I had the great pleasure of getting to see Salman Khan's latest, Bodyguard, for free last night. Things like getting to see movies before their release, and not having to pay, are things that no one should ever get jaded about. And neither is Salman Khan, the guy's just fucking wonderful, one of the greatest movie stars in the world in all the right ways. If one were to break down the Three Khans really simplistically from an outsider's perspective (Ed. Note: What? Why are you giving me that look?): Shahrukh is the ambitious, Hollywood-y one who makes shitloads of money, Aamir is the one everyone can look at and be like “okay, that guy is a really fucking good actor” (but who also, it must be noted, makes shitloads of money), and Salman is the one who does stuff like “Every year, I'm going to time my big movie so it comes out right at the end of Ramadan when everyone's in a good mood.” And thus Salman is the one everyone thinks of as their homie, Sallu-bhai, standup guy, the kinda dude who's always got your back in a fight—and who will own the holy fuck out of anyone who steps to you—but who when you get right down to it is a total sweetheart.
In that regard, Bodyguard is very much a Salman Khan picture. In it, he plays ace bodyguard Lovely Singh, “the one man who can make the opposition pee its pants” (an apt descriptor of Salman Khan in ownage mode if there ever was one) who is hired by rich guy Raj Babbar to keep his daughter (Kareena Kapoor) safe from some baddies in the white slavery trade who wish her harm. Only problem is, Kareena and her equally lovely friend Hazel Keech—
|Hazel (Left), Kareena (Right)|
—are self-conscious about the other kids at their high school (Ed. Note: yes, Kareena's 30 and Hazel's 24 and they both look 24, just shush) making fun of them for having this square-ass dude in a suit following them around. So Kareena starts prank-calling him and lo and behold after a while she falls in love with him, only he's in love with who he thinks is someone else.
The romantic plot of Bodyguard, which at first appears to be the subplot but then becomes the main plot—forget it, Jake, it's Bollywood—is a little frustrating, not because it's based on cultural assumption that don't translate (those I can roll with a little easier, actually) but because it's based on my least favorite rom-com trope ever: the plot that hinges entirely on the lovers lying to each other. That shit drives me up the fuckin wall. Fortunately the annoying part of the whole business—when Kareena and Hazel are making Salman look ridiculous—is mainly confined to the first half of the picture. After the interval, the tone shifts more from stupid rom-com screwball bullshit to a more sighing romantic tragedy thing where Kareena starts to see the consequences of lying to her one true love, which is easier to take, though still it's more of a relief when the romantic plot resolves in the way it should (Spoiler alert for anyone who just had a lobotomy: Salman and Kareena get together at the end of the picture) than it is a big romantic tear-jerker thing, which it easily could have been with their individual and combined star power.
By far the most entertaining parts of Bodyguard are the (sadly few and far between) action sequences. Herein we see one of the world's foremost purveyors of ownage kicking ass on a mind-bending, ripping up speeding tickets from the cops enforcing the laws of physics, thoroughly fucking rad fashion. The first one (and the first of ten trillion times we hear Salman's goofy-ass ringtone, a joke that somehow never gets old), when his boss calls him up and sends him to go own some bad guys in a warehouse who are holding some girls hostage in a cargo container, Salman swoops out of the train he's riding on and jumps on top of one going the opposite direction and rides to the scene of the crime on top of the train, just because there isn't enough room inside the train for his balls, I suppose (kinda reminds me of the climax of Wanted when Salman jumped out of the car and did an acrobatic 180 degree mid-air kick before walking up a staircase just because). Once at the fight, Salman proceeds to unleash ownage on a scale rarely glimpsed by mortals; director Siddique does a nice job of capturing the near supernatural badassery with just the right degree of perspective of “okay, this shit isn't possible, but yo, this is a Salman Khan movie, this is how he do.”
(Ed. Note: translation approximate)
The other major ownage sequence in Bodyguard comes right before the lengthy denouement, when Salman has to rescue Kareena from the baddies. This one is really something else:
1—The baddies chase Kareena with a fucking remote-control helicopter that despite moving very quickly never catches up with her even though she does not, to be kind, run terribly fast.
2—Salman makes said helicopter explode into a cute little fireball by throwing something at it; save your “but RC helicopters are electric and don't have any gasoline to turn into a fireball” protestations, this isn't the movie for them.
3—I'm probably missing some intervening step, but the rest of the fight takes place in some ancient ruin filled shin-deep with water, and Salman has to fight the baddies blind.
4—That entire sequence is fucking dope.
5—The way Salman's shirt comes off in this one is the funniest/most awesome thing I've ever seen. To put this moment into perspective, it was so awesome that a 50ish Indian woman in traditional formal garb high-fived me.
6—Salman owns the final baddie by punching him about ten feet through the air and impaling him on the wall, a fitting climax to an excellent sequence.
Once the ownage subplot is done with (not gonna lie, the ownage plot ending up being the subplot was a bit of a buzzkill) we're back to the denouement, in which an entire movie's worth of romantic plot is related in about twenty minutes that's way more interesting than anything that's come before; it's unfortunate that it has to be rushed, as I would far rather have watched a whole movie that was a love triangle between Salman, Kareena, and Hazell than just the last twenty minutes' worth.
Still, griping about tonal inconsistency is retarded with Bollywood movies, as that's what the entire structural model is built on over there, and even griping about plot lumpiness within that model is kind of beside the point here because there's a lot to like in Bodyguard. Salman carries this joint through a whoooooooole lotta slow parts just by being awesome, and Kareena is delightful when the script doesn't insist that she be an annoying, bratty teenager (it's not the cognitive dissonance involved with her so clearly not being a teenager, either, it's the script making her look bad). And yes, I am totally under the spell of Hazel Keech and her enchanting glasses, even though it's impossible to tell whether she can actually act, stuck in the “friend” role and given nothing to do until that one scene right at the end when the love triangle is established, though she does a perfectly fine job at that.
And the music is terrific. The theme song is in Jalwa territory in terms of catchiness, with a whistled hook that's just fuckin sick. Also, in a cameo as herself, the luminously lovely Katrina Kaif shows up during said song, leading into a funny bit where Salman, as her bodyguard, kicks a bunch of dude's asses who get too close to her, leading to the revelation that Salman's boss, as a man of taste, has a bit of a crush on her. As one does.
Overall, Bodyguard is recommended primarily for audiences for whom the mere presence of Salman Khan counterbalances any weaknesses a movie might have. I fall squarely within that demographic, and so need to clarify that all my bitching about the way the romantic plot is structured should not in any way be interpreted as my not having enjoyed the movie. Like all Salman Khan movies, and like the man himself, Bodyguard totally fucking means it. Would I prefer a little more action in his next outing? Sure, but the action in Bodyguard is sufficiently dope that quality makes up for quantity. It's not Bollywood for beginners, but it's a deeply satisfying intermediate course. Goddamn Salman Khan is awesome.