I think this is the movie I hate most. More than Bharat Ane Nenu, more than Bhansali’s Devdas, even more than Padmavat. And more than I hate the entity which is Rahul Desai. This movie is the source of everything that is wrong on earth condensed into one cotton candy colored pile of goo powered by toxic excrement of Disney films with Rani’s eyes and Saif’s energy. And yet, I love the soundtrack.
When there is a bully on a schoolyard, an entitled fearless rich kid picking on a weaker, poorer, less confident kid, he is not the source of the problem. The source of the problem are the teachers who think “what a cool kid from a rich house with successful parents, we wish we were like that, he must be better than us, we will let this go and look the other way”. It’s not the bullies who are the problem, it’s the people who think the bullies are heroes. There are many more of them, and it is their hatred that is the fuel that keeps the bullies going.
This movie is for the hating common man. It is a cry to every petty entitled bitter ugly feeling hidden inside, every man who thinks they deserve a better life, every woman who thinks her noble suffering is the worst in the world, every kid who thinks their life is over if they don’t get a big birthday party. Instead of telling them “look around you, think of others, understand that you are just one part of the great community of the world”, this film says “give in, be worse, be selfish, spread misery and injustice where ever you go and then laugh to yourself within the walls of your mansion”. This is what a hero looks like, this is what should be your fantasy. Go out, and do bad.
There are films, loads of them, that deal with antiheroes. We see a man be rude, be violent, be greedy, and it makes our skin tingle because it fulfills our own dark fantasies. But we know they are dark fantasies, we know they are wrong, we know they should be contained within this dark hour of film. What makes this film poison upon the earth is that it does not limit that message to a dark hour of film. It brings in the light, it says this is real and good and true, it says that this is a happy story with a happy lesson to take off into the world. It says we should pity these characters for their petty problems and hate those within the film who refuse to pity them. It says we should see ourselves in them and, like them, believe ourselves better and more deserving than anyone else on earth. We should want to be them, the best possible life we could imagine for ourselves is to be rich, to be famous, to never have to do an honest days work or be a loyal friend.
You may think I am exaggerating but, without plot spoilers, I can give you some highlights of the actions of these characters: Saif abandons the family dog in the park because the dog ate a roti off his plate; Rani makes her date pay for her wine while making fun of him in Hindi and then walks out in the middle of the date; their daughter beats up a classmate for saying they are “poor”. Those are just a few moments, the worst is the overall attitude, both of the characters and the way the film addresses them, that they are innately better than other people. Better than poor people, better than people with jobs, better than people with accents, better than people with brown skin.
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The story is told by Rani and Saif’s daughter, named “Princess”. She tells how her mother, a very wealthy college student Rani, met her father, an aspiring race car driver Saif. Saif got his chance and won his first race, he and Rani were in love, she turned her back on her wealthy father and her college degree and married Saif. They lived a live of luxury complete with massive diamond rings and sports cars and big glass mansions. Then Saif was in an accident and had to take a year off to recover. He returned to racing but was psychologically damaged and couldn’t race. The bank auctioned off the house and everything else. Saif and Rani lie to their kids that it was all just a reality show and moved into a tiny one room apartment in the immigrant neighborhood. Rani had to play piano at a luxury hotel, Saif couldn’t get a job anywhere and ended up driving a taxi. The kids found out they were poor and started skipping lunches at their luxury private school to save money. Rani’s Dad finds her and offers money, and a job for Saif, she turns it down. To pay the school fees at the private school, Saif lies to his co-workers that his daughter is sick and they pass the hat to help pay her hospital fees. Then he and Rani take the kids into an empty store at night for a fabulous birthday party. Rani finds out the truth and is angry with Saif and wakes up the kids to tell them they are poor. The son starts bleeding from the mouth because he ate trash. The hospital says they are charging $60,000 and will throw the little boy out on the streets to die if they aren’t paid. Saif goes to beg money from his old boss but ends up yelling at him instead and throwing his money in his face. Instead his old friend offers to help him run one race, and all his cabbie friends offer to be his pit crew, and he wins the race. Yaaaay, they get to be rich again.
One moment that leaped out at me on this watch is when Rani has just played piano for a children’s party and then in shame and embarrassment grabs the left over sweets and hides them in her bag. It was the shame that bothered me. I’ve done that exact same thing, more times than I can count. But I wasn’t ashamed of it. Where is the shame? The food’s going to waste if I don’t take it, and I’m not so rich I can turn my nose up at free food. Maybe it is because I knew the food would be freely given to me. Most of the time it wasn’t just given but practically forced on me. Who would waste food? Who would leave someone hungry who might want food? That is not the world this film believes in. This film believes in an ugly grasping world where you are “stealing” food because folks would rather it go to waste than be given to others.
This idea is even stronger in the hospital sequence. Maybe there are places in the world where a child would be left to die for the sake of a $60,000 hospital bill, but not many of them. Yes, children die in America every day for lack of medical care, but it isn’t like this. It is because there were many many people who did everything they possibly could every minute of every day before they were worn down by the impossibilities. According to this film, no one ever tries. Humans are incapable of caring for each other, there is no greater bond between humanity. We must each sneak and steal for ourselves and ours and trust that everyone else is doing the same.
Of course the worst thing the characters and the film does is when Saif steals the money from his fellow cab drivers by lying that his daughter is sick in order to pay their school fees at the private school. There are three clear moral absolutes that are wrong here. 1) taking this money means that they will be less likely to give and have less to give when there actually is a medical emergency that requires passing the hat; 2) Saif is putting an extremely unnecessary desire, private school, to the level of a necessity that requires lying; 3) Saif sees his fellow drivers as disgusting, less than human, and is tricking them in a gesture of racism and classism.
It is the last that burns me the most. This film tells the tragic story of an Indian-American family that is forced to live with other Indian-Americans, instead of the white people. And yet, this film was not made by or for wealthy Indian-Americans. There are far too many mistakes, glaring ignorant mistakes, in how America is presented for me to believe that it was expected to be embraced by Indian-Americans. This film was made by and for people sitting in India and dreaming of being better, dreaming of being the rich white people with the fancy cars and big houses and white friends and kids in white schools. It was made by and for the people who cheer on racists and then are shocked when that racism is turned against them.
This is what ignorant folks think all Indian films are about. It’s fantasy, it’s wish fulfillment, it’s escapism to a land where everyone is rich and carefree. That isn’t the reality of course. Popular media, truly popular media which reaches the majority of the people, must have something more than that to say. The people who dismiss it, they are the blind ones, the ones who think everyone cares as little as they do, that naturally the poor will only dream of being rich, not of being loved, of loving others, of making the world a better place. That no one will give you food, will give you shelter, and you should not give help to others either. The world is there for what you can take, not what you can give. Ta Ra Rum Pum, let us go singing on our selfish way.