I saw Wanted, oh, maybe 4 years ago? Long after it came out, I think after I saw Dabangg, and got curious about the beginning of Salman’s new action era. Anyway, it was fine, I hated Salman’s hair, but otherwise it didn’t feel like anything special to me. Unlike Pokiri, which I watched after reading moviemavengal’s review, and which was WONDERFUL!!! I don’t know how they managed to mess it up, but all most of the stuff that felt interesting and unusual to me in this one just went away in the remake.
I don’t know if I want to blame the different directors more, or the different stars. I think I am going to go with a combination. It’s not Salman’s fault, it’s that just casting him makes this a totally different story, and nothing in his performance could change that. But Prabhudeva could have chosen to keep a heck of a lot more of the little touches that Jagannadh had in his version.
Essentially, it’s the romance that bothers me. Because I’m a woman, so I perk up a bit when a woman is onscreen, and I am extra interested in the things that affect her, so the romance in an action movie is usually what I care about most. In Pokiri, the romance had this great set-up of her taking the lead and going after him, while he tried to resist giving in to his feelings. And it worked, because Mahesh Babu has this very young and innocent face, which was matched by the innocence in Ileana D’Cruz, and the director filmed all their love scenes very carefully to convey that push-pull of wanting her but not letting himself go after her.
(This scene is awesome)
But then in Wanted, you have Salman Khan, who is just too big and too old and too confident looking onscreen. And they cast the very young and innocent looking Ayesha Takia opposite him. So even if it was all the same dialogue and narrative, it never felt like she was controlling things, it always felt like he was in charge. Which makes him not “conflicted and guilt-ridden”, but just kind of a jerk who keeps changing on her. Plus, like I said, it’s on the director too. The push-pull vibe of trying to resist his feelings and all the love scenes being Filled With Torment just went away.
(Do you think they cast Ayesha because the elevator scene reminded them of this?)
If the romance is the part that doesn’t work for me the most in Wanted, and therefore nothing else does, it is the part that works the best for me in Pokiri, and therefore I love the whole movie!
I know that southern films have a huge problem with stalker and rape-y love stories, with the story where a boy sees a girl and falls in lust with her, and offers all kinds of creepy come ons (from Bahubali: “You are woman, I am man, I have come to love you”), maybe even hits her or tears her clothes or otherwise lightly attacks her. Or forces a kiss. And then of course she gives in and falls in love with him.
But the thing is, since they do it so much, they are really really good at those romances. Earlier today I posted a song from Businessman where Mahesh Babu is romancing a drugged Kajal Aggarwal. And the situation is obviously wrong on all kinds of levels. But the way they film it, with the sexualized female body in all its natural beauty (not focusing on the muscles, but on the soft parts and curves that truly set apart a woman from a man) being displayed perfectly by the camera, and the camera and the hero working together to lightly caress the curves, and the gentle smiles and irrepressible responses from the woman to what the man is doing, UFF! All of that is just super super sexy!
That’s the ultimate sexy scene where the heroine “gives in” to the hero’s pursuit, but the skill that the rest of this kind of romance is handled is equally polished! The one liners are kind of awesomely inventive (from Bujjigadu: “I am like Chennai fish curry. May smell a little, but I taste great.”), there can be some really clever variations on the “pursuit” sequences too, with neat arranging of mirror angles to see her face, or sneaking into office buildings with elaborate ruses. Ultimately, and there is a kind of innate resonance to the concept of the man pursuing while the woman reacts, because it reminds us of sexual foreplay, and in a lot of different ways, southern filmmakers have gotten very sophisticated at creating this effect.
(Love this song. It’s ridiculous that he follows a fantasy of a beautiful woman up a waterfall)
The problem is in coming up with a way to do these kinds of things that removes all those messy “consent” problems. In Bujjigadu, they did it by having a childhood love affair with both of them remaining faithful but not able to recognize each other in adulthood. Once he knows who she is, everything he does is “okay” in the eyes of the audience, because we know that once she knows who he is, she will find it all charming instead of irritating. In Pokiri, they do it by making it clear that he knows he should stay away, but can’t for her own safety. And that she wants him to be there and wants him to follow her. There is even a scene where she calls him asking if he is following her, and is mad when he lies and says he isn’t!
The “bad” version of this particular romance (which is how it kind of comes off in Wanted), is that a very confident experienced guy lusts after a younger woman. He comes on long enough to get her interested, then backs off and pretends he doesn’t care just to keep her off-balance and willing to do anything to win him back. There are plenty of movies where that would be what the hero is actually doing, and we would be expected to cheer him on for “winning” over the heroine, giving her a little romance and pursuit, followed by abuse, until he gets her to admit that she is dominated completely by him and will do anything he commands. Heck, that’s kind of what Himmatwala is! At least, the remake.
(I know her father’s evil, but getting her to lie to him that she is pregnant by you, as some strange form of revenge, is just not cool, Ajay!)
But here, we get the good juicy emotions of the girl being all torn apart by her feelings and at the beck and call of the guy, with just these little moments of romance and kindness that shine all the brighter for being surrounded by a general sense of disinterest and abuse. But at the same time, we don’t have to feel guilty or icky about championing some guy who gets off on tormenting women! Because he is tormented too, he is trying to chase her away because he is no good, the only reason he ever shows any affection is because he can’t stop himself, plus he has to be around to protect her.
And the reason for protection is SO GOOD too! Because it’s so simple. She is established as a pretty girl, not “the most beautiful girl in the world!”, but pretty. And she has to be out in the world, working as an aerobics instructor at a gym, doing the shopping, and so on, because there is no man in her family. So, a pretty girl who is traveling around the city alone, she is going to get noticed by men and be in danger. There is no bending over backward to explain it, no huge backstory or anything, just men notice her and bother her all the time. And as a woman in India, there is nothing she can do to stop them.
The only thing she can do is find an even tougher man she can trust to protect her. Which is what she does! She identifies Mahesh as a tough guy, notices how he gently saves her from being molested by a cop by distracting him, sees him again and tries to initiate contact, and ends up being accidentally stabbed, tries to indicate her interest after he takes her to the hospital and gets her treated, but gets turned down.
And then, in possibly my favorite scene (although it’s so hard to pick!), she goes to him after that same creepy cop has come to her work and broken into her home, and explains that she is constantly bothered by men, that a guy just came into her home. She doesn’t come right out and say “protect me from them because in this society I need a man’s protection”, but it’s there between the lines. And he doesn’t say “yes, I will.” But he says “who is he?” Which is kind of more of a confirmation that he is taking on the job than actually saying “I’ll take care of you.”
Okay, to talk in full about how this plays out, him agressively acting like he is no good for her and not interested intercut with awesome rescues from horrible men, I have to get into MASSIVE SPOILERS!!!!!! So, read on at your peril!
The romance storyline is what I liked best, as I said, but the rest of it isn’t bad either. Our hero arrives in town and immediately starts looking for work beating people up for the local gangs. There is a gang war going on between Prakash Raj (not-Dawood) who lives overseas and directs everything remotely, and The Other Guy (not-Chotta Rajan) who is still local. So there is a lot of work for a fighter for hire.
(Also the situation in R…Rajkumar! Shahid arrives in the middle of a gang war and quickly finds work. But, that is a Prabhu Deva movie just like Wanted, so the romance is creepy and stalker-like with minimal redeeming features. And yet, I still love it! Shahid and Sonakshi have such great chemistry)
He quickly rises through the ranks, gaining the trust of Prakash Raj’s top lieutenant (who happens to be a woman). Meanwhile, we see occasional workings of other parts of this gang war, the top cop who threatens Prakash and swears to bring him down, the same icky cop who is going after Ileana being in the pay of Prakash and doing his dirty work, and so on.
Until it all comes to a head when the top-cop’s daughter is kidnapped to force him to give up Prakash, and the “bad guys” find out from her that there is an undercover cop in their organization. There is a great fake out when they go to the aerobics studio where Ileana works (and where she first met Mahesh) and threaten her kindly boss, saying that they know he is a former cop, and his son is the one who is undercover. Mahesh’s friend from the gang says that he is the son, and the bad guys shoot both him and the nice boss. Only, as they die, the boss calls out his son’s name, and it is the wrong name! That’s not his son-son, it’s his adopted son! But, the son-son will be arriving to see the body, so they can identify who it is then. And of course, it’s MAHESH!!!!
This is a great twist for the romance, because it means all his push-pull with Ileana has a little extra level of tragedy, that he actually is a good responsible guy who would be a great marriage prospect, but he can’t say anything because he is undercover! But at the same time, he can’t NOT say anything, because he really does love her, and also he needs to be around enough to protect her. And on the third hand, he can’t obviously act like a good decent guy, even to the degree of being polite to her when she talks to him, because that would blow his cover in front of his fellow gang members, he has to keep up this game of looking like he doesn’t care even though he does. And on the 4th hand (I’ve decided this argument is being made by half an octopus), because she can’t help falling in love with him, it’s not like she can go out and find an alternative “protector”, because she’s already tied to him. It’s an impossible situation!
I honestly can’t remember if they laid out the reasons for the whole undercover thing as clearly in this one as they did in Wanted. That was one way in which the remake was superior! Or else it was just that I can understand Hindi a little so I followed it better. Anyway, even the whole undercover plan is airtight. Prakash won’t come back to the city until he has a good reason. So they sent Mahesh undercover to do all the dirty work of the gang better than any other non-supercop could, so that Prakash will come back to the city to celebrate the end of the gang war. It’s a perfect plan! So long as Mahesh stays undercover being super violent and aggressive until it is all over. I mean, mostly it is just a reason for Mahesh to have a bunch of really cool fight scenes (the one immediately pre-interval is amazing), but it also kind of works as a logical way to fight crime.
What I find fascinating is how the final “big bad” isn’t Prakash, but the creepy cop who is going after Ileana. After it is all over, after Prakash has been defeated and the commissioner’s daughter has been rescued, the final shot of the film is Mahesh shooting the cop in cold blood. Awesome!
Not only is it “romantic”, that he is taking out the guy who has been tormenting “his woman”, it’s also saying that the kind of evil the cop was doing, this sort of casual abuse of power, taking what he wants and thinking no one can stop him, that’s as bad or worse than the organized crime Prakash was doing. Prakash was always open, straight-forward, fighting on solid ground. But the cop, he was pretending to be a good guy, using society against itself, doing everything right on the surface, which is what made it so hard to fight.
Which goes back to why Ileana HAD to have a protector, not because she was in a particularly bad situation, but because this is just what the situation is, there are these guys who have power and respect and seem “okay” from the outside, and they use that to do all kinds of terrible things. And the only way to fight back against them, is to use someone who has no position in society, and no concerns about keeping up appearances and still looking “okay”. Really, there should be undercover cops around all the time, just to protect young women from this kind of threat!