Monday, December 10, 2012

Khiladi 786: Can the critics just shut up already?

“That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” said the woman in the bathroom stall next to mine after a screening of Khiladi 786. Judging by her voice, I suspect - though I can’t confirm, for obvious reasons - that this was the same woman who, as we were exiting the theater, whipped around with a sarcastic, “Aren’t you glad we something brainless?” thinking that I was her husband instead of an awkwardly tall white girl.

Clearly, Khiladi 786 is not the movie for everybody. And unsurprisingly it has gotten a real bashing from the critics for things like - and I saw this mentioned in two reviews - there is more than one singer doing Akshay’s playback. Well, pardon my lack of shock. I seem to recall hearing Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi both singing for the same hero in the same film on more than one occasion. Should we start a petition or something? Is this really what the critics are wasting their time picking on? How come none of the critics cry about reality when stars with very obvious plastic surgery are playing simple village girls or when we’re supposed to think an almost 50 year old man is actually 25?

Here’s what you need to know about Khiladi 786: it is an Akshay Kumar comedy in which everybody runs around a lot, uses so-bad-it’s-good wordplay, and delivers their lines at a blisteringly loud volume that assumes a need to be heard over chatting, eating, drinking, laughing, talking, singing, and anything else that may be taking place in the cinema hall.

Here’s what you need to know if you are thinking about seeing Khiladi 786: it is a fine specimen of that genre.

Akshay and Asin have an easy chemistry and are well matched. Akshay’s gold, spikey shoes are amazing and I would like a pair. Himesh is passable. There was nothing misogynist but there was race-based humor and a literal bus load of comedy Punjabis. The script is tight with very little lag time and, while not a laugh riot like Golmaal 3, it is quite funny.

I had been feeling ill over the weekend but left the theater feeling quite cheered up.

All in all, a fine comedy debut from director Ashish R Mohan.


Now, let’s talk about the film.

Khiladi 786 is built on an old-fashioned chestnut of a plot - an arranged marriage will take place. The difficulties: two criminal families deceiving the other that they are actually policemen and a bride-to-be with a jailbird boyfriend who doesn’t want to get married. The heroes working to overcome the difficulties: the groom-to-be who develops a deep affection for his bride and the marriage arranger who needs the wedding to succeed so that he can make his father proud of him.


It’s a story that could have been made in 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005... but these films are never really about story. We know what is going to happen and having the expectation pay off can be very satisfying. The duty of the filmmaker is to deliver something that both suits the film he or she is making and satisfies the desires of the audience. Because the pleasure we take isn’t in suspense at the unknown but in anticipation of a treat we know and love - like how (and this actually happened during my screening of the movie) the mere sight of Johnny Lever’s face can elicit giggles from the crowd.

One of Khiladi 786’s best running threads is a gag built on the names of the men in the Khiladi’s family. Akshay plays Bahattar “72” Singh and his father, played by Raj Babbar, is Sattar “70” Singh, his uncle, played by Mukesh Tiwari, is Ikhatar “71” Singh, and his nephew is Cauhattar “74” Singh.

The obvious question, asked by everybody they meet, is: “What happened to 73?”

“Ah... Tehattar...” The Singhs reply sadly, “He was lost at a carnival years ago.”

The joke pops up just enough times to tip you off that Tehattar will be making an appearance but who will it be? And when? Can the script deliver on the building anticipation or will it fizzle? Will it be Salman Khan? Will it be the producer throwing a bone to some star son he owes a favor to? WHO?

It’s the attention (or lack of) to that build-up and reveal that make or break a shouty comedy like Khiladi 786. Three hours of only puns and action would really get tedious and there are plenty of these types of films that are wear out their welcomes after about an hour. There has to be something in the narrative the director is telling to keep the viewer interested enough in the film to keep watching - sometimes it’s a love story, sometimes it’s Manmohan Desai style lost-and-found - but the audience needs to feel that anticipation of a resolution to make it through to the end of the film and leave the theater satisfied.

And that’s the real undertone to the mindless bashing of films like Khiladi 786 - the idea that there can possibly be degrees of quality in shouty comedies AND that some filmmakers might actually care about giving the audience a good time instead of just sitting back and counting the cash. I’m not saying that movies like Housefull 2 are going to be joining the Criterion Collection any time soon but I think there is a real difference between a film made with a genuine desire to give people a good product (Khiladi 786) and one that’s a lazy cash grab (i.e. Rascals).

Take the casting. A soppy heroine would have ruined the movie - maybe not the box office, but the movie. I will be eternally grateful to whoever tanked the casting of Nargis Fakhri in favor of the lovely Asin. Everybody says heroines don’t matter but what they mean is heroines don’t matter in getting people to the theater. Remember Mugdha Godse in All the Best? No? What about Jiah Khan waving her whip around in Housefull? Yes, right? See, that’s my point. Heroines matter. And even if a different heroine could have a played a role, it would have a different flavor to it. It could have been Kareena Kapoor or Sonakshi Sinha in Khiladi 786 but both of those films would have a different flavor.

The mere presence of feisty, eye-rolling, sturdy-looking, strong willed, done-this-type-of-film-a-million-times Asin ensured that her character would be no doormat opposite Akshay. And she wasn’t. Asin knows how to play a joke and how to act on screen with Akshay so that she’s noticed. A well-timed glare from Asin could flatten a village - a hero would have to be pretty tough to stand up to that. Bebo’s just as strong, if icier. Sonakshi, so young in the industry, is (figuratively) hungrier and burns brighter. Even Kat, if you remember back to those days, had a strong presence opposite Akshay. In Welcome, if I remember correctly, she even carries him out of a burning building fireman style.

Can you even image Nargis attempting to convincingly deliver a sassy line while holding a gun to the Khiladi’s head? Forget lip-sync songs, that would be unrealistic filmmaking.

Finally, yes, there is a lot of race-based humor which I can only assume comes from Akshay’s fascination with people from other parts of the world. In Khiladi 786, 72 Singh’s mother is... a white Canadian. His grandmother is a black African and his auntie is a Chinese woman. But I thought it was all handled with as much taste as anything else in the film, especially since the family was portrayed as very loving. (And Akshay hugging his African granny was adorable.) The one thing that crossed the line for me was the song that features desi dancers in afros and white girls in extremely skimpy outfits. It was all done deliberately over-the-top and playing up the stereotypes but it still didn’t sit right with me. I just tuned out the background dancers and focused on Asin shaking her hips... and laughing to myself imagining the crew trying to figure out how to differentiate Nargis from the whorey goris in the background.

So, in short, I think Khiladi 786 is a fine comedy and certainly on par with something like Ready. Whether or not that is to your taste is up to you but I’m really tired of seeing the same old cliches and snobby arguments dragged out time and time again. I don’t think anybody went into Khiladi 786 expecting to win film festival awards but let’s give them the credit for going into the film with a desire to entertain.

Himesh, Akshay, Ashish: I think you did a fine job. And, also, thanks for casting Bharti Singh. She’s delightful.


Unknown said...

I love you review! I live in Spokane, WA and only get to see Akshay movies on either Netflix ( if they decide to carry it) or spend crazy amounts on Amazon.
I totally agree about the movie snobbery going on. I just saw the review by Anupama Chopra and she DESTROYED it! I was like, wow...its a comedy, chill.
And I do agree with the issue of the black face. I am NOT a fan of that and it bugs me. I wish they would stop by hey one day...
Anyways, thank you for the review. It will be a while before I can view it...but I really want to see it now!

Jess said...

I usually enjoy these kind of movies (I liked Housefull 2 and Ready, but not Rohit Shetty) but I found it all very boring. Specifically the action was boring. Every single kick and punch was in excessive slow motion, they should have let Akki loose like in his older Khiladi movies with some big stunts and great choreography.

The race based humor was weird, especially since all the (presumably) desis in my theater laughed just at the sight of the black granny, which I didn't get.

I did like Asin and Akshay together though, and that made it not a total waste for me.

Unknown said...

I think..Filmi Girl... You should stop defending all Akshays Movies... He is Great I agree but some of his movies suck BIG TIME ... Can you please tell me which Akshay Movie you didnt like .. I rest my case..

pranav mithal said...

wow...what a post...was so depressed with some of the so called self proclaimed critics, they had completely tarnished the movie. I thought the film was thoroughly enjoyable with good music as bonus. Akshay and ASin are so good in the film their chemistry has taken the film a notch ahead.whoever you are take a bow please and thanks again for writing so sweet and true things about my favs Akshay and Asin.

Raye S. said...

Thanks for the review, I liked your write up and am looking forward to seeing Khiladi 786 :)

Also, I think Akshay's shoes are Louboutin's; which amuses me to no end.

Filmi Girl said...

@anon #1 I'm glad you enjoyed the review! Like I said, it's not a genius film or anything but I thought it was a well made comedy. The black face... it's a complicated sociological issue, I think.

With Akshay, I genuinely believe that he's just fascinated by the variety of the human race. Looking back at his films, you see a lot of playing with the idea of black/white/brown and the use of non-desi actors treated in a sympathetic way.

He's worked with Snoop Dogg and Drake and Gordon Liu and Roger Yuan and Clive Standen and crickter Andrew Symonds... in his own way, Akshay is quite globally minded.

@Jess I can definitely see where you are coming from. It wasn't really an action film and much more of a comedy in the Ready vein and if you aren't in the mood...

@Anon 2 LOL! Wait until I give my answer before resting your case! How about 8x10 Tasveer, Khatta Meeta, and BLUE to start with... and there are plenty of his films which are strictly okay but I end up defending them because everybody else acts like they are The End Of Cinema or something. Films like Housefull and Welcome and De Dana Dan fall in this category. I rest MY case.

@Pranav Mithal Thank you!! You understand exactly what I wrote. :))

Filmi Girl said...

@Raye Really?! I wonder if I can afford a pair. He seemed to LOVE them and wore them in quite a few scenes. :D

Raye S. said...

lol! I am pretty sure they are 2012 Rollerboy Christian Louboutin's. And yes he did seem to like them, they are making appearances outside the movie too from what I've seen.
: )

Filmi Girl said...

Very nice. I did find some Steve Madden knock-offs...

Now I just need my size... ;) Then I'll have some Khiladi-esstyle for Christmas!

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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