Tashan: Don’t Underestimate the Damsel in Distress, or Over-estimate the Femme Fatale

Yaaaay, I finally get to put up my Tashan review!  And hopefully some of you either watched it this week or remember it well enough to comment anyway.

Tashan was Victor/Vijay Acharya’s first film, and it was a big big flop.  But I love it, and I think Aditya Chopra must have loved it as well because he gave Vijay a second chance with Dhoom 3, and when that gamble paid off, he got a 3rd chance with Thugs of Hindostan.

Image result for tashan poster

The thing about Tashan is that it is easy to get caught up in the style and miss the story.  And the story is what makes it really remarkable.  The style is what makes it fun, but the story is what makes it special.  Of course, the style is also what makes it a bit unusual.  So I’m afraid a lot of people were turned off my the style and missed the story.

In his later films, Victor damped down both the style and the story, which is unfortunate.  Dhoom 3 had these odd touches, Aamir’s bowler hat and so on, but most of the look of the film was standard issue cosmopolitan NRI YRF.  The story of Dhoom 3 also had one or two crazy twists and one or two emotional tragedies but, again, was mostly smoothed down crowd pleasing heist fun.

I have a little more hope for Thugs partly because, unlike Dhoom 3, it has a true ensemble cast.  And that was one of the greatest strengths of Tashan.  Anil and Akshay, Anil and Saif, Anil and Kareena, Kareena and Anil, Kareena and Akshay, Kareena and Saif, Saif and Anil, Saif and Akshay, Saif and Kareena, they all have different relationships to and from each other.  And they all change each other, Saif at the beginning and Saif at the end are different people, so are Akshay and Kareena. Different both in how the audience perceives them and how they are to themselves.  If you only look at the surface style of the performances, it looks like yet another sexy heroine for Kareena, yet another comic action hero for Akshay, and yet another silly urban man for Saif.  But for all three of them, this is so much more.  Akshay is comic yet noble, Saif is silly and then learns what he can do under his silliness.  And Kareena, Kareena is amazing.  One of the top performances of her career, sweet and then calculating and then womanly and joyful, and then angry, and finally triumphant.  The kind of role an actress almost never gets, a role that spits in the face of stereotypes and simple definitions and glories in a complicated difficult woman who is still more sinned against than sinning.

(All 3 of them are in this song, but it is Kareena who is the center of it.  In yet another chameleon move, turning “white” for the stupid Hollywood director, yet another man who wants her to change)

 

And then he went on to make Dhoom 3 in which Katrina….danced sometimes?  Did she even have a name?  Oh well, maybe Fatima in Thugs will have some kind of a backstory.

 

 

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

This movie has such a brilliant opening.  A car hurtling towards a cliff as the music as the radio changes between classical Hindi film music and modern.  And that’s what the movie itself is, classical Hindi film themes wandering in and out with modern.  It’s many movies in one, all twisted up in layers until it untwists again at the end.

We start with a funny comedy starring Saif as the silly call center urban flirt who floats through life.  His voice over explains that it all started when a beautiful woman walked into his call center, Kareena.  Kareena, the perfect fragile innocent, the beautiful contrast to the westernized women he works and flirts with.  Of course he falls in love at first sight, and agrees to whatever she wants.  Which in this case is coming with her to teach her employer how to speak English.  Anil, her employer, is a humorous silly man who wants to learn English because he thinks it will make him classier.  And so we have a nice little modern romance, the urban hero who falls for the innocent old-fashioned heroine, with some light comedy provided by the old fashioned older character watching over them.

Saif throws himself into this story.  He is prime to believe in the fantasy of both Kareena as the innocent fragile woman, and Anil as the humorous easily fooled baffoon that is merely the comic relief in his love story.  But, it’s not the case.  His first wake up call comes when he learns Kareena has stolen money from Anil and framed him for it.  And his second wake up call is when he goes to meet Anil about it and finally sees the dangerous evil man underneath all the wild clothes and bad English.  The world doesn’t revolve around Saif, the urban English speaking “cool dude” and he isn’t the center of this story.  He is just a pawn caught up in other people’s stories.

And then Akshay appears and we think it is another kind of a story again.  Akshay, the small town silly tough guy paired up with Saif to chase down Kareena at the behest of Anil.  It will be a buddy comedy, Akshay teaching Saif to be tough, just like in all their other films.  But, not quite.  Akshay is tough and strong and brave and good in a fight, but his goofy demeanor doesn’t hide a brilliant mind and someone who can teach Saif how to be a man, it just hides someone with his own weaknesses and strengths, no better or worse than Saif.

Most of all, not quite because they catch up with Kareena and suddenly it becomes a story of 3.  Saif and Akshay against Kareena, then Kareena and Saif against Akshay, and finally Kareena and Akshay against the world.  3 is interesting, 3 is varied, 3 lets us see a lot.  But for 3 to really work, there has to be a center, one who moves between the other two the most.  And in this case, it is Kareena.

We already had one big shift with her, she went from the perfect virgin (shy, modest, slowly falling in love with Saif) to the perfect vamp (seduced and used and discarded Saif just for the money).  But, is that who she really is/was?  Or was that just how Saif saw her?  The clues were already there, her job with Anil wasn’t really clear, why this delicate flower was with this ridiculous man, but Saif never questioned it because he never wanted to, preferred to believe the fantasy.  And once she steals the money, he immediately imagines her as a heartless horrible witch, but at the same time knows where she will be because she (honestly) told him she just wants to immerse her father’s ashes.  That’s not something a heartless horrible witch would do and Saif is just lying to himself again.

Once she links up with Akshay and Saif, she becomes unreadable which makes her the most readable.  She can’t reveal her real motives, she can’t fully trust either of them.  Saif rolls his eyes and calls her a “great actress” but he never stops to think about WHY she is always acting, what there is in the world that taught her to be that way.

And then we get our final brilliant twist and amazing performance from Kareena.  She tells Saif she will seduce and confuse Akshay, then takes him out and gets him talking about his lost childhood love.  A different but the same kind of a love story.  They were young teens, he fell in love at first sight, she felt the same way, they were tragically torn apart.  But also different, he fell in love at first sight when she yelled at him because he loved her anger.  She set him impossible challenges and called him an idiot whenever she saw him.  But he knew that just meant she loved him, and he knew she was smarter than he was and better than he was and he just wanted to follow along.  We get a flashback to this love story, and Victor takes away all the style for it.  It’s simple, it’s straight forward, it’s small town and two awkward young people.  It’s dropped into this silly silly film and it feels like the one moment of truth and real emotion.  Which is why it is so strange when Akshay finishes his story only for Kareena to declare she was that lost love, crying and laughing at the same time, and even offering to drown herself if he doesn’t believe her.  How can Kareena use this, this moment of truth from this simple but honest man, for her own ends?

Even Saif is a little shaken by what she is doing, can’t believe she managed to convince big scary dopey Akshay that she is his one true love.  He goes on with their plan, to steal the money back from Akshay and escape together while Akshay gets blamed, thinking he and Kareena are a team together against Akshay (the interesting possibilities of 3).  Until we have the big shocking twist of the film, which actually un-twists it, reveals the hidden motivation behind everything.

Kareena is, truly, Akshay’s lost love.  She admits it to Saif and tells her version of the story, that she saw this idiot boy and liked him because he was an idiot, that he lit up her life and she was in love with him.  And then her father died, killed by Anil Kapoor.  Her whole life shattered and she killed that part of herself, vowing herself only to revenge.  This is it, this is the secret behind everything.  It was never Saif’s story, it was always Kareena and Akshay and he is just there to watch.  They have the grand perfect fated love story that will never die.  And they have the tragic wasted lives that have earned their happy ending, Akshay throwing himself into crime and following Anil since he lost his true love.  And Kareena losing her happy life and happy future to the selfish evil that is Anil.  And here they are, finally magically reunited, Kareena finally able to leave behind her vengeance and turn towards happiness again, try to find her life back.  And Akshay, finally with something worth fighting for, can begin again.  If only Saif weren’t there.

Saif, our cool urban dude, the hero in every other film, in this one he is the fly in the ointment.  The one who didn’t quite understand what it was that was happening, didn’t know what true emotions and heartbreak and danger looked like.  And so he thought Kareena was still working with him, didn’t trust her true love for Akshay to really be true, didn’t trust anything to really be true.

And that brings us to our finale.  All the subterfuge is stripped away.  Akshay will die for Kareena and her for him.  She has come back to Anil in order to redeem his life.  Saif pretends, briefly, to be just the same man he was at the start of the film, always looking for his main chance.  But of course it is a game, he has been changed by his experiences, learned to understand what it is like when something is real and important and not just looking out for yourself.  No, the reality is our 3 leads united fighting against Anil.  The broken hurt people (Akshay and Kareena) are supported by the one who used to be neutral and uncaring, but has seen the truth.  And they, all together, seek to take down the evil that is poisoning their world.

It’s a remarkably noble and moral ending.  We start with a silly style focused film, and a silly style focused hero.  And we end with a grand statement that the losers should look after each other.  And with Kareena, finally, stabbing the man who killed her father and having that moment of release and joy that only vengeance could give her.  In the end, it is her story, just as surely as Deewar is about Amitabh, Awara is Raj Kapoor, and Fan is Shahrukh Khan.  Watching this film, I can see why Saif fell in love with her.  She is fantastic, brilliant, flashing and impossible to look away from.

And no, it has nothing to do with her weight.

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18 thoughts on “Tashan: Don’t Underestimate the Damsel in Distress, or Over-estimate the Femme Fatale

  1. I waited for your review because I got the time to watch the movie. I’ll write something spontaneously without reading you because of lack of time…I’ll read your thoughts later.
    When I read some lines about the movie looking up the director, I got to know that the movie didn’t succeed and when I had watched it I thought that maybe too many people are too shallow in their viewing (as I’ve currently experienced with the reception of JabHarryMetSejal, Raees and Fan). There is far more depth in the movie than was written by critics I read after the viewing.
    Some things I really liked:
    1 the entry scene before the critics (it sets the tone – action with comic relief and the look at events through the eyes (and comments) of Saif’s character. It was clear already that the movie would have a flashback and a part after this intriguing incident.
    2. Anil as a pastiche of a gangster boss (reminded me of Boman’s character in Dilwale and the Don in KabhiHaanKabhiNaa)
    3. an outstanding Kareena who not only got room to display her talent but was also the central figure and somehow ‘leading’ and driving the story.
    4 the twists in the story
    5 the pastiche-like humour and exaggerations (I am a Tarrantino afficionada)
    6 the development/change in the main characters

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    • Yaaaaay, so glad you watched it! Judging by my view count, not many people did.

      Agree completely with all your points, especially about Kareena. It is such a strong interesting female role. So strange that he went on to make Dhoom 3 which has such a weak female character, but maybe Thugs will go back to that, I have hope for Fatima being something a little more.

      On Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 6:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Keep your hope 🙂 I don’t think that a movie where Aamir has the say a woman character would have a say in the end…even the Dangal with the tag of women-oriented had Aamir as the all-moving man/father, the driving force. The girls had no other choice than to become wrestler & deliver.
        Maybe I’m wrong because I don’t know every Aamir movie. It’s not that I don’t like his movies but I don’t know a n y strong woman role in a movie where he had a leading role.

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          • The only film I can think of besides Talaash is, weirdly, Mann. And Raja Hindustani I guess. Both not the greatest films, but definitely two lead movies. I would say he also does well in ensemble films (3 Idiots, Rang De) it’s just that usually the ensembles don’t include actresses.

            On Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 8:44 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Yeah, I agree that in Talaash I got the feeling of watching the strongest female character(s) I’ve seen till then in a movie with Aamir in the lead, but it is not to the point as it is in Tashan with Kareena or in Chennai Express with Deepika…although, I’ve to admit, such a comparison might not be fair.

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  2. Disclaimer. I LOVE this movie. The comedy is brilliant. Yes, the style is brilliant. And the woman is strong.

    The comedy:
    Akshay coming into RamLeela to that music on a motorcycle and just turning it into a debacle.
    Anil throwing his English at the wall to see what sticks.
    The opening scene.
    The clueless American director, knowing the name Bachchan and nothing else.
    Dil Dance Maare making fun of the whiteness infatuation.

    The style:
    Claudia has nailed it. Very Tarantino-esque.

    All the performances are just right. This is the rare movie where I can actually stand Saif Ali Khan. He plays the straight man well.

    The one nit I have with Tashan, and it’s a big one, is the coincidence of Karina and Akshay just happening to meet up after all this years. And in just the right way to drive the whole second half of the movie. I forgive it only out of love for all the rest.

    My thought as to its failure at the box office:
    English language was a big part of the comedy. It comes in early and hits hard. If a large part of your audience are people who know English imperfectly, then centering the movie around a goon who speaks English very imperfectly and comically is not going to be a winning strategy. Not enough of your audience is in on the joke.

    There is a major subtext of Indian infatuation with the West. Knowing English, striving for Western ways, whiteness as a goal. But those who do know English well are also those striving for Western ways. So that piece of the audience also takes a hit.

    The whole of the audience needs to be able to laugh at themselves in areas where they are probably vulnerable. At least, that’s the way it looks to me as an outsider.

    Maybe it needed a limited run in selected theaters. But that’s not how movies can make money in India?

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    • I think you’re right…the ‘modern/western/english’ aspect merged with the ‘well-known Hindi’ aspect (as Margret stated given in the entry scene – interestingly in a ‘struggling’ manner) set a tone a big part of the audience couldn’t relate to (like in JHMS – for that matter)…out of multiple possible reasons.
      I first did not believe in that found-again love story (had become very suspicious concerning Kareena’s character) but then accepted it as one of the Hindi parts and had a big grin.

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    • I think I can live with Kareena and Akshay being lost loves. They are both attached to Anil because they both came from the same small town. And were both smart enough and tough enough to get out of the small town. So if you limit it down to only people from that town. And only people who have a fire inside that would get them out of that town. And only people in a certain age range. Then it’s not THAT much of a coincidence.

      I think you nailed it really well with why the film failed. Half the humor only works if you are upperclass and English speaking, and half the humor only works if you are willing to make fun of that. It reminds me of A Gentleman that way, humor that only works if you are both an NRI and willing to acknowledge your weaknesses and flaws as an NRI. Not to mention puncturing the fantasy of it all, the guy running the call center in Bombay doesn’t have the perfect life and perfect everything else that you think he does.

      It’s a tricky film, because it only really works because of the money spent, the great action scenes and songs and big name stars. But it could never make back the money with the kind of film it is. I’m not going to complain though, because I also love it! Even if it took a big loss, it made me happy.

      On Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 7:35 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Thank you for scheduling this! I loved it so much I watched it twice! I loved everyone in it, especially Anil and Kareena, and the big dance number for the Hollywood film is SO GOOD! I will write more and engage later, but just wanted to chime in with how much I enjoyed it.

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    • So glad you liked it! And that Hollywood song is so great. Somewhere I saw someone complaining about how they can’t believe they actually made Kareena blonde and blue-eyed in pursuit of a Western beauty ideal which is, like, THAT’S THE POINT!!!! It’s supposed to be ridiculous!!!!

      On Wed, Nov 7, 2018 at 8:22 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I liked it so much that I watched it AGAIN last night with a friend who wanted a movie with a “kick-ass woman seeking revenge” as an election week palate-cleanser. She adored Kareena’s murderous dive onto Anil at the end. So cathartic!!!

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        • I like it so much! And Kareena’s character is everything Fatima in Thugs should be, but isn’t. You know what it is? It’s if they took Tashan and decided to give 70% of the screen time to Saif and split the remaining 30% between Akshay and Kareena and Anil, the characters you actually cared about.

          On Fri, Nov 9, 2018 at 10:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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