I decided to ruthlessly use my friends to make myself watch this. The pickier people in my weekly movie night group canceled this week, so I forced myself and the less-picky people to finally watch Drive. It’s a nice solid movie in almost all ways, but I did finally spot the problem that explains why Karan had to make the business decision to delay it, and finally release on Netflix.
Back about 3 years ago, Dharma films released a very cool looking poster for an upcoming movie, “Drive”. I liked the cast, and the creative team behind it (director of Dostana!), so I was vaguely paying attention. And then the news got a little weird. First, there wasn’t really any talk about filming schedules. Usually you see little news like “So-and-so leaving the studio after filming” or “Such-and-such traveling to Prague for shoot”, but there was just nothing, it was like the film was being made invisibly. And then there was a release date announcement, and then it got pushed back. I think a big song release too of some fancy item song, and then got pushed back again? Until finally it was announced to be on Netflix instead of theaters, and a final song announcement. Just very very strange, what the heck is going on with this movie that hardly seemed to take any time to film and then never released?
Well, now I know! It was the post-production. This movie has on average decent performances, Jacqueline is kind of bad but everyone else is good enough. The dialogue is real bad, but on the other hand the script is good, clever twists and things. The directing is kind of inventive with the way the camera moves through space and split screens and stuff to show heists. It looks very smart and economical in general, I can see why it took no time at all to film, I think there are maybe 3 sets and that’s it. And the way the cast is split up, no one is on screen for more than half the run time, meaning they could each have filmed their parts in like a week.
So we have a cheap movie of middling quality, that’s totally fine, there are lots of cheap movies of middling quality that release and make a solid profit, why not this one? That was my question until the last 20 minutes, and then I understood. The last twenty minutes of the film revolve around one big spectacular car chase, the finale of all the other smaller car chases. And it was just not good. Clearly CGI instead of practical effects and it looked terrible. On the small screen on Netflix it was kind of boring and weird, but on the big screen it would have been straight up humiliating for the producers.
They either needed to dump massive amounts of money into fixing the CGI there, blowing out any budget they could hope to earn. Or start from scratch and try doing practical effects, also very expensive and maybe something Dharma just didn’t feel up to doing in a safe manner. Car chases are really complicated, and dangerous, to film. Even if you hire a stunt coordinator to handle it, you still need to have some basic idea of what you want him to do and what is possible. Or just scrap the last 20 minutes and start from scratch with a new finale.
I think that last option is what Dharma wanted to happen, and kind of what they did. Every other car chase scene is sort of short, like it was edited down as much as possible. And there are two songs that were thrown in last minute to stretch out the length and make up for the lack of action. A lot of fiddling over the years to try to get this thing to work. But in the end, I guess no one could come up with a clever cost effect way to fix the ending. So the best solution was to sell it to Netflix, where the car chase was bad but not humiliating, and cut their losses.
So, there you go! Mystery solved! Dharma greenlit the film because it had a really solid script, didn’t give the budget for a lot of sets or fancy dialogue writers because it was supposed to be carried by the action scenes, and then the action scenes were soooooo bad they spent 2 years trying to figure out how to fix it before giving up and selling to Netflix where the CGI problems wouldn’t be as obvious.
Remember Robot 2? Similar story, filming was finished super fast, then a long time of post-production, then even more delays for no clear reason, than an announcement that the CGI was unusable and they had to start from scratch with a massive budget increase, and finally a release that could not possibly make back the costs thanks to paying for CGI twice. This is the same, except instead of redoing the CGI and sinking in more money, they gave up.
Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch the movie! The good actors involved (SSR, Boman Irani, Pankaj Tripathi) easily rise above the dialogue and are entertaining. The bad actors (mostly Jacqueline) look pretty enough and don’t hurt too much. The heist and schemes and cons parts of the script are actually really clever and unique and just generally great (probably the reason Karan okayed it, great story at the center). And the three songs are definitely decent. Just don’t get your hopes up for the car chases that are supposed to be the centerpiece.
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I am going to say something that sounds like a big compliment, but really isn’t: This movie has the same plot as Saaho only smarter. If you have seen Saaho, you know it isn’t a big compliment. Saaho‘s plot sinks to such depths of idiocy and confusion that basically anything would be better. But it is interesting how much they have in common. Both Cops and Robbers with a big twist at the interval and ending.
We start with the Cops part. Boman Irani arrives at the income tax investigation department, coming from the Prime Ministers’ office, asking for help from Pankaj Tripathi and Vibha Chippor (two corrupt investigators who take bribes to look the other way) because he has word that a master thief King is about to rob the Imperial Palace/Museum. There is another criminal street racer gang chasing King, they will put an undercover agent in that gang to track him. SSR is the undercover agent, Jacqueline Fernandez is the leader of the other gang. He gets in good with her and they pull off a gold robbery of a stash hidden by King from his last theft, and then Boman chases them and recovers the gold for the police. At which point, TWIST! On the audience! SSR is not actually the undercover agent, he is the thief King who wanted to work with Jackie’s gang to test them. And Jackie’s gang let the gold be taken by the police on purpose to draw him out. Now that everyone is working together, they will plan the Imperial Palace heist, turns out the goal is the hidden wealth of Vibha and Pankaj, their bribe money hidden in a secret passage.
Second half, Jackie and SSR are working together on the museum heist, and Boman and Pankaj and Vibha are trying to stop them, with Vibha secretly knowing they are after her money. Lots of false starts, but they finally succeed. And it turns out Boman and his investigators were on the wrong track entirely, looking at a whole different gang. In the last car chase, Jackie has her gang betray SSR who is arrested by Boman. She tells him that SHE is the “real” King!!! SSR has been doing thefts leaving her calling card, that’s why she was trying to find him, and now he is punished while her gang is going free with the money. 2 months later, Jackie is at a bank in London to deposit her stolen wealth, and is surprised to see that SSR is the assistant manager, and Boman is his boss. He explains that it was all a set-up in a set-up in a set-up. He and Boman wanted to steal from their bank. But before they could open the vault, a client with a large deposit had to be present. So he and Boman set up Jackie to pull off this big heist and planted the idea of depositing her take here, then just waited for her to show up.
I know that is kind of confusing when read out like that, but it was surprisingly not confusing while watching the film. It’s a solid script, and the directing is really good in terms of showing us the same scene from a different angle so we can understand the twist that changes everything. I didn’t even get into the details of the heists, which are very clever and, again, very clearly filmed.
The real hook of the film for me is how stripped down and different it feels, in a good way. There’s no real romance, there’s no moral lesson, it’s just clever plot twists and car chases. Very different, very exciting. If they had figured out the car chases, it could have been a tight clever action film along the lines of the first Dhoom move, showing that Indian film can do fun action with no morality or romance and the audience can embrace it. Or Ittefaq or Badla. New smart stripped down cheap script based Hindi cinema.
But then the action scenes failed, they had to shove in two songs last minute to make up screen time which killed the cool new age vibe, and it ends up feeling less like a revolutionary smart clever movie, and more like a mistake.