It’s a Sidharth blow out!!!!!!!! Best film yesterday, and my favorite film today. Not a coincidence exactly, less about Sidharth choosing good movies/good movies choosing him, and more about the level of star who is still allowed to experiment and risk failure.
A Gentleman is such a cool movie. Because it knows it is a movie. It knows it is ridiculous and over the top and fun. It isn’t trying to impress anybody or be different from who it is. It is that weird kid in class who laughs at their own jokes and wears funny bright colored clothes and eventually you realize they are having way more fun and are way more interesting than all the carefully “normal” looking kids. And that’s the real “cool” kid, the kid who lives their life for themselves, not anyone else.
(See? This is not a “cool” song. This is an actually cool song)
I came close to choosing A Gentleman as the Best movie yesterday. Because, like Ittefaq, it feels like it is exactly the movie they set out to make. The best possible version of itself with nothing added or removed. But I looked deep into my soul and eventually decide that, objectively speaking, Ittefaq is the better film. A Gentleman gets a little laggy right at the end, before the final confrontation. And there is no performance that quite reaches the peak that Akshaye got to in his role in Ittefaq. And the camerawork and editing, while very very good (certainly better than 99% of the other stuff that came out of the Hindi industry last year), wasn’t at that level of absolute brilliance that Ittefaq reached.
But I still like it better than Ittefaq! Or anything else that came out last year. It’s fun and funny and just makes you smile to watch it. Well, makes me smile. I could watch it over and over again, and have, and I enjoy it just as much on each watch.
(I saw this trailer at least 6 times in theaters before other movies, and each time I didn’t just enjoy it, I did a little cheer for it)
Which brings me to Sidharth Malhotra. The Big Name films, they are no longer made for re-watching, they are made for opening weekend. Sometimes rewatching AND opening weekend, but if you have to pick one or the other, it will be opening weekend every time. I’m not even talking about the Khans, I’m talking about Ajay, Akshay, even Varun and Ranveer and Ranbir. If a producer or a director is hiring one of them, it is part of putting together a package that will sell tickets that very first Friday, sell a lot of tickets.
So, why do you hire Sidharth Malhotra? Or Ayushman Khuranna or Rajkumar Rao or Sushant Singh Rajput? It’s because you aren’t interested in that opening weekend package. I mean, you wouldn’t turn down a bigger star if they offered, but opening weekend is not your goal or your focus.
(This is such a weird movie. Because if you watch it, it is definitely not an “opening weekend” film, there are too many funky things that you can only appreciate on a rewatch, besides the lack of star cast. But the promotional campaign packaged it as an “opening weekend” film, including throwing in some songs and “bigger” moments than the story really needed. Very strange.)
At this point I am more interested in seeing a Sidharth Malhotra movie than a Salman Khan movie. Not because Sidharth is a better actor than Shahrukh, or better at picking scripts, but because a Sidharth Malhotra movie is a lot more likely to take risks than a Shahrukh Khan movie.
Bringing it back to A Gentleman, this movie is definitely risky! It’s a black comedy, a rare genre for Hindi film. Not totally unheard of, but rare. What’s really risky is the content of the comedy. Like all comedy, it is situational and specific. But it is specific to the NRI experience. Not the bleak and dramatic NRI experience, or the fantastical perfect NRI experience like films usually show. But the sort of day to do tedium of it. The crowd at my local movie theater LOVED this film. Laughed so hard I couldn’t hear all the lines. Practically applauded when it was over. So that one particular audience would understand and love every bit of this film. But that’s a super particular audience! NRIs who are ready to laugh at themselves. Essentially, this is the audience that would watch a stand-up special with Russell Peters, or a crossover comedy like The Guru. Very hard to get that audience in to see a traditional (seemingly) Hindi film.
Judging by how crowded my theater was opening night, I am guessing the publicity campaign worked in alerting folks that something special was coming out. At least, the folks who would be going to the all Indian theater, the ones who still have a toe in the traditional NRI community. But I’m not terribly surprised that it failed in most other theaters. I would have loved to see it get more of an off-beat crossover comedy kind of release, would have been perfect for the same crowd that loved Meet the Patels. Or even something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
(You realize Netflix now has 3 American desi comedy series running? Maybe more if I am forgetting one. Clearly, the audience is there for this kind of comedy, this film just didn’t reach them. It’s on youtube now, maybe…..)
I’m not an NRI, but I felt strangely at home in that theater opening night. Because I am that person who likes mainstream snarky American comedy, and also has a toe in traditional NRI culture. I was able to appreciate the jokes as though they were written just for me, because they were written just for me. It’s like Raj & D.K. sat down and said “Let’s be nice to Margaret, we will make something special just for her because we love her more than all the other people in the world.” They did all this just for me, how could this film NOT be my favorite?