Farah Khan knows how to stage a spectacle. She’s done it for years as Bollywood’s most sought after choreographer, and she did it with her second directorial effort, the vibrant Om Shanti Om (her directorial debut, Main Hoon Na, was comparatively low-key). With Tees Maar Khan, Farah Khan reasserts herself as Bollywood’s queen of bombast.
Tees Maar Khan is an outrageous comedy filled with larger than life characters. As such, there’s only one man to play the lead: Akshay Kumar. Kumar usually plays a charming ham these days, but few of his recent movies have been able to match his natural charisma. Khan is able to take all that is good about Akshay Kumar and let him shine.
“Tees Maar Khan” (TMK) is the alias of the thief Tabrez Mirza Khan (Kumar). He eludes the police with the aid of his three henchmen: Dollar, Soda and Burger. The Johri brothers — a pair of conjoined-twin smugglers (played by identical twins Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman) — hire TMK to steal a heavily guarded trainload of antiques.
TMK plans to stop the train by tricking a bunch of villagers into mobbing it, all under the guise of making a movie. To make the ruse believable, he hires a famous actor, Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna), assuring him that the role is Oscar gold. TMK enlists his girlfriend, Anya (Katrina Kaif), to play the fake movie’s heroine, if only to keep the aspiring actress from naively doffing her clothes for lecherous directors promising Bollywood stardom.
Khan understands exactly what it takes to make a goofy, campy movie. Everything about Tees Maar Khan is loud: the dialog, the music, and especially the costumes. The writing in Tees Maar Khan is consistently funny and is supported by strong performances all around, especially from TMK’s sidekicks and the villainous twins.
Khan likes to work on a big scale. The exciting dance numbers cover large areas and include several costume changes. There are hundreds of extras involved in the village scenes. The scale of the movie is impressive.
But at some point, there’s simply too much of everything. Comedies should err on the side of being too short, and Tees Maar Khan is too long. The opening scene in a police station is a waste of time that delays the introduction of the main character. A dance number involving Salman Khan is fun, but totally unnecessary.
What’s more, the Salman Khan number is such an obvious stunt that it breaks the spell of the movie. Salman’s real-life romance with Kaif is the only reason he’s in the film. Imagine how dated the movie will feel if they ever break up. Given the popularity of Kumar, Kaif and Khanna, it’s not as if Tees Maar Khan needed the additional star power to draw an audience.
My biggest complaint about Khan as a director is her penchant for including celebrity cameos and insider Bollywood references, just because she can. I know that Khan’s biggest audience is in India, but her movies are as visually polished as anything coming out of Hollywood. Why not reach out to a wider audience?
TMK tries to in several ways. The actor Kapoor bemoans turning down a role in “Dumbdog Millionaire.” He’s later tricked into believing that TMK is Manoj Day Ramalan, the younger brother of “Fifth Sense” director Manoj Night Ramalan. It’s funny stuff that avid moviegoers everywhere will get.
But for every universal joke, there are twice as many references to classic Hindi movies or Bollywood gossip that international audiences won’t understand. Even for domestic Indian audiences, I’m not sure if the material is supposed to be funny or if it’s just supposed to elicit a “Hey, I know who she’s talking about!” response. If the latter, the references won’t mean as much ten or twenty years from now. It’s not a good long-term strategy.
I hold Farah Khan to such high standards because I think she’s so talented. If you ask most Americans to name a Bollywood movie, they’ll mention Slumdog Millionaire or Bend It Like Beckham. Both films are actually British productions which borrow elements of Bollywood movies. It’s time for a director working in India to define Bollywood for the Western world, and I think Farah Khan’s the one to do it.