First, if you want to talk about Ali’s personal issues, jump over to this post. I put it up specially so I could segregate Ali-the-person discussion from Ali-the-actor/director/producer. Separate from that, read this review and not the SPOILER review if you can’t see the movie! It’s a great film with a lot of surprising twists and deserves to be watched with fresh eyes.
This is such a refreshingly intelligent film, a film which understands just how serious and not serious to take movies. It doesn’t try to be “real” or avoid the ridiculous plot twists and songs and falling in love at first sight that are the calling card of South Asian films. It’s bright and colorful and impractical. But at the same time, it takes film very seriously, it takes the ability film has to create a story and uses that to make us see the world in a different way. It’s fun and funny and romantic and exciting and with the kind of political message at the end that makes me give a little fist pump into the air in excitement.
There is never a lazy moment. The film looks at every moment and asks “yes, but could we do more with it? Go a little bit further?” I wish I could give examples, but I want you to discover them all for yourself. Here’s a small thing, there is a scene where Lahore boy Ali is being made over in a cool European clothes shop. His outfit is already perfect, that slightly too cool kind of cool that FOBs lean towards, and then just to put the peak on it, we see that the price tag is still hanging off the side of his sunglasses and he doesn’t even notice. It’s the basic plot requirement of a make over, and then on top of it they go a bit further and find this perfect ridiculous outfit that fits the character and the situation. And then they don’t stop there, they find just the right price tag and have it hanging in just the right way off just the right item to show clueless new money spending.
I’m going to give credit to Ali for that, and for most of the film. He is the producer, he came up with the money and directed it towards what he cared about. And he is the star, he carefully crafted a note perfect performance that makes fun of heroic masculinity. And he wrote the dialogue, the exact clever little turns of phrase that make the characters come out and the film bubble along. And most of all, he wrote and sang the songs. Fun, clever, unique, and perfectly in rhythm with his character, with the rest of the film, breezing in and out of the plot without a stumble.
Ali has created a great film, but the film is also benefiting Ali. He has a very particular specialty, the hero who is just a bit too much of a hero, who just slightly tip-toes over the line between acting and parody. This is a whole film that keeps dancing between sincere and parody, and mostly landing on parody. Ali’s performance doesn’t stand out as being not quite-quite the way it does in Mere Brother Ki Dulhania, for instance, where everyone else is doing a semi-sincere film, and Ali is off in some kind of endlessly amusing cartoon version of a hero.
This film is Ali’s little sandbox. He has created a cartoon world where Polish millionaires have massive goon squads, and Lahori gangsters just want to open restaurants, and you can fix a broken leg by just forcing yourself to run on it. And he has done it with the bare minimum of cost. I am sure I saw the same stuntman in fight scenes over and over again, and there were only 11 speaking parts. They filmed mostly in Poland, which has it’s own unique cheapness. The filming locations were clearly just people’s apartments and homes, no need to clear the streets, they just folded the random passersby into the film. And of course no complications related to filming at home, no news crews following them or law and order concerns or family responsibilities or any of that.
The songs are lovely, and cheap, a handful of back-up dancers and one location and a clever idea. Or one beautiful magical setting (a shallow lake that you can stand in), used to the full extent. Or just a pleasant tune with a walking beat that makes a simple walk through the country plenty magical enough.
The fight scenes are clever, and also cheap, no pyrotechnics, minimal wire work, and a lot of smart editing. The actors are used cheaply, few scenes with all of them at once, mostly quick easy shots of only 2 or 3 at a time. The costumes are fine, but not spectacular, off the rack stuff for the European wear, and one a couple of nice outfits for the Lahore section, nothing that would break the bank. And Ali does the heavy lifting in every way, the other part about him producing, starring, writing the songs, writing the dialogue, and so on and so on, is that they don’t have to pay anyone else to do all that stuff.
Ali does all the heavy lifting, but he isn’t a selfish star. Maya Ali, the heroine, really is a co-lead, with her own motivations and backstory and personality and everything else. She is far from the usual “heroine” role. No one really is limited here, even the “gangster” “millionaire” and “comic friend” parts are just a little more. Heck, even the Random White Dude character got his own poster!
Plus, and this is the one little tiny spoiler I will give you, at a certain point in the film a group of men are fighting over a woman, the way they do in movies, dragging her back and forth and threatening each other. And she suddenly pulls free and declares “I doesn’t matter which of you is taking me, the question is, who do I want to go with? I’m not just a thing, I have my own mind, why don’t you ask me what I want?”
And that was my fist pump moment. Because it wasn’t done as a moment of dramatic bravery from the heroine, it was done as a sudden opening the window on the whole concept of the way these films treat women, and the way society does too, accepting that a father has the right track down his daughter and drag her home again, that a man has a right to “rescue” a woman and drag her away against her will. That no one ever things to ask the woman what she wants, or listens when she says it. And, best of all, this did not seem at all out of character for this particular heroine, or for this film. All along it was a story of a woman taking control of her own life and the hero conflicted and aware that it is wrong to stop her. In a very humorous way.
Here, if you really want to know what this film is like, take a look at the item number. Titled “Item Number”, and featuring lyrics like “your black black eyes got us a youtube ban”. This is a film that is very area of how media is used and consumed and what messages it is giving and how funny it all is.