Sunday, December 7, 2014

Action Jackson: Three ladies, Two Ajays, and one boss director.

Action! Jackson! AJ! I had a blast at this film! Totally, totally fun. I will agree with some of the negative reviews to this extent--if you don’t like Prabhudeva’s Southern-soaked style of direction and don’t find Ajay Devgn’s macho masala avatar appealing to some extent, then Action Jackson is most definitely not the film for you. That said, the film is nowhere near as brain-dead or misogynist as the critics would have you believe. In fact, by the time the film reached the interval point, I was convinced Prabhudeva had made the film partly as a response to criticism that his female characters were lackluster. Specifically, I couldn’t help but compare how lively and proactive Sonakshi was in Action Jackson to the passive, scared-young-thing role she appears to play in Tevar, the soggy trailer for which ran before the film. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Action Jackson begins with a sweet-natured, pacifist Ajay working as a waiter at a hill station resort hotel. Ajay asks for time off to travel to Mumbai and the next thing we know he’s wailing on some no good rowdies causing trouble at a restaurant. One of the restaurant patrons, a pretty young woman named Riya (?) who is sadly uncredited in every cast list I found, happens to snap a photo of him looking all studly… which will come into play later.

Enter Riya’s friend Khushi (lovely Sonakshi Sinha), the Unluckiest Girl On The Planet. Or, rather, she’s the unluckiest girl on the planet until she happens to walk in on Ajay changing his chuddies in a department store dressing room. Suddenly her bad luck becomes good! She gets a promotion! She gets a marriage proposal from a boy in America! (AMERICA!) In order to lock in her good luck, Khushi decides she needs to track down Ajay in order to get another peek at his junk. Riya tries to help by uploading her pic of Ajay to Facebook but it goes viral amongst her lady friends and inadvertently alerts some mysterious gangsters in Thailand to Ajay’s whereabouts.

Meanwhile Khushi finds Ajay--who’s named Vishi--on her own and spins some bullshit about wanting to follow him around for… “her PhD thesis” but Ajay is onto her scam and decides to punk her by doing things like saying they should meet at the swimming pool but then turning up in a full wetsuit. Khushi’s plan ends up backfiring on her but when she realizes that Vishi is actually a really nice guy and that she likes being around him, she decides to tell the American proposal to fuck off and propose to Vishi instead.

But… BUT! There is a twist! A twist that I wasn’t expecting but probably should have been because Prabhudeva loves mistaken identity and doubles. The second half of the film veers away from Vishi to introduce us to “AJ” (also Ajay Devgan) who is a super-studly sword wielding badass and a specimen of manhood of the highest quality. This second point is important because it’s why he catches the attention of spoiled rich girl Marina (Manasvi Mamgai, making her debut). Marina desperately wants to add him to her collection. I mean, as she explains, she has the best clothes, the best house, the best hair, even the best cigarettes… so obviously she needs the best man. She’s like a demented Cher from Clueless. (“You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.”) But alas, for poor Marina, AJ doesn’t want to be collected.

And now comes the dullest and most conventional part of the film. Standard South Indian-style revenge drama. You see, AJ has a wife. And unlike Khushi or Marina or even RIYA and the gaggle of gal pals or, indeed, almost every other lady with a speaking line, this wife has absolutely no personality or motivations other than “AJ’s wife”--though, to be fair, because they cast Yami Gautam as the wife, I can’t say how much of the bland was written into the character and how much was just natural Yami. Anyway, AJ’s wife gets used as a pawn by Marina and AJ and… things happen. AJ goes back to Thailand… or does he?! What happens to Vishi?! Are they the same person?! Will you survive the deathly dull 15-20 minutes when neither Sonakshi nor Manasvi are on screen?! Why do people keep casting Yami Gautam in things?!

The ending perks right back up again once crazy-eyes Marina returns and Action Jackson finishes with a Prabhudeva dance solo, which is really the only way it could end.

Action Jackson is directed in Prahbudeva’s very South Indian, free-flowing style. The film is much lighter in tone and content than his other Hindi work--and, in particular, much less sour than R...Rajkumar. Actually, the easy-breezy feel reminded me a bit of Akshay’s Entertainment or Ali Zaffar’s Chashme Baddoor. Everybody just seemed to be having a good time with the material. Sonakshi and Ajay were in perfect comedic sync, landing gags off of each other like they’d been working together for years. Manasvi Mamgai committed hardcore to her cartoonish crazy-eyes act to great success. And even Kunal Roy Kapur got into the fun as Vishi’s comedic sidekick, Moosa.

There were orange suited, multinational henchmen; Next Media Animation style CGI news reenactments; lots of panipuri gags, including a really great one involving a dopey fat guy on a motorbike; FOUR Elvis impersonators; plenty of really over-the-top punch lines; and friendly appearances from Prabhas (!!!!!!!) and Sasha!

Basically, Action Jackson is a whole shitton of fun… if you like visual gags, South Indian style masala silliness, and Ajay being studly but not too self-important. (All things I like.)

Despite the name and the trailer full of Ajay Devgn, what really made Action Jackson such a fun film were Khushi and Marina, as played by Sonakshi and Manasvi. Don’t get me wrong, Ajay was great, but part of WHY he was so great is that he was given really strong personalities to play off of… for most of the film. I do like Ajay as a hero but I feel like his most appealing work comes when he’s working with a good, strong foil--like Kareena Kapoor in Omkara, the Gomaals, etc. Bebo brooks no fools and fights for every inch of screen space. Sonakshi is the same. She and Ajay just worked so well together in the first half of the film where Sona’s character had the main plot line. They also had sizzling chemistry, which helped things along greatly. Manasvi didn’t have sizzling romantic chemistry with Ajay but she did stir up a nice antagonistic thing with him. I actually felt like the two were very evenly matched as hero and villain--and considered one of the pair is a buff, 40+ hero and the other is a 20-something former beauty queen, that is not an easy feat.

The thing is, both Khushi and Marina are drivers of their own fate. They have their own goals. And, initially, Khushi’s goal doesn’t even include Ajay Devgn--she just wants to grab a look at his junk for good luck and then jet off to America. She falls in love with him after spending some time with him and realizing that not only is he a genuinely nice guy but she likes who she is when she’s around him. Can you ask for more from a relationship? Marina, in contrast to Khushi, decides she wants Ajay Devgn at first sight. She doesn’t care about anything other than status and greed. He’s the ultimate in top-quality manmeat, therefore she is going to own him. And Marina always gets what she wants. Always.

Because Khushi and Marina were such strong female characters, it was a real disappointment when the action switches to soggy AJ’s wife, as played by Yami Gautam. Thankfully she’s only on screen for about 15 minutes or so but those 15 minutes are just dire. She’s kidnapped, kidnapped again, almost murdered, and trotted around like a show pony. “I’m AJ’s wife! I’m carrying his baby! Wow! Isn’t that great! I have no personality or desires of my own! Order me from the Ikea Catalog No. 78302! I come fully furnished!” We’re given no hint as to WHY we should care so much about whether or not AJ rescues her other than, you know, “AJ’s wife.”

It really did get to the point where it seemed like the film held her in disdain, as well. Maybe the edge of schadenfreude was just in my own mind but the way “AJ’s wife” was thrown around was almost gleeful, as if they felt they had to include this character but hated the no-personality-wife-character as much as I did. I mean, they even included an Alpine-set romance song but… it was also so flavorless! Especially compared to the lively, creative numbers Manasvi and Sonakshi get. It had to be by design that I, the audience, start rooting for Marina to kill the wife off.

But, ah, Marina. And Khushi. Sonakshi’s Khushi was truly a wonderful, wonderful heroine and, wow, did Manasvi play a fantastic lady villain. Khushi’s proactive and unfearful personality and her non-guy centered life. The way Marina uses her sex appeal as a weapon… and how she was just all untrampled id. Manasvi had crazy-eyed greed and sapphic torture scenes… Sonakshi had spot on comic timing and a gaggle of gal pals who helped the film pass the Bechdel Test. I loved them both.

So, do I think Action Jackson was misogynistic, as many critics are claiming? No. No, I don’t. What I think is that the film held the personality-less wife character in disdain but then… I did, too. I always hate the personality-less wife character or the heroine who exists merely to serve as an object of desire. What stands out about Action Jackson is not how AJ’s wife gets kidnapped but that AJ’s wife has almost no screentime and the two female characters who dominate the film have fully-rounded and totally non-stereotypical roles. Maybe not everybody read the film like this but that’s how it seemed to me. It wasn’t misogynist but it’s true that “the wife” character is treated shabbily.

In a way, it’s like Bang Bang all over again. That film only made sense if you realized that it was the heroine driving this story. The same goes here. Khushi and Marina are the driving forces of the first and second halves, respectively. Ajay Devgn, in both avatars, is the object upon which they act. When the film veers from this--aka when AJ’s wife is in the picture being boring--that’s when the film falters and the momentum dies. The film plays with “the wife” character as a trope but if you were reading the film as a male-centered story where “the wife” = female lead… well, I understand how the misogyny charge be argued. I just disagree.

Anyways, I had a blast. The film is fun. Long on visual gags, short on puns. Lively songs. Good chemistry between Ajay and Sonakshi. Great debut from Manasvi. The End.


Goldilocksprime said...

You had me at Prabhas.

Filmi Girl said...

It was SO GOOD to see him! For whatever reason I haven't been able to get my hands on Mirchi.

Divya said...

Tevar is a remake of Gilli/Okkadu ... in my mind the best of the southern masala films, and it looks like Manoj Bajpai is enthusiastically hamming it up, as Prakash Raj did in the original. So it may not be a bad movie. The heroine doesnt have much of a role but the original did have Vijay/Mahesh Babu who pretty much drive the film with their charisma and comic timing. I am iffy about Arjun Kapoor pulling it off though since the movie is so hero driven.

Goldilocksprime said...

Mirchi is on Einthusan. Love that site.

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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