Saturday, January 18, 2014

A month in India, part 4: Dhoom 3 on Dhoom Day, Kolkata.

If Indian film promotion is a hurricane, then the first 10 days of our time in India were spent in the eye of the storm known as Dhoom 3. This was not a thing you could avoid, from Kolkata's metro platforms to the road crossing near our hotel, where a bowler hat-wearing Aamir Khan gazed over us. Promos on TV, posters on walls, advertisements on our morning papers - we saw it all.

And yet, we didn't mind one bit. This was the craze we'd signed up for - this was the movie that would be descending on India, and we knew precisely what we were in for. We smiled at every piece of gross, over-exposed piece of promotion we ran into, I worried over one restaurant supper whether we'd make it in time to catch Aamir's Koffee with Karan episode in the hotel room (which I got to watch and it was a blast). There probably should've been a moment where one went, "Okay, enough with this Dhoom 3 already!" and yet there kind of never was? We ate it up, eagerly.

In an ironic twist, perhaps, we watched the megalomaniac Bollywood big budget blockbuster in the city of art cinema, Kolkata, at a southern Kolkata multiplex called London Paris ("Just like home, eh?" I asked my Londoner friend). The tickets were the most expensive movie tickets we'd ever bought in India, 350 rupees each, but the seats reclined nicely, the atmosphere was excellent, and this was the opening Friday night, so one could expect to pay a premium (and compared to Finnish movie ticket prices, this was peanuts).

So what about the actual film itself? The glorious sequel to the maddest madcap action film series the world has ever seen? (And yes, the Fast and the Furious films are quite madcap as well, but they never had Vin Diesel dressing up as the Queen of England, so I think Dhoom still wins over its original inspiration.) Well, this was, in many ways, a very loyal sequel to the previous two. The villain still gets center stage, and any badassery and action sequences that Jai and Ali (Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra, respectively) receive is almost like a pity hand-out, because it's not quite a Dhoom movie without them, and yet you get the sense that both of the sequels have kind of wished they could let these two characters go already. The women are still ludicrously under-written or just plain ludicrous, and mostly there to show off some skin, and dance in some songs. The action is reaching new heights, or new laws of physics.

And yet Dhoom 3 is different. It contains an emotional heart that doesn't quite sit with everything that's been wrapped around it - the formula, that is. It has a central performance that simultaneously makes you gasp in awe and then squirm in discomfort. It was a love story that is criminally (pun intended) underwritten and yet quite sweet. It falls somewhat short on the chemistry between Jai and the villain, which was largely the tentpole that held up the previous two films, but it's still good - replacing this is a chemistry between, well, two other leads.

The soundtrack is a winner from top to bottom, at least in my books. The tap dance spin on the Dhoom Machale number seems gimmicky but sounds and looks legitimately awesome, the circus picturization of Malang is just stunning, and Tu Hi Junoon is a winner all the way. Of course, my love for these songs is peppered by the nostalgia of hearing them during the trip, seeing all of those promos pop up here and there, plus the fact that these are absolutely amazing picturizations to be watched on the big screen.

Dhoom films will always defy logic and be considered as bad by some as they are considered amazing by others. As much as I try to rate these films in a sphere of their own, not to be compared or contrasted against any other films but each other, I can't help but feel that what I told my friend, walking to a Bengali restaurant after the movie, is very true: "This was the most amazing bad movie I have ever seen. Loved it. Will hear nothing bad against it." And yet something bad is precisely what I'm about to voice about it.

Even in the conventional masala madcap forgiveness, one has to forgive Dhoom 3 for a lot of things. Its attempts at being so so cool undercut its desire to be a legitimately good movie with an emotional core. The way it ignores Katrina Kaif's character for most of the movie, barely giving her any lines, barely ever giving her an actual characterisation, only hampers the story as a whole. While Ali's Mumbaiyya lines brought some people in the audience to tears with laughter, many others in the audience, including myself, remained stoic and didn't bite. As slick as it is, as wild as it is, as good (and as bad) as Aamir Khan's performance is, the fact remains it just isn't as good as it could be.

And yet, it's absolutely fantastic, without a doubt my favourite of the film series, and the sole Dhoom film I'll be glad to own on DVD. You should probably see it, for many a reason, and expect nothing, and expect everything, and know that when back in the day some of us theorised about what kind of a Dhoom film they'd have to make to convince Aamir Khan to join it, we didn't quite know it would be this epic a result.

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