It’s unfortunate that Tum Mile — a rare Bollywood disaster movie — was released on the same weekend in the U.S. as the Hollywood disaster epic, 2012. Scenes of catastrophe take a backseat to romance in Tum Mile, and the characters never really seem to be in mortal danger. It’s the obvious second choice for theater-goers looking for thrills.
The action in Tum Mile takes place on July 26, 2005, the day historic rainfall swamped Mumbai, causing mass strandings and over 1000 deaths. Think of the destruction Hurricane Katrina caused to New Orleans about one month later — only in a city with 28 times more people than pre-Katrina New Orleans.
Lead characters Akshay (Emraan Hashmi) and Sanjana (Soha Ali Khan) meet unexpectedly on a plane bound for Mumbai. They used to be lovers, but they haven’t spoken in several years, since a painful breakup. They exchange business cards upon landing and go their separate ways, as the rain begins to fall.
The bulk of the film consists of flashbacks chronicling the couple’s initial meeting, obstacles to their relationship and their eventual breakup. It’s more detailed than is necessary to show that Akshay and Sanjana still harbor feelings for each other.
In fact, the excess of backstory has the effect of making Akshay an unsympathetic hero. While dating, Akshay first resents Sanjana for financing his floundering art career. When he follows her advice and gets an office job, he resents her for making him abandon his art.
At one point, Sanjana asks, “Why does he have to make it so hard for me to love him?”. Khan plays Sanjana as understanding and self-confident, and it’s hard to believe that she’d still have feelings for him after so many years.
The present-day story arc kicks in when Mumbai’s streets start to flood, and Akshay gets a sense that Sanjana is in danger. He sets out to search for her in the rain. On foot. In a city of 14 million people.
Miraculously, he finds her after she’s escaped from a flooding car — not that the audience actually gets to see her escape. One minute she’s in a flooding car, and the next minute, she’s walking through the flooding streets. Rule #1 of disaster movies: show the escape.
Akshay and his buddy, Vic, take shelter with Sanjana on a stalled bus to wait for the waters to recede. A tree falls on the bus, threatening to roll the bus on its side, blocking the main doors. Everyone on the bus panics as though death is imminent, though an inconvenient escape via the rear exit or windows seems the worst likely outcome of a tipped bus.
While floods are unquestionably deadly, the “danger” in Tum Mile never feels very dangerous. In Titanic — a movie that clearly inspired Tum Mile, right down to the scenes of the male lead painting the female protagonist’s portrait — the ship is in danger of sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The prospect of a bus rolling on its side in four feet of water on a city street isn’t nearly as terrifying.