It's a little bit weird to review a movie such as Tashan, which received a lot of hype prior to its release but never lived up to the expectations of the audience. Critics were less than fond of it, as well, and pretty much all of the Hindi movie loving crowd rejected the film. Of course there were things other than the film's quality that affected this catastrophic box office success; promotion was far from aggressive, and it clouded the film's actual plot in mystery. The director Vijay Krishna Acharya discussed the movies of his youth and how he and producer Aditya Chopra modelled the promotion according to those days; the days when you knew next to nothing about a film and had hardly seen a trailer when walking into the theater.
This promotional campaign, no matter how unuseful, was not the only thing Acharya took from the 1970's Hindi cinema. In a brilliant essay on 70's masala, Tashan and Om Shanti Om, Filmi Girl details all the throwbacks that make this film indeed seem like a grandchild of the days when Ajit was the villain, Amitabh was the hero and Pran featured in nearly every film you would see. Another fantastic review that gave me a bundle of interesting things to ponder regarding the movie was that of Qalandar's, which focuses on the topic of language in the movie - the Hindi, the English, which the characters speak and understand, and how this reflects them and their importance in the film. (Both of the linked reviews contain spoilers so surf carefully!)
The thoughts sparked by these reviews mark at least one thing - Tashan may be the brainchild of Dhoom 2 writer Acharya, but it is a far cry from the metro-crowd pleasing sleek action that the Hrithik starrer provided us with. In Tashan you have sand-dust and blood, revenge and betrayal. The true masala dish is also spiced with an awkward 'item number' where Kareena attempts to shake the booty Aditya Chopra told her to diet off, but the brief song scene is about the only thing that really reminds you of the writer's previous work.
The movie begins with Saif Ali Khan's Jeetender who in true urban fashion has turned into Jimmy, an English-speaking, English-thinking call center executive and part-time English teacher. He addresses the camera directly and brags about his lady conquests - the combination is somehow a turn-off and generally I regard the beginning quite poor. It alienates even me, the biggest Saif fan, by presenting a character that is like a poor, exaggerated replica of his characters in Salaam Namaste and Hum Tum. Jimmy meets Pooja (Kareena Kapoor), a beautiful girl asking for help, which leads him to teaching Anil Kapoor's cartoon-y villain Bhaiyyaji English. Jimmy is less concerned with teaching English, however, as he is with oggling at the beautiful Pooja. As luck would have it, though, she turns out to be quite the bag of tricks, leading Bhaiyyaji to call Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar), an UP wannabe-gangster, to work with Jimmy and catch the girl who cannot be trusted.
After the story truly kickstarts, following Pooja's disappearance and especially Bachchan Pande's powerful and amusing entrance, Tashan transforms from an awkward, messily narrated film into a fun masala ride that endeared me to its characters, its performances and its storyline. It's by no means the perfect film - besides the beginning, there are a few scenes and few plot diversions I think could be smoother or just better, but overall, I really enjoyed it both of the two viewings I've given it so far.
Saif's character Jimmy I only began to warm up to half-way through my second watch. It helps to see the character as the opposite of Bachchan - the illiterate who speaks a Kanpur-accented Hindi versus the urban English-speaker achiever. They don't have a lot of scenes together, but the relationship is important to the film, though it's clear that one learns more from the other than vice versa. On the other hand, Kareena's Pooja is the truly central character. While Akshay has the presence to carry the story, and he is easily many people's favourite thing about it (indeed Bachchan combines beautifully a lot of the things that Akshay can pull off - the comedic fool, the action hero, the romantic lead), Pooja brings something that Hindi film heroines sometimes lack. Not only does she kick ass and take names, she has the guts to toy with the male characters, and at the same time, have a vulnerable side to her. And despite her slightly too skinny form, Kareena looks gorgeous in the movie.
The film has its share of whacky moments, most importantly the song picturization of "Dil dance maare", which has an explanation and an amusing context in the film, but still makes you ask, "what the hell were they thinking?". Regardless, maybe the explanation is that they were thinking. The lyrics of the song read as a Hinglishized parody for Bollywood song clichés. Instead of 'gori gori', you get 'white white'. Is it a Hinglish song to mock Hinglish songs? Whatever it is, it's not to be taken seriously.
I'm a big fan of the soundtrack. Vishal-Shekhar have provided the movie an Indian rock sound, heard as electric guitar on several tracks and especially in the title song which brings some definite attitude. It's not everybody's thing, but as somebody who used to mostly listen to American rock before Hindi tunes came to my life, it suits me perfectly. Out of the picturizations, besides the crazy fun "Dil dance maare", my heart belongs to the beautiful "Falak tak", featuring Kareena and Akshay in various Indian locations.
Action movies have been far too sleek nowadays, but this film offers up rough and dirty fight scenes in an abundance. The action director Peter Hein has previously worked in the South, but while entertaining in here, I think his best work remains in the Tamil industry, for example the recent Rajni film Sivaji. Regardless, the scenes fit in the tradition of Hindi films - the gore of the post-Sholay industry. No bullets or wire-work go spared, and it could certainly be better, but I enjoyed a lot nonetheless.
Anil Kapoor's Bhaiyyaji is a confusing combination of a twisted, cold-hearted killer, and an amusing villain who speaks funnily. Regardless, the man is perfect for the role, and it's quite a wonder how accurate the overall casting for the film is. Kareena is given a very cool female role which she pulls off well, everybody but Saif as Jimmy would be a knock-off, Akshay was tailor-made for Bachchan and even the minor character casting seems pitch-perfect (the back stories of the main cast feature wonderful young talents).
If I have one major complaint to voice about Tashan, it would be the use of the title in the film itself, which strikes me as horribly gimmick-like. The look of the characters is mostly inconsequential and for example Saif's moustache does nothing but give me the creeps. To say any film is about "style" is to undermine its story and heighten the superficial qualities and despite what people may say, this is not a vapid film. It's a film like any film - made to entertain, but to call it stupid is to ultimately sell it short. But I suppose in the end the 'tashan' of Tashan is not about hair or looks, it's about the 'style within', the attitude and confidence.