)

Introducing Zarine Khan...

No wonder Veer falls for her... so pretty!

Back at the Pindari ranch, you can just see how much fun the whole gang is having! Look at those smiles!

Of course!

These white extras in London were really charming. They were having such a good time!

Does she look fat to you? NO! Pretty, pretty Zarine!

It wasn't South Asian folks at the British school in London - other colonized lands were represented.

Puru Raajkumar was delightfully smarmy.

I loved watching these two...

... and Salman was adorable cracking up at all his own jokes.

I like that they made the bad guy not just blonde but YELLOW-haired.

Quite a few of the London extras had yellow-hair, actually...

You know who the real boss around here - GOLDEN HAND JACKIE SHROFF!

Check out his creepy chemistry with Zarine!

The coronation ceremony...

That is not the look of a proud papa...

I really like Zarine; I hope she sticks around B-town.

Lisa Lazarus shows up!

A tiger!

Or is it?

There were so many pretty things to look at in Veer!

Everywhere you turn!

Um... not everywhere Rhino turns...

Look at that display of manliness! Who can resist?!

Not the princess!

(That's blood he's marking her with... just in case you were wondering.)

And who says Salman Khan can't do romance anymore...


Ness said...

Oh man, I LOVE Veer. I love it because it's silly and entertaining and you make a good point - the films Sallu grew up identifying with would likely be waaaay more along these lines than the slick, urban stuff than came into fashion for a while. It's not everyone's cup of tea (nor was it back in the day) but I LOVE this stuff.

Jess said...

"Akshay is continually trying to branch out into artier films" --Really? I can't think of very many that he's done.

"I’ve never felt that Salman was a good actor but he is a great hero when he wants to be."--That's exactly how I'd describe him. Why Wanted and Dabangg were so good for him.

Based on your review, Veer sounds like an 80s Hollywood action B-movie. Like Beastmaster or Conan...which I can totally get into.

NaF said...

First up, can I just point out that the link you gave for the Being Human site is actually a fansite? This is the link to the official BH website:
And the official twitter handle for Being Human is @tweetbeinghuman for all those interested.

Anyways, thank you very much for this Veer post! I enjoyed this film so much I actually watched it twice on the big screen! And can I just point out that the songs from this film is pretty fantastic? I think it's Sajid-Wajid's best work till date. I loveee Salaam Aaya and Taali is just completely mad, in a good way.

And completely agree with you about the Fatrina comments, Zarine Khan doesn't look fat at all to me, but yes she is big-boned probably because of her Pathan lineage. Otherwise, she looks healthy and very pretty indeed. The first person I heard calling her "Fatrina" is Rajeev Masand, who is a size zero himself *rolls eyes*

Here's a Zarine interview where she speaks on the pressure the industry is putting on her to lose weight:

And oohhhh, hell yeah Salman Khan can definitely do romance! I don't know about others but I kinda find Chulbul Pandey and Veer more romantic than Rahul I-stand-here-and-do-nothing-but-cry Khanna from KKHH (a film that I adore too). But I guess that's just me and my appreciation for manly men!

eliza bennet said...

This is one film I'll have no trouble staying away from.

Zarine is a good example of that certain something you have got to have to be star on big screen. She looks like Katrina but doesn't have "it" (nothing to with her weight which didn't look that much to me and the more important question in that regard is even if she is overweight what is wrong with that?)

Yunus Perveez said...

So you know me, I wave my Sallu Fan club card around as much as I can but Veer more of a dissapointment for me than Ready. (Probably as I had more expectations)
and I think both time the fault lies with the director of both these movies.

They just really aren't that talented and the the tone of the movie is just off. For example even the build up for the Rhino fight was huge. We had seen the guy for probably 30 minutes before and they fight ended with a twist of the neck and that was pretty much it.

And then the dialogues just lacked the punch that Wanted and Dabanng defintely did have. It lacked the Paisa Vasool that Salman Khan Audiences really want in his movies.

The Fatrina comments...I have to say she looks a lot better in character dheela, maybe it is the fact she toned down a bit or just the clothes and make up but when people have been comparing her to Katrina who is SO beautiful and then they get Zarine in Veer all soft focused, I understand they are dissapointed.

The worst part is that I would love Salman Khan write more stories, I really like his hero-giri and his Baaghi which was also written by him is beyond awesome!
I think if someone could have just got back and re-edited Veer, there is much salvageable but with a director like Anil Sharma ( I despise Gadar)

Awesome write up though Kara! Almost makes me want to watch the movie again but I'll just go back to Veergati ( which I m not sure if you have seen or not but I do advice you to chekc it out)

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness Did you write up Veer? I don't remember reading your review but I have a feeling I would enjoy it!

@Jess Oh, Akki, is always trying to do something different but for whatever reason nothing ever works. 8 x 10 Tasveer and Patiala House most recently. These aren't films he does because he is doing a favor or they're offering money... :)

@NaF :) Fixed the link.

@Eliza Ha ha ha!! You probably wouldn't enjoy it. But you know, with Zarine, I actually liked her quite a bit in the film. She may not sparkle like Katrina does but she seems more grounded than a Sonam or Deepika.


The worst part is that I would love Salman Khan write more stories, I really like his hero-giri and his Baaghi which was also written by him is beyond awesome!
I think if someone could have just got back and re-edited Veer, there is much salvageable but with a director like Anil Sharma ( I despise Gadar)

Honestly, I don't think the editing would have changed anything. The story was a mess. I happened not to care too much but there were plot holes big enough to drive a aircraft carrier through!

The film is a sloppily scripted, sloppily acted, and extremely enthusiastic mess but that is why I enjoyed it. It's completely understandable that somebody wanting a film more along the lines of Wanted would be disappointed.

I think it would be worth going back and revisiting because I had an experience with the film Serenity that really solidified for me the way expectations can cloud our perceptions. I was a big fan of Firefly and was REALLY excited for the movie version. However the film had a very different vibe from the show and I ended up not liking it very much.

A couple years later, when I was no longer Firefly obsessed, I happened to catch the film on television and ended up liking it a lot better.

Maybe coming after Ready, you'll find Veer to be a treat. :)

OH! Fatrina - were people really expecting a Katrina duplicate though? I remember the "hefty heroine" stories circulating for a while before the film came out.

Shell said...

Honestly, I didn't think I would touch this film with a 10 foot pole. There were very few Sallu films I'd seen and enjoyed when this came out, plus apparently I am easily swayed when something is touted as being awful. However, if I said now that I'm not intrigued I would be lying. Salman has gained several notches on my personal ladder of actor appeal, and the pics certainly do supply a visual appetizer to my filmi appetite. I might just have to watch after all. Thanks for making me sway from my convictions! :)

Moimeme said...

Very good write up, FG! I'm glad you were able to enjoy the film despite its drawbacks (which were mostly in execution rather than conception, IMO)

Here's another link to Salman's paintings:

Jess said...

@Filmigirl I think in the last 5 years he's made almost 20 movies and only like 5 of them can count as non-action or non-comedy films, so with that little of an effort I'd hardly call it 'trying to branch out'.

Filmi Girl said...

@Jess It's not about quantity - he has to pay the bills, too, you know. Doing a film like Patiala House is trying to branch out.

Ness said...

Hell yeah I wrote up Veer! Here:

For the record, I like Zarine SO MUCH MORE than Katrina and feel exactly the opposite about her than Eliza Bennett - I feel like she is much warmer and more likeable. That's just me though.

Jess said...

@Filmigirl If you mean "branching out" as in Akshay is trying to grow as an actor/artist, I don't think there is really any evidence for that. I've seen him say it before: he's a commercial actor, he makes films to entertain people. But I'll agree with you if "branching out" means trying to see what other types of films he can make hits.

never-evil said...

Oh, it is nice to see other people like Veer too. It is actually one of my favourites. You've mentioned here that it probably has some flaws but I...can't even see those I'm that biased. I feel like people missed out on such a fantastic experience with this movie.

Someone mentioned how they liked Baaghi more than Veer. I love them both personally and in some ways I can see Salman's fundas of life reflected in both. Baaghi is more sweet with the young hero only just trying to find what it is he wants to stand up for in life, and how he can become a responsible person. Veer, made much later in Salman's life, is thus self-assured, firm, but no less jaded or cynical. I hear both Baaghi and Veer were written around the same time, I wonder who Salman thought would play Veer back then - he certainly wouldn't have been able to pull it off when he was young. He wouldn't have had that gravitas required for certain scenes. I also would love to know how much the script evolved from back then to now. Did the father-son relationship change or was it always like that, for example.

Someone else mentioned not liking the dialogues? Wow I had the completely opposite experience - I freaking LOVE the dialogues of this movie. So... "dumdaar" hehe. You don't get to hear the like these days.

I didn't see the weird vibes Jackie was giving Zarine at all. But I was convinced about Jackie and the English General being an item lol. Maybe Jackie just has chemistry with everyone XD

Anyway for a rainy day, in case anyone feels like reading reams of stuff :P
Baaghi -
Veer -

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
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