Well it ain't half been a while, huh? Let's catch up: since the last post, I undertook the massive . . . undertaking . . . (coughcough) of reviewing every single Batman movie ever made for Tor. It was interesting, starting with the 1943 and 1949 serials, then moving to the Adam West/Burt Ward “holy kitschy 60s homoerotic silliness, Batman!” incarnation, then to Tim Burton, then to Joel fucking assnuts Schumacher—research revealed that he spent the whole second movie (probably) fucked up out of his head and (verifiably) screaming shit into a megaphone about not taking anything too seriously, verifying my most wild exaggerations—and then to the Extremely Serious And Fraught With Portent version brought to us by Christopher Nolan (who sure is good at casting: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is going to be straight uncut meeeeeow). Basically, after that whole fuckin' thing was done I needed to get the fuck out of Batman world and into something wholly other.
Enter my buddy Abe, whose contagious Bollywood evangelism has led to me being that dickhead in the front pew who doesn't really know what's going on but fucking FEELS THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD. Starting a few months ago with Endhiran (which wasn't a Bollywood movie but it had Indian people in it and was a good gateway drug for me because it was really fucking expensive and had a whole lot of trippy FX) and continuing with a recent outing to see Tees Maar Khan—the subject of a splendidly popular post—I'm starting to really dig the shit out of Indian movies, because they understand a couple things that we kinda lost here in America:
(1) Movie stars are important. The guy needs to be awesome and the girl needs to be hot and that's not fucking negotiable.Doesn't that sound exactly like what I've been saying all this time in between the cursing and the Schwarzenegger advocacy? It's a match made in geek heaven.
(2) Stylized acting fucking rules
(3) Singing and dancing similarly fucking rules
(4) It's a movie. It's meant to be enjoyed.
So, less than an hour after finishing up the Batman pieces, I hopped into the shower and on the subway and, with the Tees Maar Khan crew, took in a Bollywood DVD double feature. The first picture we saw was called Om Shanti Om, by TMK director Farah Khan. The best way I can describe Om Shanti Om is that it's about everything, and everyone is in it; neither of those is all that much of an exaggeration.
The hero is Shahrukh Khan, a man who gives you your money's worth (and who's damn near a billionaire in US bux just from acting, which is seriously badass in its own way), playing two roles. Kind of. When the picture starts out, SRK is Om, a “junior artist” (read: bit player) in the 70s who dreams of stardom and romancing Shanti, the staggeringly beautiful movie star of his dreams (Deepika Padukone, making her Hindi debut, which surprised the shit out of me, because girlfriend has movie star written all up and down her). A whole bunch of wonderful, completely non-naturalistic romantic stuff happens and it looks like Shanti likes Om back . . . only to have Om discover that Shanti is secretly married to Mukesh (Arjun Rampal), the jerkoff who's producing the movie! (Which, by the way, is called Om Shanti Om; Farah Khan is basically sitting there at the stove with a big old pot of meta saying “Oh, no, sweetie, you're so thin, you need more, you're just wasting away, have more meta, it's good for you” for this whole picture)
Om is heartbroken, because he overhears Shanti tearfully telling Mukesh she just wants their marriage to be public, forget the damage to her career (different culture, different rules; not being single would seriously fuck things up for her, but that's love for you). Mukesh flips out and, in a scene that raises the bar for villainy to Himalayan heights, totally tells Shanti that he's going to marry her on the set of the movie, and right when she gets all excited, he goes, “Actually, no, I think I'll burn you alive.” And he has his big muscle dudes guard the entrance to make sure she doesn't get out. Om, motivated by true love, makes a damn fine effort to get in and save her, but Mukesh's dudes beat the shit out of him, and with the wasted time, Shanti dies in the fire, and Om dies in the hospital. Right after Om dies, the wife of movie star Rajesh Kapoor (Javed Sheikh; also, as I understand it, “Rajesh Kapoor” is sort of like if the guy was named “Jack Stone” or something in an American movie, like a real generic “movie star” name), who hit Om with his car on the way to the hospital, gives birth. Which leads to them naming the baby Om.
Jump ahead thirty years to the present day. Om Kapoor (also, of course, played by Shahrukh Khan) is a spoiled, shallow, puer aeternus fuckhead nepotistic brat, totally career-minded in his stardom. He's starring in a movie where he's playing a blind, deaf, and dumb guy in a wheelchair, but he insists on all kinds of rewrites, that lead inexorably to this magnificence ending up in the movie:
That bit at the end, where SRK starts freaking out? It's because he's afraid of fire. Why is he afraid of fire? Because . . . HE'S THE REINCARNATION OF THE OM FROM PART ONE! Boo ya motherfucker, welcome to India. If you don't recognize how rad this is, there is no reaching you.
Om Kapoor gradually gets less and less douchey as more of Old Om seeps in, to the point where he's almost completely Old Om, to the point of reuniting with Old Om's Old Mom and Old Childhood Chum. And—this is the best part—launching a jaw-droppingly elaborate revenge scheme against Mukesh, who's spent the last 30 years in Hollywood and now calls himself Mike and speaks almost exclusively English. This gives SRK the chance to do a fucking splendid vacantly Californian airhead accent when busting “Mike”s balls.
The revenge scheme centers around a remake of Om Shanti Om, on the original set, which has been considered “cursed” since the fire. Om takes advantage of his industry cachet to get a big star to play Shanti, only he's planning to find someone who looks exactly like the old Shanti to splice into the dailies to freak “Mike” out and drive him insane (something like that, at any rate), and lo and behold he finds Sandy (also played by Deepika Padukone, conveniently), a gum-chewing, clumsy bubblehead who, wouldn'tcha know, is a dead ringer for Shanti! PerFECtion!
Events converge. Somewhere in all of this there's a party scene where literally almost everyone who's been famous in Bollywood in the last thirty years pops in to say what's up:
All hot girls put your hands up and sayGoddamn that's catchy.
Ommmmmmmmmmmmm Shaaaaaaaanti Om!
All cool boys come on make some noise and say
Ommmmmmmmmmmmm Shaaaaaaaanti Om!
Then there's this big awards show parody thing where everybody else who's famous in India shows up (in which Akshay Kumar literalizes a joke I made a few months ago about Liam Neeson in Taken and actually machine guns a bunch of guys with his dick). And then the actual movie starts back up and there's more singing and dancing and eventually, Om is the instrument of ghost Shanti's revenge on Mukesh. The end. Standing ovation.
Om Shanti Om is feverishly ambitious, and is every movie ever made. A point made in the intro to Filmi Girl's excellent “Bollywood For Beginners” series that made me realize why Bollywood makes perfect sense to me: it's an industry as old as Hollywood, evolving in direct, completely separate, parallel. If you're able to carry the one, so to speak, watching a Bollywood movie shouldn't be that difficult. Cinema vocabulary is universal, and as long as you bear in mind that what appears to be tonal inconsistency to a cinematically monolingual Westerner is actually on purpose because it's the most popular style in India (the masala picture, so called because the mix of styles is like the mixture of spices in Indian cooking). So, given all that, it makes sense that even though I haven't seen most of the specific movies Om Shanti Om might be referencing (whole subplots might have flown over my head) I know movies, so it makes perfect sense on that level. Also, Farah Khan is awesome, so there's that.
Of course, after the mind-blowing intense experience of the totality of cinema that is Om Shanti Om, we were totally gonna watch something else. Abe got out a bunch of DVDs and was like “okay, I've got this, it's a little weird, I've got this, which is something something, and this one has Salman Khan.” No-brainer, we're going with Salman Khan.
Non-initiates might not see the absolute logic of this decision, so I'll explain: Salman Khan rules. If that's still not enough explanation, let's try the opening of Wanted (no relation to the stupid, excessively-pleased-with-itself McAvoy/Jolie thing). We open, eccentrically, at a women's kickboxing match, where a badass gangster type takes a call wherein it's explained that he has to come back to Mumbai at once. Some guy tips someone off that the badass gangster type is on his way back to Mumbai, and the badass gangster type cuts the guy's throat and leaves him to bleed to death in public. We then flash back to Mumbai a couple months before, where due to circumstances that presumably include suicidal impulses, a warehouse full of guys decide to antagonize Salman Khan. He proceeds, in Statham-esque fashion, to fuck each and every one of them up with extreme prejudice. But the capper is that after he owns the living fuck out of every single henchman within a five mile radius, Salman Khan stops the movie to sing a song about how awesome he is.
That's swagger, my friends. (Side note: I love how in every single Bollywood movie I've been watching lately, Anil Kapoor shows up with a shit-eating grin on his face to hang out for a dance number; that guy must be having a lot of fun) The rest of the picture alternates between Salman Khan getting goofy over the lovely Ayesha Takia (though the way he neurotically fucks with her heart after it becomes clear she likes him back is a little weird, but hey, weird is better than boring) and owning the bejesus out of the entire Mumbai criminal underworld, with a few not bad songs, a whole lot of tonal inconsistency (I don't mean that as a critique, it's just the way these pictures are; as Abe, an avowed Bollywood lover, put it: “Tonal inconsisency, thy name is Bollywood”) and, at approximately where the third act break would be in an American movie, one motherfucker of a plot twist.
Turns out Salman Khan, badass criminal, killer of many men, lover of many women . . . is an undercover cop. And though there's been no apparent mention of it the whole picture, his girlfriend's yoga teacher is not only an ex-cop but his dad. This is the point when Wanted stops fucking around and says, “You want ownage? Okay, here you go.” The gangster from the first scene is summoned back to Mumbai to stop Salman Khan from owning everybody (hey, they wouldn't be bad guys if they weren't fucking stupid) and makes the horrible mistake of killing Salman Khan's dad. Before he checks out, though, Papa Khan out-Dennis Hoppers Dennis Hopper and reminds the baddie that he ain't no motherfuckin Christopher Walken by laying shit out for him: My son is going to find you and fuck you up. Which is hardly a surprise at this point, it's like telling someone “Oh yeah the sun's going to rise in the east and set in the west tomorrow,” but the way he lays it out is just badass. I wish I could find the exact quote, but take my word for it, it rules.
Following his father's murder, Salman Khan openly reveals his policeman status and has the corrupt rapist shitbag cop on the bad guy's payroll take him out to the Final Action Sequence Warehouse. To set the tone, Salman Khan decides to jump out of the moving police car, spin in midair, and start walking up a flight of stairs in one motion for no reason whatsoever aside from sheer swagger. About twenty henchmen deaths in a row consecutively win “most stylishly and brutally violent henchman death of all time.” At a crucial point, Salman Khan removes his shirt by basically flexing his pecs. This lead to the following conversation:
Female friend: You know, not to be a girl, but that's why his package is kind of small. All those steroids, doesn't do well for you there.Because if they had steroid testing in movies, SK would be in some trouble. On the other hand, American action movies were awesome when the heroes were all on steroids and haven't quite been the same since (just like baseball).
Me: Yeah, but metaphysically, he's packing serious heat.
Female friend: Yes, metaphysically, that's true.
By the time he gets to the main baddie and the rapist corrupt cop, Salman Khan is so intense the screen vibrates when the director cuts to his reaction shots. No shit, there's like eight shots in a row where they cut back to Salman Khan and the whole movie goes BWOMWOMWOMWOMWOM for a couple seconds. Final ownage is dealt. Fin.
Sure, Wanted's a little long (about two hours and forty minutes). Sure it'd be almost an hour shorter if it was made in America (or England or Europe or wherever) with Jason Statham. But if you're seriously sitting there whining about that shit you have no soul. Consider that extra hour an extra hour you get watching Salman Khan swagger, watching Ayesha Takia's smile (and, though I'm not a fake tit guy, hers are kind of spectacular), and all those songs. More on my nascent Bollywood fandom as it unfolds.
In other news, playoff football and my Tor duties kept me from doing up a Golden Globes post. The republic will not collapse. I had planned to do some snarky shit about the bribery scandal as a preview, but time didn't permit. Afterwards, the only thing worth writing about was Ricky Gervais' hosting, which has been written to death since then, so I won't pile on too much except to say this: what Ricky did out there was straight up Friars Club style, which has been around forever and is an institution in comedy. People were whining about him being mean, being a dick, so on and so forth, but seriously. If I was nominated for something and Ricky made fun of my weight, substance abuse, frequently gender-indiscriminate crushes, or foul mouth, I wouldn't be thrilled but I wouldn't whine my balls off about it like everyone there. Robert Downey Jr. makes a crack about shit being “mean-spirited” before doing a bit where he pretends to have shtupped all the Best Actress nominees? No. The spirit is one and the same, dude, you just got away with it because all five of them actually would fuck you given the chance (and when applicable, a waiver from her husband/significant other). Both jokes are in-bounds. Lighten up.
So that basically brings us up to today. I'm back on my regular irregular schedule, and have a couple things in store for you this week, including an in-depth look at the Lethal Weapon series in honor of Warner Bros' craven, avaricious announcement that they plan to reboot the series. So stay tuned.
One last note: next weekend, a project in which I had the privilege of being asked to take part is being unveiled: Piper McKenzie's Dainty Cadaver! Everyone in the NYC area is advised to come by and behold its majesty, and everyone not in NYC is advised to get your plane ticket now. Check out this “interview” about the play. Happy Sunday, y'all!