This was not a good movie. And, to save you all from it, I am going to provide a summary here that you can read instead of sitting through the whole 3 hour mess like I had to. It is my gift to humanity! And if, for some reason, you feel the need to actually see it, you can always read my No Spoilers review instead.
We open with news reels! Explaining the whole thing with the INA. The British were fighting the Japanese and using Indian soldiers to do it, Subhash Chandra Bose went to Japan and got permission to set up an Indian army using POWs, and Gandhi was back in India too but we don’t care about him at the moment.
(This is how I first learned about Subhash Chandra Bose. Comic books: a good way to learn about tricky bits of history, or the BEST way to learn about tricky bits of history?)
And then, poof! War scene! Very well filmed, handheld cameras and storming through undergrowth and shooting and stabbing and all. But, I don’t really care about any of it. I’m just watching it and admiring the craft, but I have no emotional connection to anyone we are seeing onscreen. I thought it was a stylistic decision, to move from newsreels giving facts to a kind of adventurous but heartless image of a battle. But no, the entire film is just as unengaging as the opening. Oh right, and Shahid Kapoor with a beard is captured by the Japanese while his friends can only watch as their boat pulls away.
And then we go to Bombay and a film set, yeah yeah, there is a life and death struggle and yet the film people don’t care, blah blah. But, as I said before at great length, NO! They did care! They were life and death struggling along with everyone else!!!! I hate it when people try to set up this false dichotomy between the “folks at home who don’t know what is really happening!” and the people fighting. What, you think the folks at home are heartless idiots? Of course they knew what was happening! Just because they spend their days making movies doesn’t mean that they aren’t living and dying in spirit with the people in the struggle.
Oh, and we are introduced to our hero and heroine in a super stylized fashion. All the crew members, as they move about their tasks, sing a song about “Julia”. It’s SUPER WEIRD. It’s not a full on song and dance number, it’s more like something from Andrew Lloyd Webber, where they are moving around and talk-singing. Also strange in concept since, as I just learned by researching Nadia Wadia, there wasn’t that huge division between the “STAR!” and the crew. In fact, the crew and the star would work long hours together as complete equals. So I don’t get where this whole worshipful untouchable feeling comes from.
And then they shoot the scene, and after it is over, Saif, on a balcony over-looking them all, orders “Again!” There is a comment about lack of film stock, but he doesn’t care! He has a VISION!!!! And then he goes and talks to Kangana who is all “Daddy, why? Daddy, wasn’t I good? I’m just a wittle baby who doesn’t understand film and stunts and film stock and complicated gwown up business.” And Saif is all “Baby-waby, trust daddy and do the impossible stunt because I order you to.”
And, premiere! Kangana looks all gorgeous in a western dress, and Saif looks great in a tux. Also, I suddenly realized while watching Saif be all smooth and conciliatory with the British, he’s using his real accent! His actual British-educated upper upper upper crust accent! Only, going back to the HATE for a moment, Saif may in real life have an upper upper upper crust accent, but on the other hand his great uncle wrote THE FREAKING NATIONAL ANTHEM. So just because someone is western and upperclass, it doesn’t mean they were against Independence. Which seems to be what his character is arguing in this movie.
Also in this scene, we are introduced to my favorite character in the film! And possibly the greatest “evil stupid white guy” character of all time. It’s either him or the guy who says “Achcha” and buys the Taj Mahal in Bunty Aur Babli. The general, who speaks Hindi-Urdu with great strain and accent, and recites Ghalib, and sings Ghazals, and otherwise is all about Indian culture. But hates actual Indians. It is hilarious and brilliant and should be taught in all classes discussing Orientalism.
Blah Blah, we meet a king and his new wife who are also a the premier, Saif makes nice with the general, Kangana feels out of place with the high society people and goes up to the projection room where the other actors are listening to a Nationalist address on the radio and talking about whether the INA or Gandhi is the right path. But when the address ends, they all automatically repeat “Jai Hind.”
This scene is so clunky, I like the goal, but the execution fails utterly. It doesn’t feel like a real conversation people would have, it feels like a skit written by high school history students to explain the different freedom movements. The one part that does work is all of them automatically saying “Jai Hind.” Really, if it had just been them gathered around the radio listening, and then saying “Jai Hind” with no other dialogue, it would have been a much better scene.
Kangana is called back downstairs to talk to the press, they ask her if there is anyone for her to love in her life, she turns away from the microphone, Saif stops her, and kisses her in front of everybody! Uch! It’s like something from a really bad dream journal written by a dreamy 16 year old girl “I am the most beautiful and famous movie star in the world! But, I am heartbroken! But then, he kisses me IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY!!! And it’s on the FRONT PAGE!!!! And I look beautiful and everyone wants to be me and I don’t have any pimples or have to take algebra or listen to my parents or ANYTHING!”
And then we get the one scene that actually had real feelings. Really, Saif is knocking it out of the park in this role. He is playing with his son, pretending to sword fight, and completely happy and natural. And then his ex-wife shows up to take the son back to her house. And he is all sad, not in a fake “I’m ACTING!” way, but in a way that actually makes me feel sad for him.
(Saif with his oldest son in real life. Either Saif is much shorter than I realized, or Ibrahim is much taller)
Of course, his whole household set-up still makes no sense. They are Parsi filmmakers, but also really really rich and really really proud and really really pro-British? These things don’t go together!!!! Parsi and rich, sure, but not Parsi and rich and filmmakers. And not Parsi and proud and filmmakers either. And definitely not pro-British. Wouldn’t his father already be all disappointed and angry with him just for being a filmmaker even without the whole “falling in love with a younger actress” thing?
Oh, and we also learn that Saif used to be an action star himself, then lost his hand in an accident, and that is why he had to “discover” Kangana to be the new star for their studio. Eh, it’s an okay backstory.
We get a lot of backstory in this bit, it would be boring if it weren’t so interestingly filmed. It’s still lifeless, just scenes of people exchanging exposition, but at least we can admire the perfect period costumes while we watch. Blah blah, Shahid is back in the army after escaping following 8 months as a POW in Japan, the general is leaning on Saif to send Kangana to entertain the troops, Kangana doesn’t want to do it but Saif makes her because they need the British to release film stock for them to use, and now we are all leaving on a train for Rangoon. Fun! But Saif can’t go at the last minute, because he gets word that his grandfather has had a stroke. Kangana tries to leave the train, and is pulled back by Shahid (their first meeting). She yells at him, he introduces himself as Sergeant Nawab Malik, in charge of her safety, she is grumpy, but then all the other actors sing for her (huh?) and it cheers her up.
All of this leaves me completely cold. The song is filmed in a cool way I guess, but I don’t care about Kangana’s mentally damaged girl who just wants her Twu Luv, or Shahid’s tough PTSD character. I do care about Saif, he really sells his mad dash back into his mansion, only to discover it was all a lie, his grandfather just wanted to separate him from Kangana.
Back with the boring pretty people, Kangana’s train is stopped, they have to move on over land and then fording a river. The Japanese bomb the boats as they are crossing, Kangana’s make-up guy Zulfi runs after the luggage raft and is lost, Kangana and Shahid’s raft capsizes and they both wash ashore. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has seen a movie before and/or is over the age of 6 that Zulfi is working with the INA and has hid the priceless sword from the king who we saw exchange significant looks with him in Kangana’s luggage. And Shahid is clearly a sleeper agent from the INA who has pretended to escape from a POW camp in order to help with this mission. In fact, it is so clear that I was kind of hoping that Kangana and Saif were in on it too, because how could they not figure it out? But no, they are just stupid.
Speaking of stupid, Kangana is found by three Japanese soldiers and immediately starts sob-singing to indicate that she is a movie star. She does that breath-catching thing actors do to show fear, which is one of my biggest pet peeves. Yes, I know it is what people sound like in “real life” when they are upset, all those wet breaths and thinned words, but in “real life” people also have runny noses and bodily functions and all of those sorts of things, and I don’t want to see that on screen either.
Kangana’s trick works, when next we see her she is standing in the sand in front of the three soldiers doing her little boring dance routine. They kick one of the soldiers off the stone to go dance with her, the soldier leaves his gun behind, and Kangana notices it moving slightly in the background. And then Shahid shows up and rescues her and Kangana manages to free herself without help from the one other soldier. And then they make that soldier their captive, get him to draw a map, spend a day and a night hiding out in an old church, then walk all day while Kangana tells her life story, then go through an abandoned bunker complex, find food and saki, get a little drunk, and Kangana and Shahid kiss. And then the captive gets free, tries to kill Shahid, Kangana stands in front of him, the captive gets away, and Shahid and Kangana walk over to the bridge back to India and the “real world”, and just as Kangana looks like she might decide to stay with Shahid instead, Saif’s voice rings out from the other side of the bridge and she runs to him, INTERVAL.
I skipped so much up there, but really, this love story makes me want to vomit. It’s like fanfic, is what it is. I don’t mean badly written exactly, I mean that it is a story that would work if I already cared about the characters and their relationship was already strong and complicated. If this had all happened to, say, a time traveling Rahul and Anjali from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I would have been all about it! But it’s these people, who feel like walking talking paper dolls. Even with the little bit of background we get filled in, it still doesn’t work. We learn that Kangana is an untouchable who was raised as a performer on the Bombay beaches. And when she was 14, Saif saw her there and bought her from her mother for a thousand rupees, and then educated her and brought her up and made her a star. So, okay, that’s why she is so childish and so dependent on Saif. And why she can throw knives and do cool things like that. But I still don’t care.
Also, this romance? Really? I can see why they are two interesting people individually, her with her random assortment of skills and childishly trusting view of the world, and him with his straight-forward purpose oriented perspective. But I’m just not buying that they actually enjoy spending time together. The chemistry is not there AT ALL! And it could be because of all those rumors that they didn’t like each other during filming, but that seems unlikely since Shahid managed to have great chemistry with his girlfriend in the middle of their break-up. I think it’s just the writing, it doesn’t give me anything to believe in between them.
(If you watched the trailer and thought “maybe it works better in context”, it doesn’t)
The second half starts with a classic reset. Now Saif is there, and the awesomely terrible white guy general, and the rest of Kangana’s troupe, and they are all traveling together through the war zone entertaining troops. If I were a troop, I would be very disappointed by the performances, and very surprised by the staging. I mean, I’ve seen videos of those USO shows, it’s people in uniforms or similarly practical outfits, standing on thrown together stages or the back of a truck, doing simple routines. It’s not dozens of costumes and back up dancers and elaborate staging and I don’t know what all!
Again, the only interesting part is Saif. We last saw him being pressured by his family to forget Kangana entirely. And then we learned that he “bought” her when she was a child and raised her to be what he wanted, which doesn’t make him seem that great. But now he is here, he has gone into a war zone to get her back, he has broken it off with his family, and he has brought her a huge diamond ring to make their engagement official. Again, he has layers! Yes, he needs to control her and loves her partly for the ways in which she is created in his own image. But on the other hand, he seems sincere when he explains that thinking she was lost made him realize how much he loves her, that he just wants her to be happy and have everything else she wants.
Of course, all of Saif’s soul searching and personal growth and so on is pointless, because Shahid and Kangana have Twu Luv 4 EVR. Even though Shahid is (obviously) only hanging around because of his INA work. There are two subtle moments here, when he helps Kangana back to camp and walks past a Burmese nurse working on other soldiers and exchanges barely a flicker of a glance, and it isn’t clear that Kangana even sees. Later, at Kangana’s show that night, Shahid walks past the nurse and there is another flicker. Kangana calls him up onstage to be the target for her knife act, she seemingly misses him with all knives, but when she walks over to pull them out, the camera reveals she knicked his arm. And she hisses at him something like “who’s your friend?” That was nice and subtle, showing that even though she is officially with Saif now, she still notices him, and he knows she is noticing.
Of course, we in the audience know that the nurse is just part of his INA work, duh! As is Zulfi, who they have been hiding at a local village! Yay! He’s alive! But scared, so Shahid gives him some opium and his service revolver, and then sends him back into the jungle with the trunk to be “discovered”. Everyone is thrilled to see him, but Zulfi is still scared, so he takes too much opium, and that night he breaks into the broadcast of Kangana’s show to talk about “white monkeys”. The soldiers track him down and chase him into the middle of the shockingly elaborate act going on, Zulfi tries to ask Kangana for help, the crazed younger white guy officer pulls a gun on him, and of course shoots him in the back. I manage to dredge up about a teaspoon of emotion about this death, which is more emotion than I can find for any other death.
In my review of Indian, I had a hard time with some of the deaths in it because they seemed cruel and random in a way that didn’t match the cruel and random methods of the British that I had learned about in history books. This death does match that. In fact, all the British cruelty fits exactly with my understanding of British cruelty. Enjoying their power over these people, cloaked in kindness. Until it is no longer time to cloak it in kindness and they reveal their true evil.
This is Kangana’s wake up, especially when Saif is so scared of offending the British that he backs down and agrees to let Zulfi be just thrown into the jungle instead of be given a decent burial. And then she goes into the jungle that night and tries to dig a hole herself in the rain in the mud, but can’t manage it because she is just a siwwy wittle girl. Luckily, Shahid shows up on the same mission, and they dig together, then get Zulfi’s body from somewhere and put it in the hole. And then sit up all night watching it. Not sure if this is a specific death rite, or just a human instinct, to spend the first night watching over a body and mourning it. Anyway, Kangana talks about how she can’t imagine why Zulfi joined the INA, and Shahid answers with a really really good explanation, that of course Hitler and Mussolini are monsters. But the British are monsters as well, we just don’t see it. And so the Indians have to choose, which monster do they want to throw their lot in with? It’s a great answer for explaining where the INA came from, but it’s a terrible answer for building a believable relationship between these two people. Heck, just putting his arm around her and sitting quietly in the dark thinking about life would be better than a big lecture on international politics!
And then we go right into a love song and sex on a beach. Yuch! Wouldn’t it be terribly cold and gritty and uncomfortable? In all the worst places? The song is edited kind of interestingly, cutting between their afternoon on the beach, and all sorts of other moments that lead up to it, eyes meeting, hands touching, etc. etc. The beach afternoon is significant we find out (besides probably being the only time they have sex) because there is an air raid that day and no one can find Kangana, and then everyone sees her and Shahid arrive together hand in hand. And Saif notices that both Kangana and Shahid have sand underneath their clothes. Which makes him leap to sex on a beach? Is beach sex more common than I know? Should I start looking at everyone’s skin for evidence all the time?
(Best part about this song is that they include Saif in it. He is swooning and overcome by love for Kangana just as much as she is for Shahid)
Blah blah, Saif is jealous. He’s the most interesting character, and even he can’t make this bad-female-porn set up work. He threatens Kangana, will Shahid save her? He threatens Shahid, how will he respond? And everyone is very worried about this IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR ZONE??????
Kangana goes to warn Shahid that night, sees the nurse leaving with the sword, realizes Shahid is INA, threatens him with exposure, he threatens her with his gun, and then the scene just kind of ends? Oh, by the way, we learned after Zulfi died through background glances that in fact the entire troupe (except Kangana) are all working with the INA and trying to help Shahid on his mission. How did they all end up open-minded and radical and Kangana didn’t?
Next day, the nurse has been captured and is being beaten and tortured to find out who she is working with. They drag out her little son and threaten him with a gun if she won’t admit who she is working with. Saif half-objects and looks horrified, and the general makes him take the gun and tells him to shoot. And Saif looks like he might say no. This scene is ridiculous (although, again, completely believable as something the British actually did), but Saif really makes it work. Manages to show some real human doubt and fear and disgust. Unlike Shahid, who is just perfect in every way and bravely reveals himself as an INA spy by singing the INA anthem. Which is also the first time a learned this song is the INA anthem! And I just heard it in The Ghazi Attack, they sing it, and then go into “Jana Gana”. Which I have heard a lot, I assume it is fairly standard to pair the two songs like that?
(Even if you are new to these movies, I guarantee you have heard it at some point too)
Yeah, so, Shahid is captured, all brave and untouched in his perfection. The sword is discovered too. The only interesting thing is that there is this one moment after Shahid is revealed, Saif is still holding the gun, and he moves it to be aimed at Shahid, until an officer steps in to move it aside so they can question Shahid before they shoot him. It’s in the background, but Saif does a great job of changing his face from “I don’t want to do this, I can’t shoot a kid, but I also can’t look weak in front of these people without risking the lives of everyone else” to “Oh, I really really want to shoot this guy!”
And then Shahid is put on display in a truck as he is beaten by his former friends and “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” plays in the background. Again, toooooootalllllly believable actions on the part of the British army. Or any army really. Very toxic environment for empathy and basic human decency.
Shahid and the sword are both put in a train and taken away. And then Kangana has an awakening? Or something? She gets the acting crew to help her, puts on her costume and steals a motorcycle, jumps on the train, unhooks the car, kills the guards, captures the general, makes him order Shahid freed, and then of course he gets away so Shahid has a chance to heroically free himself and then kill the general. In the course of this, by the way, Shahid kills his former best friend in hand to hand combat.
Such an odd sequence! Why does Kangana have to put on her lipstick and mask to do real life heroics? Why is Shahid still able to save himself once his handcuffs are gone even though he’s been beaten black and blue? It’s the most consciously filmi and fake and wish-fulfillment action sequence in the whole film. The action equivalent of the romance scenes. And stuff like Shahid killing his best friend, and Kangana using her knife throwing skills to kill people for the first time, it just never comes up again. Violence purely for the purposes of, I don’t know, sexiness? Fantasy-fulfillment? With no consequences at all!
The movie really could have ended there, Shahid and Kangana embracing with the sword. But for some reason they decided to just keep going. Shahid and Kangana have to get back to that same bridge, The One Bridge in All of India, and then over to the INA outpost. And the General, it turns out, is NOT dead. That was the one good part of this, I love that actor! So, the General gets back to base and grabs a couple soldiers and takes off after them in a jeep. They start shooting just as Shahid and Kangana reach the bridge. Shahid offers to stay back and shoot from the rocks on the Indian side while Kangana crosses to safety on the other side. Obvious Sholay reference, Shahid looks all kinds of Jai-like, huddled injured in the rocks by a bridge.
Just as it looks like this might work out, Shahid has the British pinned down and Kangana is running over the bridge with the sword, Saif appears with more British soldiers! And his own gun! And starts shooting at Shahid. Oh man! Saif was on the road to redemption, I wanted him to spontaneously start working with Shahid, because seeing what the British have done, and knowing the woman he loves and all his co-workers have changed sides, would make him at this moment suddenly realize that he should be fighting next to Shahid, not opposite him. But, no!
Instead, we get the STUPIDEST ENDING IN THE WORLD!!!! Seriously, once this film inevitably gets to a streaming site, I recommend just skipping to the last 5 minutes and laughing and laughing. I’ll see if I can re-create it in the inferior medium of words.
Kangana is almost to the other side, and they don’t want to shoot her because then they can’t get the sword (although, couldn’t they just walk over to her body and take it?), so to make her walk it back to them, they threaten to shoot Shahid. Shahid tells her to run anyway, it doesn’t matter if he is shot today or hung tomorrow, it’s all the same. Kangana says “But today, you are alive.” Which I think is a line that is supposed to make me cry or something, but her saying it in tight leather pants and a leather vest and white shirt holding a magical sword just kills the romance.
(The sword looks kind of like this, but way more elaborate. Also, it’s supposed to raise money to buy bullets for the INA. How? From whom? In 1941, who has money around to spare on antique swords? The Swiss? And even if you can sell it, who are you going to buy bullets from? Everyone is using all the bullets they have for their own army! Except, of course, the Swiss.)
So Shahid starts walking towards her, trying to force the British to shoot him. Which they finally do. And then blow the bridge. Even though Kangana is still on it holding the sword and a moment ago they said they couldn’t do that. Kangana starts running as the bridge burns behind her, like she is going to somehow outrun the fire like a Looney Tunes character? She also keeps reaching for the sword that is hanging off the bridge. Saif walks out to her, and Saif brings the actual depth and acting, begging her to come back to him, that he loves her, that it can still be all right. Kangana grabs hold of his wooden stub, and has the sword in the other hand, and asks if he really loves her, enough to do anything? He says yes. She asks him in some poetic baby talk way that I can’t remember to take the sword over to the INA. And then lets go and falls into the water, saying that her soul already died with Shahid. Her last words are “bloody hell”, her tagline from her films. ?????
And then it gets AWESOME! And STUPID!!! Shahid turns, hands the sword back to the British general, except once the scabbard is in his hands, Saif pulls back and releases the sword! And cuts off the General’s head!!! Very very bad CGI as it flies off into the river? ocean? some body of water below them. And finally, the last shot of the movie, the INA officers arrive on the other side, and then we cut to two bare feet. And pull back to see Saif, one-armed, barefoot, with the sword balanced in his hand, walking across the rope that is all that is left of the bridge tightrope style. Bwa-Ha-Ha-Ha-HA-hahahahahaha! Oh, that is so FUNNY! It’s a ridiculous image, and the CGI is sooooooooooo bad and that just makes it worse, and the music is going in the background like we are supposed to find this triumphant or something instead of hilarious. I tell you, it is the funniest thing I’ve seen since The King’s Speech combined Most Triumphant Music Ever with a man managing to talk without stuttering.
And then we end with some photos of the real life INA? And stamps in their honor, or else the stamps they put out, I’m not sure? Like, as if this whole movie was supposed to make us think about their sacrifices? Instead of making us think “wait, he’s TIGHTROPE WALKING WITH A PRICELESS SWORD IN HIS HAND????”