I think this might have been the most unpleasant movie I have ever watched. It was like having wooden stakes driven under my nails for 20 hours. Needless to say, I do not recommend it to you. And if you read my posts regularly, you know that it is a rare thing for me not to encourage you to see a movie, so take it seriously.
You know that scene in the cop film where the craggy experienced cop stumbles upon a horrific crime scene that shocks even him, and then goes home and has a stiff drink and sighs at the horrors of the world? That’s me right now. I’ve seen things. Terrible terrible things. Akshay things.
Does Akshay have some kind of condition where if he stops talking his head will explode? Is there a rare Pavlovian response where as soon as he senses a camera on him, his mouth just opens and starts spouting smug platitudes? Does he have a force-field surrounding him that makes his female co-stars incapable of slapping that smug look off of his face? Or are they just so worn down by the constant dripping water torture of the words words WORDS that they have lost the will to live?
Halfway through this film, post-interval, there is a long section where Akshay does not appear. And suddenly, the whole film is alive!!!! The other characters smile and talk, and move, and do things. The plot rolls into gear. There’s even a song. And then Akshay shows up again and it all grinds back to a halt. There is no plot any more, there is just Akshay being right and the world being wrong. There are no other characters, just puppets in the Akshay Show. And suddenly the songs only happen in the background while Akshay’s big smirking face is in the foreground.
I hate this effect, the Akshay Effect. And I can mark the beginning of it, Airlift. I love Airlift and I still think it is a good movie. And it is a good movie because it (subtly) acknowledges the Akshay effect. Akshay’s character is a bully and a blowhard and always has to be the center of attention, and it destroys the people around him. Akshay is only a hero because circumstances force him to change and become humble. But in a larger sense, Airlift was a lightly patriotic slightly true story with a broad range of characters and issue-based plot and Akshay at the center of it. And then came Rustom, and Toilet, and Padman, and with each movie the rest of the plot faded further and further into the background and Akshay and The Flag became more and more the foreground.
Toilet was the worst for me before this movie. A script written about a mostly female issue, supposed to be for a female hero, and then Akshay came in and it got rewritten and all of a sudden after 20 minutes of the heroine carrying on her own issue, her husband Akshay swoops in and takes it away from the poor Little Lady to make it his own. But this movie, oh my this movie is so much worse!
There is no way Akshay’s character was this big in the original draft of the script. And no one tried to hide how stupid it was to add him at such a late point. Vidya gets the opening sequence, introducing us to her life and family and so on. Later, Kirti and Taapsee and Nithya and Sonakshi get similar sequences. We know everything about their lives, their motivations, their worries. And that knowledge informs the rest of their characters and the choices they make. You know, the way characters in films are supposed to work. At the mid-point, when Akshay briefly disappears, Vidya takes the leadership role and brings them together into a team. We have these strong individual characters and now we are beginning to see how they all relate to each other. Vidya is written as the lead character who centers the team and has the biggest backstory. The other four women are written as complimentary characters. And then there’s Akshay. No backstory, no motivation, nothing but a Trite Smug Speech machine. He has the lion’s share of the screen time, but he isn’t actually a character! We know nothing about him besides that he is very sure of himself for no visible reason.
Oh right, that’s the other thing. Akshay contributes NOTHING, literally NOTHING to the mission!!!!!! We see each of the other characters (including the two minor male characters) making a vital contribution of some kind, and the whole idea of it is Vidya’s and she saves the day over and over again, but Akshay is supposed to be a “brilliant” scientist and all he contributes is to pat the women on the head and say “good job”. And for that, he gets to be head of the mission. All of this is fictional of course, the scriptwriter can do anything they want, and the scriptwriter couldn’t be bothered to invent someway for Akshay to have actually contributed. Or just figured we would understand that his contribution was being a Person with a Penis, and really isn’t that more than enough to deserve a leadership role? And the lead role in a movie?