Not a good movie. Really really not. Terrible script, and casting mistakes. And then a lot of money poured on top which just serves to make the flaws stand out even more. Like bright lighting on a really really ugly statue. Anyway, save your money and skip the film, just read this instead! Which I almost never say, but in this case, yes. It’s the best thing to do.
Whole plot in one paragraph:
Salman is developmentally disabled(possibly fetal alcohol syndrome or something?), everyone teases him. His little brother is born and the little brother ends up protecting him and taking care of him. The army comes to town and asks for recruits for the Chinese-Indian border tensions. Sohail doesn’t want to sign up because he feels responsible for Salman, but finally decides to do it in order to get the army pay to help take care of Salman. He leaves, and Zhu Zhu and her FREAKING ADORABLE child come to town. Salman is afraid of them at first, because they are Chinese. But then gets to know them and learns they are ethnically Chinese, but Indian by birth. Zhu Zhu’s father has been arrested until the war is over, and she and her son have come to this village to wait it out. SHAHRUKH IS HERE! A magician who comes to town and clearly picks Salman out as the most picked upon and saddest person in the crowd. He invites Salman up on stage and makes it appear as though Salman moved a bottle through telekinesis. And tells him to just believe and he can do anything. SHAHRUKH IS GONE. Never to return, sadly. Salman believes in his telekinesis and when he is being teased in the town square, says that he will move the mountain. Coincidentally, an earthquake happens as he is doing his thing, and the town’s people start to believe him. He learns Sohail has been captured by the Chinese, and starts doing his telekinesis thing every day trying to end the war. The war ends, Zhu Zhu’s father returns. But that night an angry townsperson breaks into their house and beats Zhu Zhu’s father into unconsciousness. Salman goes to confront him, and is interrupted by the army arriving to tell him that Sohail is dead in an escape attempt. Salman is sad, cries and cries and cries and cries. Zhu Zhu and her son are leaving town. The townsperson is never punished or arrested in any way for almost killing a man. And then as Zhu Zhu is leaving town, she runs into the army guys, and learns that it was all a mistake! Sohail isn’t dead, some other guy we don’t care about is dead! Happiness! But Sohail has PTSD. Salman has to visit him at the army hospital and do his silly little dance for him, and then he wakes up again. Happy Ending! (mostly because this thing is finally over)
I’ll start with the good: Matin Rey Tangu is shockingly cute.
Now the just okay: the songs. The music is pretty good, the visualizations aren’t great, it averages to okay
The neutral: performances. Zhu Zhu struggles with the Hindi dialogue, visibly struggles. Salman and Sohail are trying super super hard, not always succeeding, but trying. Matin Rey and Om Puri tie for best actor over all. Oh, and Isha Talwar isn’t bad! Probably helps that for once she speaks the language.
(At least she could communicate with Salman off-screen, since they are both as comfortable in English as any other language)
The bad: The CGI. The costumes. It all looks really good, which makes it easy to see how bad it is. What I mean is, the costumes are unflattering and unimaginative, but very clearly filmed and perfectly made so we can see exactly how unflattering and unimaginative they are. Same with houses, cars, etc. etc. Not that they are “wrong” exactly, just not very interesting.
The shockingly bad: the dialogue. I understand Zhu Zhu just learned Hindi a few weeks before filming started, but did the dialogue writers as well? Everything is sooooooooooooo literal, soooooooooooo on the nose!
The disgustingly bad: the story. It’s based on Little Boy, which snuck in and out of theaters in America, chased by the howls of outraged audience members and critics. Not outraged because it was a “bad movie” as in “not well made”, but outraged because it was a “bad movie” as in “evil movie.” To minimize an entire war, a massive conflict, and the injustices it caused both at home and abroad, into one small child’s promise with “God”? There’s a way to tell this story that says “every child is important” and there’s a way to tell it that says “millions of innocent children should die to fulfill this one child’s wish”, and the original film took the second approach. This movie isn’t quite as bad, I don’t know if anything could be. But it has the same central flaw, that all of these terrible events are only important for the effect they have on our central character, not on anyone else in the world.
What I really can’t believe is that the same team that put together Bajrangi Bhaijaan put together this travesty. Not because of the quality, but because of the message. The directing and actings are at about the same level as Bajrangi. But without the script to support them, it all falls apart. That makes sense to me.
(slightly better soundtrack too)
What doesn’t make sense is the moments that are missed. Why did we see the townsfolk turn on the Chinese family out of fear, and then they are never punished or clearly redeemed? So, racist beatdowns are okay? No need to go to the law, no expectation on the part of the victims that the law will do anything? And this is so accepted that the film doesn’t even feel the need to go into detail about it?
Why is Zhu Zhu a widow? Why isn’t it her husband that they are waiting for? Is it to set up a romance with Salman, if so, that never really happens! Is it because the film was pulling its punches and didn’t want to explore a Chinese-Indian as a young virile man?
Why is Shahrukh there, like, at all? Besides getting us to buy tickets in order to see Shahrukh? Why are our hero’s parents killed off in an almost whimsical manner? Why is there a priest who never really gives much wisdom, why is there Gandhi? What’s HAPPENING??????
That’s what’s so frustrating the feeling of this good movie that is trying to beat it’s way out but instead being slowly suffocated by the badness surrounding it. I say “good”, not “great”. I don’t think this could ever be a great film. But it could have been good.
Keep the setting of a mountain town during the Sino-Indian conflict. Keep the idea of the woman and little boy arriving. And the “simple” man in town befriending them. Keep the idea of the army troupe nearby even. Get rid of the “miracles”. Get rid of the back and forth of the plot. Keep it simple, keep it focused on this small town and the ugliness in how they treat this woman and her child. And make the “happy ending” a redemption for the town in rejecting their treatment of her, a public outcry against the man who beat her father (or husband, if we want the more logical character choice), and a public loving welcome of her and her son.
The film feints in that direction. Showing her little boy getting a free ice cream from the shopkeeper before they leave town. Gee, thanks, shopkeeper! You are horribly racist and looked the other way as a man was beaten to near death, but this ice cream cone sure makes it okay!
And it faints in the direction of a simple idea of the home front during wartime. Listening for news, waiting for it to be over, etc. etc. Only, and this is where the film felt really odd to me, THIRTY-TWO DAYS!!!! They had to wait a whoooooooooooole 32 days. Oh the humanity of it!
I assume the American plot in the disgusting original movie deals with a Japanese family and the internment camps. And with WWII, obviously. Which meant it could cover years and years and all kinds of shifts in the environment of this tiny town. But THIRTY-TWO DAYS!!!! Like, at one point Sohail is all “we must escape!” and I’m thinking “just wait, like, A DAY, and the whole war will be over!” Or, Om Puri (semi-guardian and friend of Salman) leaves town for a few weeks to go to Delhi and I’m thinking “Come on Om! You’ve just got to watch Salman for a month, just reschedule the trip!” It just doesn’t make sense, is what I am saying. You can’t take a 4 year sized plot and squeeeeeeeeze it down into a month. Heck, would Zhu Zhu and her son even have time to move? It took me two months and that was just between apartments in the same city!
(One of the many many many ways that Lakshya is a better film. They figured out how to make us feel that short timeline for the actual conflict, and still make it meaningful. Also, better songs. And everything else)
There’s some other stuff that doesn’t make sense. Like, Sohail is reported dead because he gave his boots to someone else, and that body was identified by the tag on the boot. Because dogtag technology had not yet made its way to India? Or any thought of checking for ID anywhere besides the boot?
The big thing that doesn’t make sense is the casting. Salman and Sohail first. Sohail really isn’t the problem. He’s more just a symptom of the problem with Salman. They are both soooooooooooooooooooooooo old! SO OLD!!!! And they can’t hide it any more. Or else they just aren’t bothering to hide it. And these characters really really need to be young. You need that sense that Salman is delayed, but just beginning to be an adult (lots of people are comparing it with Koi Mil Gaya, Hrithik was the perfect age to play that role, for instance). And you need Sohail to be a young man struggling with too many responsibilities and in perfect physical shape for the army. Seeing these two clearly middle-aged men playing these roles was just off. No way to ignore it.
Either the script needed to be re-written, to make Sohail an old man whose last chance for any kind of money is to get into the army, and so he desperately proves his abilities and begs for his chance, and to make Salman an old man, settled in with the other old men of the village, while still innocent. That would work, Om Puri could be Salman’s friend, not his foster father (in real life they were only 15 years apart). Or else they just needed to cast other people, young people. Ranveer-Ranbir, Varun-Siddharth, Arjun-Somebody. Any of them would have been better with these characters, if you aren’t going to rewrite the script.
And Zhu Zhu’s character was kind of a mess too. Just make her Chinese already! A war bride of someone who fought in WWII in China for the British. Or of an Indian who ended up in China any other way. It was just her painful to watch struggles with the language (also, why not dub? Isha Talwar is in this movie, she opted for dubbing, couldn’t she have suggested it?). Would have been much simpler if they had clarified that she spoke Hindi, but her native tongue was Chinese, and give her just simple dialogue. What was the biggest thing though, for me, was her styling. She looked gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. But very Chinese. European style clothes, perfectly tailored with neat little style touches. Not the kind of European clothes you could get in India at that time. Or now for that matter. You can’t get them in America either, I only see that level of tailoring when I watch Chinese/Hong Kong movies. Her hair was the same, gorgeous style, but not something I would expect to see in India today or in 1962. If she was raised in India, wouldn’t she wear either Salwars/Saris, or the same kind of European clothes as everyone else? Not this obviously “other” stuff.
(This isn’t the best example, but focus on the bodice. Where, in India, would you get a dress with a bodice that low and fitted, with that clever little tuck by the button placket? And all of her costumes are like that, not revealing exactly, but just in a style that screams “Chinese” to me instead of Indian)
And all of this brings me to the Chinese market! I was so aware of that through out this film. Bajrangi Bhaijaan, I believe, did very very well there. And Kabir Khan already signed a deal for his next film to be a co-production. And I think I can see how it went down. They asked around, what would make this film work in China? And the answer was, ‘The biggest actor, the one who has the most films at the top of the box office list. And a Chinese actress, and make sure she is recognizable to our Chinese audience. Besides that, we don’t care.”
So they take this advice and start looking around for how to make this work. Ek Tha Tiger 2 is already in process, Bajrangi Bhaijaan did well, just put Kabir and Salman together again. Find some story idea from the dustheap that can kind of work with a Chinese actress in the lead. Salman’s willing to do it, he suggests Sohail to be in it too just to keep casting simple. Great! No need to find another actor! Om Puri’s around, and always looking for work, they can use him too. Pritam ditto. Isha Talwar, she’s hanging around waiting for her “real” Hindi launch, might as well throw her in too.
Sure, they could re-write the script to match the cast, but that’s a lot of work, and Ek Tha Tiger 2 pre-production is already starting up, so why bother? Salman will put on some sweaters that don’t fit, they will hire a couple dozen extras for the war scenes, find world’s cutest little boy, and call it a day.
Kabir Khan is incapable of shooting a really bad looking film, so that’s taken care of. Some interesting use of light and shadow, really nice color composition and so on. Salman will bring in the opening day box office. Yash Raj (the distributor globally) can massage the screen count and trick the satellite channels into paying big bucks for the rights, a profit is guaranteed. And really, that’s all you need. Some good looking trailers, Salman’s name, and Yash Raj’s brutal distribution techniques. Oh, and an Eid release.
My hope is that this film fails. Not because it is bad, or not only because it is bad. But because I want proof that a film can’t succeed just because it has a Khan name and a Yash Raj release. Fan got us halfway there, but the content of that was so clearly off-putting, people didn’t look past that. This one, this is in the same family as, say, Sultan. Or Rustom. The filmmakers looked at the script, the cast, the songs, everything and went “well, it’s good enough. We could cast someone better, for the non-star roles, we could write a better script, we could do something more inventive with the camera, but we don’t need to. Screen count, glossy look, promos everywhere, and a big star. That’s easier than actually trying to make the best possible movie.” I don’t want Hindi film to settle for mediocrity, I don’t want it to just give up and count on the screen count and promos and Superstar to carry the day. And hopefully this film will fail enough that it will serve as a wake up call. Please fail! Please please please!
And thus, this spoiler review. If you care about the future of Hindi film, stay away! Read this instead and send a message at the box office that you are tired of films being just “good enough”.