It is not possible to be prepared for the sensory assault that is MSG: The Messenger. It is vastly more bizarre than the mind can fathom. It must be seen to be believed.
MSG is the vanity project of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, spiritual leader of the religious order Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) and self-proclaimed saint. Singh takes credit for the following roles in MSG: actor, director, writer, director of photography, music director, singer, lyricist, choreographer, action director, costumer, and art director.
MSG is a highly stylized recruitment video for DSS. Despite a note at the film’s open and close that reads, “This is a work of fiction and no claim is made of any individual possessing any miraculous power,” you’re obviously supposed to believe that Singh has miraculous powers.
He’s super strong. He can fly. He’s telepathic and telekinetic. He shoots electricity from his mind. He’s got a drink that cures everything from blindness to AIDS. He has a flying lion.
More importantly, Singh is cool as heck: “the youth icon of our country.” He raps, and he wears a giant diamond encrusted “1” pendant. He has a fleet of garishly customized vehicles that he never rides more than once.
Yet Singh’s defining characteristic is his fashion sense, which is a cross between hip-hop and circus performer, only more flamboyant. My favorite is a crocheted rainbow-striped shorts outfit that looks like a swimsuit from the 1920s, topped off with a flowery headband. Singh goes through more outfit changes in this movie than an entire troop of Rockettes.
The minimal story concerns a plot to kill Singh after he gets everyone in India to stop doing drugs. Who does the international drug cartel call for a job of such importance? Mike! Just… Mike. Daniel Kaleb plays the succinctly-named bald assassin, who at one point rips open his t-shirt to reveal…another shirt!
If there’s anything that keeps MSG from being completely enjoyable in its absurdity, it’s Alice, an annoying foreign reporter who wants to film a documentary about Singh, despite not having a video camera. Alice is the product of the combined efforts of Olexandra Semen — the Ukranian actress who plays her onscreen — and an unnamed American woman who dubbed Alice’s voice.
Semen’s exaggerated facial expressions prompt the voiceover artist to respond with similarly weird enthusiasm. Awkwardly written dialogue makes matters worse. Alice’s English is mostly fine, but then her brain shorts out, leading her to respond to a question about where she’s from with, “Me Ukraine!”
The murder plot is tangential to the film’s primary purpose of letting the world know about all the great things Singh has done for society. He rescues injured people, frees women from forced prostitution, and cleans up the city streets. There is a sequel to MSG, though I can’t imagine what’s left to address that wasn’t covered in the original.
Singh explicitly mentions how DSS features in the Guinness Book of World Records for achievements like the World’s Largest Blood Drive, but then he unironically chides reporters for asking him questions about it, saying that records aren’t important. He likewise scolds Alice for praising his wardrobe. Dude, if clothes aren’t important to you, than why do you have so many?
MSG‘s purpose as a propaganda film limits its potential for so-bad-it’s-good greatness. Something like Gunda is a classic because its creator was trying to make a real movie and failed at it so spectacularly. Singh doesn’t really care about MSG as a work of art, but rather as a vehicle for spreading his message. In that regard, it succeeds, and success is anathema to the so-bad-it’s-good movie.
I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the music. There are a ton of songs in MSG, and they are all horrible in the best way. Because Singh insisted on writing and performing every song himself — and allegedly choreographing them, although he personally dances without moving his feet — they all share the same lack of musicianship and craft. The performances are a delight to watch.
Likewise, all the action scenes are over-the top and impossible by the laws of physics. Inept editing enhances the hilarity, such as when Mike runs at Singh only to appear suddenly floating horizontally into the frame, feet first.
MSG is a testament to what one man can achieve when given seemingly limitless amounts of money and manpower to execute his ridiculous vision. Something tells me a guy who calls himself a saint doesn’t have a lot of people around him to tell him “no.” That might have resulted in a more competent film, but would that have been better? Of course not. MSG is only watchable because of how clumsy it is.