I saw Rustom! FINALLY! I was out of town this weekend, so I couldn’t see either release until Monday night. And tonight I am going to Mohenjo Daro after work. And then I will be free until Happy Bhaag Jayage comes out next weekend. The Independence Day to Republic Day release schedule is just exhausting!
This was definitely an Akshay Kumar film. It’s not just that it worked best when he was onscreen, or that he was the main character, it’s that it only worked because of him/his character. Remove Akshay from the film, and the whole thing turns into a random collection of scenes and characters with no center. Not in the usual “he provided the emotional center of the film” way, but more like biting into a snickers bar and discovering the filling as been removed and all that’s left is the little fake-chocolate crust.
It’s also a cheap movie! At least, it looked that way to me. I’ll be interested if there is any final budget released, how low it actually was. To recreate Bombay of the 1950s, they used terrible fake rear projection, with a very very few extras scattered around. It’s especially noticable in car scenes, where they didn’t even bother to line up the rear projection with a logical direction the car, so it looks like they are driving on a diagonal away from the background instead of in a straight line down the street. Or, even worse, the rear projection doesn’t match angle by angle, so it appears that the side window of the car is driving in one direction, while the rear window is going in another. Like they have somehow stumbled on some movie-car 4th dimension.
The costumes are gorgeous, but completely anachronistic. Not that they don’t look true to the period, but they are true to the period as it would have been in magazine spreads and fancy award shows. And they are also a little “sexed up” for the period. Esha comes off much worse in this regard than Ileana. She wears evening dresses to identify her brother’s body in the middle of the afternoon, a low cut sexy bright yellow suit cut painfully tight with nothing underneath to testify in court, and a whole series of amazing outfits to meet with her lawyer. It’s super fun to see, but it also kind of took me out of the film, made her into kind of a caricature instead of a character. No one really ever wears just a regular everyday outfit, they are more extreme than even what you would see in films that were made during the actual era.
(Madhubala, actually in the 1950s, looking way more casual and contemporary than Esha Gupta in 2016 pretending to be in the 1950s)
The one exception to this is Akshay, who literally wears his uniform the entire time. They have a brief 4th wall breaking moment when someone points out how ridiculous this is, but Akshay’s character has some cool line about how wearing a uniform is just a habit with him. But, really? A perfect starched white uniform everyday, even while you are living in a jail cell? He looks great, don’t get me wrong, but I did have a small voice in my head wondering “did he film all his scenes in one day? Is that why he looks the same in all of them?”
Even if he did, though, who cares! It’s worth it, because he’s the only thing that makes the film work. The screen comes alive when he is on it, and you 100% believe in and care about his character, even while everyone else seems potentially untrustworthy.
It’s a good thing he makes it work, because as I said, the whole film is built on his character. He is the end all and be all of the film. If you don’t like Akshay Kumar, this is not the film for you. But if, like me, you enjoy him without loving him, this film may make you love him. Or at least understand why others do. He projects all his charisma at all times and manages to carry every scene, no matter how ridiculous. Including his introduction, silhouetted against the setting sun with the Indian flag in the background.
Ileana’s pretty good too. For about half her screentime, she is just a sobbing mess, and that gets repetitive after a while. But in her other scenes, she is able to run through a whole variety of emotions, and does a really good job with them!
And I can see why they cast her, not just for her acting abilities, but for her look. She looks so young and fragile and beautiful, and that fit her relationship dynamic with Akshay, just seeing the two of them together tells you that this is an older man who is in love for the first time with a much younger woman, and that she is a young woman who’s whole life revolves around her husband because she doesn’t know anything else. Not that it’s a bad relationship, I completely believed in them as a couple, but the casting added some specific shadings to it.
The rest of the actors just look like they are having a really good time. Which kind of added to my enjoyment! I liked feeling like I was sharing a really good joke, or a really fun party game, with all these nice people I vaguely recognized.
It really was a great cast of character actors! All these guys that I vaguely know from their small scenes in films I love. The “villain” is Arjan Bajwa, who played the supercilious rich guy in Guru (the one who golfs). Kind of a similar role in this movie, actually. And the investigating officer is Pavan Malhotra, who was in a whole bunch of stuff, but who I always think of as tweed-and-sweater-henchman in Don.
Sachin Khedekar plays the lawyer, also in dozens and dozens of films, but for me he is always Kareena’s father from Mujshe Dosti Karoge. And Kumud Mishra again disappears into his role so totally, I had no idea it was the same guy as Kohli from Airlift and Anushka’s father in Sultan.
(Here he is, pretending to like Kareena’s completely unlikeable character)
And hey! I didn’t recognize the Rear Admiral/Akshay’s boss actor at all, but it’s Kuljeet! From DDLJ! Evil Kuljit! Who’s real name is Parmeet Sethi, and who is now directing as well as acting. That’s cool! Good for you Kuljeet! Picking up the pieces of your broken heart after Kajol left you and moving on with your life!
The songs were pretty good to. Not that there were many of them, only one true full length love song. But the sounded pretty, and the full length love song was very well done. And a later love duet had a cool little diegetic/not diegetic moment.
I do wonder if the lack of songs is because it was going after an international audience. And if the enormous amount of English in use went with that. Of course, English would have also been somewhat accurate, since it is showing the upperclasses of Bombay shortly after Independence, and the heroine is Anglo-Indian, and English is the common language of the courtroom (I believe). But there was just so much of it, even the newspaper was in English.
But despite the lack of songs and all the English, it is still essentially an “Indian” film, because it is so strongly built around one star. It reminded me a little of Ambe Sivam, where I had such a hard time with Kamal Haasan’s perfection. I had no problems with Akshay’s perfection here, partly because there was never anyone set up to be his equal. The rest of the cast isn’t nearly as famous or well known, and their characters are never presented as anything more than a foil for Akshay’s personality.
Plus, Akshay does a really good job with it! He is recognizably still “Akshay”, but he layers on a sort of military persona, and a sense of secrecy. And an extra touch of gentlemenliness (is that a word?) in his interactions with women. Kind of like how in Airlift he took the base layer of “Akshay” and put on a little more bluster and confidence. And, silly though it may be for him to wear a white dress uniform the entire time, he looks really really really good in it.