Okay, left off at Interval! Going to plough through and get to the end of the film and the surprise mystery twist ending that I totally saw coming a mile away. And then the sincerely emotionally affecting moment that I did not see coming AT ALL! And then the little girl who waved at me on the way out and made me feel all better
Read on to find out everything about everything!
So, pre-interval, Amitabh was describing how Neal Nitin Mukesh broke into his house, set his wheelchair on fire, stabbed him gently, and then left with a final warning to leave the Welfare Minister alone. Now, Amitabh is all settled into a really big and cozy looking bed (did I mention I am writing this instead of going to bed myself?). There are fingerprint people and sketch artists and all sorts of things and Farhan is standing by the bed looking steadfast. Amitabh is telling the sketch guy how scared he was, and how the big mean Welfare Minister threatened him. But, he points out, the Welfare Minister didn’t know that he has this wonderful strong friend beside him who will never let anything happen to him. And then he makes puppy eyes at Farhan who smiles mustache-ly.
Farhan, inspired by this, puts pressure on Sardarji in a spooky under a bridge meeting to place a tap on the Welfare Ministers line. No! Sardarji! Don’t do it! Plus, aren’t they still living together? Why are they having this conversation under a bridge?
Speaking of the living situation, that night while Farhan is lying on the sofa, he gets a call from Neal Nitin Mukesh! This terrifies him (why? It’s Neal Nitin Mukesh! The low low low rent Hrithik!). Oh! Or maybe this scene came before the last one and that’s what inspires the wire tap? I’m not sure, and I’m not buying another movie ticket just to find out! Onward!
(not as low rent as Harman Baweja, but not as good as Shahid)
So now we are at a big well-lit fancy lobby where Aditi and Amitabh are coming out of a room and Amitji is talking about how much he likes his new wheelchair, he almost wishes he could write a thank you note to Neal Nitin Mukesh. But, why did Aditi take him to get the chair? I understand that he and Farhan built an immediate intense connection through chess and grief, but he only knows Aditi through dance rehearsals and stuff. Or, maybe they had a bunch of intense convos also, but we didn’t see them because Aditi is better, as my friend who has seen London Paris New York tells me, when she doesn’t have a lot of lines.
So, Farhan and Sardarji are going over the tap report when they see that there is a mysterious “meeting” mentioned in a phone message! They rush rush rush over there! They tackle a guy! It’s not Neal Nitin Mukesh! It’s some other random guy! Neal Nitin Mukesh is calling them RIGHT NOW! And he is quoting Amitabh’s comment about a thank you note, meaning he heard them! He’s watching them all the time! Oooooo!
So, they rush to get Amitabh from rehearsals. They ride in the car with him, and Amitabh makes some comment about how death isn’t a big deal, and then adds that he noticed that Aditi was talking to Farhan at the rehearsal. He points out that he did remember to try to get them together, and at least, if Neal Nitin Mukesh does get him, he can honestly say that he taught his friend to smile before he died. Oh, and either in this scene, or another scene in the car, they go over the wire taps from the Welfare Minister and hear something about him traveling to Kashmir to meet secret people.
They get back to his house, and as the door opens, they see it hit a string. Neal Nitin Mukesh’s ridiculous knife is stuck in the tape recorder! It starts to play! There is a recorded threat! The chess board BLOWS UP! No no no no no! Oh, and the recorded threat explains that this is because Amitabh bought tickets to Kashmir, he is not leaving the Welfare Minister alone, he is still going after him.
So, Amitabh can’t stay there. And he can’t be left alone, because he might try to get to Kashmir. Farhan is helping him pack up for a safe house, and for some reason Aditi is there too again. So, she is separated from her husband, but still doing her wifely duty of taking care of all his friends? Anyway, as they are loading him into his van, Amitabh pulls an excellent passive aggressive guilt trip (the best kind!) about how lonely he will be in the safe house, and who knows how the food will be….
So, Aditi invites both him and Farhan back to the family house for dinner. It’s sweet. Aditi and Farhan make awkward eyes at each other while Amitabh talks about how much he loved his wife, and how important it is to hold on to memories. He also gives cleaning advice, wheeling over to the shelf with their family photos and pulling out the one of just the two of them, no dead daughter, and points out that these photos keep the past alive, they should make sure to not let them get dusty. It comes off less naggy the way he says it.
(Is it perhaps a Swatch Bharat message?)
And it has an effect, because in the kitchen Farhan and Aditi are doing dishes and making eyes at each other again, but more in a slow softening and remembering their love kind of way, than in an awkward not sure how to interact any more way, like they were at the table. He finishes washing and starts to turn away, she calls him back, they kiss! And then the phone rings. Farhan sighs, so does Aditi, it feels all normal like they are getting their rhythm back. And actually, I think it was brilliant to have this scene (which we knew would happen eventually) take place in their kitchen. Because it isn’t a big romantic gesture. And it isn’t a new start. It is a quiet return to where they were in the past, acknowledging what has happened instead of trying to erase it.
And then, car chase! The phone call was from Amitabh, he is sorry, but he has to leave. And yep, he’s taken the car and is going to the airport. Farhan zooms after him and calls in the license plate to Sardarji (Sardarji!), but gets caught in a traffic and back-up isn’t there yet! So he runs out of the car (which he was driving the wrong way up the highway, did I mention that? It looked really cool. The action scenes in this are really excellent), and grabs a motorcyclist and PULLS OUT HIS GUN! Why not his badge? Do Indian movie cops not have the right to commandeer motorcycles like American movie cops do? Anyway, cut from gun pull to him zipping down the road again on a motorcycle. Again, super cool. Oh, and all of this is in the shadow of India Gate, in case we didn’t get the whole patriotic setting and metaphor and stuff. And he gets doored! It is super dramatic, especially because you are all primed for gunfire or explosions, and then BAM! Average danger towards cyclists! Anyway, it slows him down, but he finally catches up and swings the motorcycle around, blocking Amitabh in his van. He looks through the windshield at Amitabh and and sort of pants and looks frustrated. Amitabh does a great “well, sorry, I had to try!” sort of raise the hands and shrug of the shoulders. And then the truck blows up. No, not a joke, the truck blows up just like that.
So, it’s not like this was a surprise. With Amitabh’s mentions of how Farhan will protect him no matter what, with the obviously fake story about Neal Nitin Mukesh and the fake bomb in the house, but it was still pretty nicely done in terms of editing and so on. Apparently, Vidhu Vinod Chopra did all the editing for this himself, and basically took the whole film apart and put it back together again in the editing bay. And that makes sense to me, because VVC is awesome (1942: A Love Story! Surprisingly underrated!), and the director’s only previous movie was David (blech!).
(Anil Kapoor is also awesome, and so are his pajamas)
We go right from the explosion to Farhan’s face in the hospital bed. He’s got the same look he had at the beginning after he took the sleeping pills. Sort of dazed but resolute. He walks out of the hospital room, stops to look at Aditi sleeping on a couch outside, and puts a blanket over her (so glad they included that moment). Next, he is walking up to a ticket counter at the airport. “Where to?” “Srinigar.”
And we’re in Kashmir! Dal lake! Only, Dal lake is looking dingy! At first I thought it was just because they wimped out in the location shooting, like in the terrible terrible Midnight’s Children adaptation which has the same look in its establishing shot that was actually just filmed on some lake in Sri Lanka. Only they actually did film this in Srinagar. Turns out, Dal lake really does look dingy now. And this is how we know that VVC has matured since Mission Kashmir.
In Mission Kashmir, Kashmir is beautiful, and the people sing and dance and wear traditional clothing, and the only blight on the country is the picturesque all black wearing militants. But in this, the whole country is blighted. The houses on the lake are rickety constructions of plastic and metal, the people wear dingy layers of clothing, the boat still has it’s beautiful fan paddles, but it pulls up to a worn out dock along a messy pile of structures. This is not Kashmir of our beautiful past memories, this is Kashmir of today, with people who are struggling and trying to survive against the odds, and they have a lot more problems than can be solved with simple gunplay.
(this Kashmir. Yes, I know it is partially a fantasy song, but this is also what real Kashmir looks like in this film. Also, aw! Preity’s old face!)
So, yeah, Kashmir! More importantly JOHN ABRAHAM!!!!!!!!! He is the person that Farhan has come to meet! Apparently, he is hiding out in Kashmir being the man on the ground for the Delhi police. And he is totally down with helping Farhan kidnap the Welfare Minister of India who was just re-elected by a massive majority and is having a victory rally tonight. John Abraham is the best. He also says that Farhan saved his life so he owes him. In what possible situation would teeny-tiny Farhan Akhtar have been needed to help out big bad and awesome John Abraham? He’s JOHN ABRAHAM!
Before they do the unexplained plan, Farhan takes a moment to write a good-bye letter to his wife. Which is sort of sweet. And also another nice editing decision, putting it here, reminding us that he’s not a nihilist going off to die, like in the first action scene. That he actually has something to lose, that he just got his wife back, but that he has to do this anyway because he made a promise to Amitabh and he can’t live with himself for letting him die.
So, the plan is in motion! John is hanging out with a sniper rifle at a window. Farhan is hiding in a bathroom (man these synopsis go fast when there are a lot of action scenes!). Anyway, Farhan does another nice face thing where you see that he has a moment of not believing that he is about to do this, and then psyching himself up as John starts the countdown. And John Abraham does a better face thing when he goes “hey. I’m John Abraham. Dimples.”
(Hey. I’m John Abraham.)
So, Welfare Minister is giving a nice speech that the subtitle guy messes up. He says that he loves Kashmir, that Kashmir is like his daughter, beautiful and loveable. Except the subtitles say “Beautiful and naive”, which is totally different. I will be coming back to why I think this matters later. Anyway, John Abraham sets off a bunch of firecrackers, which spooks the crowd and they start running out, and the bodyguards grab the Welfare Minister and hustle him into the hall. Where Farhan sets off a bunch of light bombs and shoots at them with his little black handgun that fits in his little hand. He hits both bodyguards, and they don’t hit him, because he is the hero.
He pushes into the hotel room and grabs the Welfare Minister and starts shouting at him, asking “Who is Neal Nitin Mukesh? Who is Neal Nitin Mukesh?” The Welfare Minister keeps screaming that he doesn’t know! He doesn’t know! And at this point, it could be that he is lying, or that he actually doesn’t know, but I am pretty sure he actually doesn’t know. Because Amitabh made the whole thing up (this is not me speaking as someone who has seen the whole movie, this is actually what I was thinking during this scene). Farhan shoots him in the leg and then starts to torture him, when he hears a sound. It’s sweet little not that little girl!
The Welfare Minister holds out his gross bloody hand and says “Daughter. Come over to me. Come to me. Come to your father.” It is super evil and creepy! The daughter agrees with me and finally cracks and shouts out “You’re not my father!” Yep, totally called it based on that little clip a bit ago! She was a little girl, she saw him massacre her whole village, he pulled her out of hiding and used her as a screen when the army came. He made her lie for the past 7 years that he was her father. She finally told the truth to Amitabh’s daughter, but her not-father saw (classic through the slants of a windowblind evil eyes watching shot here). So her not-father knocked out Amitabh’s daughter, threw her down the stairs, and told his not-daughter that he would do the same to her if she ever told the truth.
So, before we move on and deal with this totally predictable twist, why the heck would evil not-father keep his not-daughter alive this long? I understand, maybe, right at the beginning, being a lone survivor found with his living daughter who calls him “Dad” is more affecting than being a lone survivor found with his dead daughter’s body. But over the past 7 years, did it never occur to him that it might be inconvenient to have this 12 year old around who knows all his secrets? I think the explanation is in that speech snippet. If he wanted to ride this wave to political power, he knew he needed a female with him, a sister or a daughter or a wife. And his daughter was the perfect metaphor for a new, young Kashmir. It was the politics of it all, that’s why she is still alive! Why the terrorists plan was “I will pretend to be one of my own victims and then run for office!”, that I still don’t know. Because that is a stupid plan.
Anyway, little not that little girl hugs Farhan as she finishes the story, Farhan takes a moment to look down into her innocent little head, and then he turns and shoots the Welfare Minister point blank in the head. It’s kind of awesome.
Speaking of things that are stupid, not awesome, apparently this whole murder break in torture thing worked out great! Next thing we see is the not so little girl telling a bunch of reporters the whole story! She is a national hero! Everyone hates Welfare Minister! And her nanny who seemed so stern and scary is apparently nice and still taking care of her! Which is a disappointment, I thought Farhan was going to adopt her, like in Ek Villain. Oh, also, they realize that Big Bad Guy who killed Farhan’s daughter back at the beginning was only in Delhi to meet with the Welfare Minister because they were buddies from back in their terrorism days.
(Ek Villain. Hey. I’m Siddharth.)
And, expressionistic play time! No! Not again! Why does this keep happening with movies I see! First Tamasha, then this! So, Farhan and little not so little girl and her apparently good nanny are all in the audience, watching Amitabh’s play. And it all becomes clear! (by the way, I think there was a scene earlier where the play was being recited in the background behind a conversation about wire taps, only they didn’t subtitle it. But if you are fluent in Hindi, and tired of paying attention to Farhan talk about wire taps, you would have heard this already and figured it out). So, the story of the play is that a little Pawn in a game of chess, who has no power but is loved by everyone, is injured by an evil King. The Pawn asks God, who is voiced by Amitabh of course, what to do. AmitGod says that he must use love as his power, he must sacrifice himself in order to drive his Knight into war. And Farhan figures it out! Hours after I did!
He rushes out of the theater and over to track down Amitabh’s housekeeper, asking her if she ever actually saw the guy who broke in. She didn’t, but why would Amitabh lie about this? Oh, and also, Amitabh said that if Farhan ever came asking about this, she should give him a chess piece that has a thumb drive in it. Which she happens to have right here! Even though they are having this conversation at a bonfire in her courtyard and she has no pockets in her costume!
So, Farhan goes home and puts in the thumb drive. And there is Amitabh! On the screen, in a wheelchair, explaining the plot I figured out ages ago. Amitabh wanted someone to investigate his daughter. So he found out about the hero cop whose daughter died. And he went to the cemetery and left his wallet to be found. And then he sucked Farhan in with chess until he finally hit him with the story about his daughter. And when the file was closed, he put his back-up plan in action. He threw a shoe at the Welfare Minister, and then he invented Neal Nitin Mukesh. He set his own wheelchair on fire (cool shot here of Amitabh lighting a match with his fingernail as he flicks it away. I can totally believe that he can do that in real life. It feels like something he used to do in 70s movies), and he stabbed himself, and then he lied about the whole thing. And used voice changed recordings and tapes to pretend to be Neal Nitin Mukesh calling Farhan (did he never bother having those calls traced?). And then finally, he had to sacrifice himself to give the proper motivation to make his Knight rise up and avenge him.
Okay, so I have thoughts. Not about the practicality of this plot, it all holds together pretty well. No, just the script. The thing is, it’s not quite random enough, or plotted enough. Amitabh actually did teach Farhan’s daughter. He did just happen to find Farhan at the cemetary in time to stop his suicide attempt. And the guy who killed his daughter did just happen to be involved with the guy who killed Farhan’s daughter. That is a lot of coincidence.
On the other hand, Amitabh had a pretty tight plan, and that holds together too. He waited until the case was officially closed, and then threw a public scene, which made it believable that he would later throw the shoe in that elaborate fashion. And then he had the whole phone calls set up, including a couple of creepy “he’s watching us!” moments that were set up by Amitabh repeating a couple of lines over and over so Farhan would remember later when Neal Nitin Mukesh-Amitabh quoted them. And then finally the repetition of the Kashmir goal, before blowing himself up, so he knew it would be in Farhan’s mind.
And then we have the kind of awesome dirty secret that the noble survivor of a massacre is actually the perpetrator and has been forcing his fake-daughter to keep the secret for 7 years. And it’s just all too much! Or too little. Okay, here are three alternative ways it could have gone.
- No big crazy secret, just straight up rape/incest from the Welfare Minister, Amitabh’s daughter finds out, gets killed. Like in Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, the twist is that there is no big conspiracy. Amitabh created the whole thing to get Farhan on board. Now that is a twist!
- Big crazy secret, but Amitabh suspected it all along! He didn’t just happen to stumble on a terrorist! He recognized the Welfare Minister as the man who burned down his house, sent his daughter in to learn more, is riddled with guilt since her death but incapable of telling the truth about it even to himself because it would admit his culpability, which is how he and Farhan have such a strong connection because Farhan is in the same position. And when Amitabh finally admits it, just like Farhan at the opening suicidally going in half-drugged to a massive shoot out, Amitabh decides the only way to make up for his mistake is to risk his own life to take out the man who killed his daughter.
- It was all totally fate straight through until right at the end. Amitabh just happened to meet Farhan, they happened to become friends, and then only after he threw the shoe, did it occur to him to kill himself, the wheelchair on fire was a failed suicide, which resulted in a last minute lie, and then Amitabh just went with it.
See! See how much better that would hang together! Either make the whole thing fate, or make the whole thing insanely complicated. You can’t have it one way or the other.
But it doesn’t matter, because the last three minutes of the movie make it all worthwhile. Amitabh is still on the TV, he’s finished explaining the whole plan. And then he takes a moment, and sets his face. And he looks right at the camera for a moment. And then says “Well. I’ll go now.” And I start to cry. And so do at least two other people in the theater that I can hear behind me. It’s just, it’s Amitabh! And he’s going to die! And you see Farhan watching the screen with a shaky smile and a tear going down his face. And Aditi has come in and is watching through the doorway with her chin quivering. And then Amitabh sort of raises his hand in a salute. And Farhan waves back. And I hold my hand to stop it from going up in a wave also. And then the scream goes to black. And I found myself thinking, “Wow. So that’s what it’s going to feel like if Amitabh ever decides to die.” And then I remind myself that he is a human person and probably will die someday. But do I really believe it?
Back when Rajesh Khanna died, there was a story that got retold a lot. When Rajesh Khanna was the most beloved man in India, the biggest star in the history of Indian film, Amitabh was nervous about acting opposite him in Anand. Especially in his big moment, when Rajesh Khanna has just done an amazing death scene, and Amitabh somehow had to come in after that and do a big grief speech. So the director, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, took him aside before they shot the scene and said “Listen to me. Rajesh Khanna is dead. Feel that. Rajesh Khanna is dead. Now, go play the scene.” And Amitabh did grief so well it’s almost hard to watch, stole the movie from Rajesh Khanna, got cast in Zanjeer, and became the Amitabh Bachchan we know and love today.
And I think that must have been what was happening in Wazir. Because it is a good movie, and Farhan and Amitabh created good characters, but they didn’t earn me crying at the end. That was Farhan Akhtar, the real Farhan Akhtar not the character I have been calling Farhan, feeling what it would be if Amitabh Bachchan was dead. And it was in his face, which made me believe it too. And Aditi was feeling it too, because there is no way she is a good enough actress to look that believably devastated onscreen unless she was actually facing a future without Amitabh Bachchan.
And then the end credits song doesn’t make me feel much better. It’s Farhan, in a terrible terrible man bun and beard, playing his guitar and singing a duet with Amitabh who has his old man glasses on and his regular hair. And that cool connection between them that I was looking forward to in the film, and that I didn’t find because they disappeared into the characters, is so present here. Amitabh is being Amitabh, nailing the singing in his gorgeous Amitabh voice, and ignoring the flashes as the sound engineers and whoever take photos of him in the studio. And then he will look over at Farhan and sort of soften a little, and suddenly I can see him seeing Farhan as that little baby who came to the film sets with his Dad. But right at the end, Farhan stops playing his guitar, and Amitabh is studying the music and singing his solo, and Farhan looks at him with such comfort and love and respect in his eyes and I get all teary again. And then the lights come on in the theater and I pretend I wasn’t just dismissive of an entire film, and then all choked up by the last two minutes and the end credits song.
(slightly different edit on the music video, similar effect. And is that a man-ponytail, not a man-bun? Is that better or worse?)
Oh! And then the little girl waved at me in the lobby and I felt all good again!