Tag Archives: Blackface

Movie Review: Khiladi 786 (2012)

Khiladi_786_poster2 Stars (out of 4)

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There’s a lot to like in Khiladi 786. The well-organized plot allows for plenty of humorous turns, and Akshay Kumar gives a charming performance. Yet needless racism keeps me from recommending Khiladi 786.

During a throwaway number about forty minutes into the film, Kumar’s character dances, surrounded by a troupe of male Indian dancers wearing blackface makeup and Afro wigs, while female Anglo dancers writhe around wearing bikinis.

Kumar apparently doesn’t find blackface offensive, since he donned it himself in Kambakkht Ishq. If he did, he surely could’ve had the number changed since his wife, Twinkle Khanna, is one of the film’s producers. Since Kumar and Khanna already consider blackface acceptable, arguing with them over the obvious sexual objectification of Anglo women seems pointless.

The offensive dance number negatively affected my perception of an otherwise enjoyable movie. Kumar plays Bahattar Singh, a crook with superhuman speed and strength. Bahattar, his father, and his uncle work with the local police to stop smugglers on Punjabi highways. The work is dangerous and illegal, and the family splits the proceeds from their warrantless searches with the police.

Because seemingly everyone in the state of Punjab knows that Bahattar is thief, he can’t find a single local woman willing to marry him. This follows the family tradition of marrying foreigners. Bahattar’s mother is Canadian, his grandmother is African, and his aunt is Chinese.

(I also had a problem with the musical cues that accompany the introduction of each of the foreign women. The Chinese aunt appears to an East-Asian string-instrument theme, the African grandmother gets drums and chanting, and the white Canadian mother gets jazz saxophone. We get it. They aren’t ethnic Indians. That’s obvious from looking at them, though I’m not quite sure how jazz represents Canada. I would’ve gone with prog rock.)

Bahattar’s nuptial troubles present the perfect opportunity for marriage arranger Mansukh (Himesh Reshammiya), who’s recently been fired from the family wedding firm. He tries to fix up Bahattar with Indu (Asin Thottumkal), the reckless younger sister of a famous Mumbai don, TT (Mithun Chakraborty).

Indu knows that a woman from a family of criminals will only be accepted as a bride by another criminal, like her boyfriend, Azad (Rahul Singh). TT insists on marrying his sister into a good family, and the Singhs want the same for Bahattar, so Mansukh convinces the men of both families to masquerade as police officers.

Despite the fact that Khiladi 786 is an Akshay Kumar vehicle, the most important character is Mansukh. He’s desperate for Bahattar and Indu to get married in order to prove to his own father that he’s not a screw-up. To make that happen, he has to juggle the lies he’s told and encouraged others to tell. Mansukh’s uncle, Jeevan (Sanjai Mishra), hinders the process as much as he helps and provides comic relief.

Reshammiya plays Mansukh as animated, but not over the top. He needs to be the regular guy among a crowd of nutty criminals. Also, Reshammiya knows who the real star of the movie is.

Kumar plays much the same character as he always does: a sweet guy who’s tough when he needs to be. Bahattar notes: “Punjabis don’t come or go quietly,” which gives Kumar the freedom to act with extra exuberance. Bahattar’s superhuman speed is played to good comic effect, as he flattens bad guys in the blink of an eye.

The rest of the supporting cast is generally fine. Asin doesn’t have much to do, but Mithun Chakraborty gets to bash some heads in the final fight scene. There are a couple of side plots that come to nothing, involving characters like TT’s maid and an inspector played by Johnny Lever.

Of all the supporting characters, Azad is the funniest. Even though his name means “freedom,” he spends most of the film on the brink of being released from jail, only to screw it up and get himself thrown back into the pokey.

If it weren’t for one dumb dance number, Khiladi 786 would be a fun, harmless movie. There are just certain offenses that can’t be overlooked.

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Movie Review: Tezz (2012)

1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Watch Tezz without paying full attention, and it probably seems like an entertaining film. But the moment one starts trying to make sense of the plot, Tezz reveals itself as a total mess.

This is unfortunate, because Tezz has many elements of a good movie. Most of the action scenes are really well done. There are some solid performances by veteran actors, especially Boman Irani. But those elements need to be woven together by a solid plot and told in a cinematic way, and in Tezz they just aren’t.

In fact, the more of the plot that is revealed, the less necessary the film seems, especially when the events all stem from the inappropriate and dangerous response of a single man to an easily surmountable problem.

Tezz starts with a flashback to Aakash (Ajay Devgn) — an illegal immigrant — being deported from England to India and separated from his British-Indian wife, Nikita (Kangna Ranaut). In a scuffle with the police, Nikita is hit on the head. She lies on the ground as Aakash is dragged away.

Fast forward four years, and Aakash is back in the U.K. He and two accomplices — Aadil (Zayed Khan) and Megha (Sameera Reddy) — purchase explosives and plant a detonator on a passenger train bound from London to Glasgow. Aakash calls the rail company and demands 10 million Euros from rail director Sanjay (Boman Irani). Aakash explains that  a bomb on the train will detonate if the train’s speed drops below 60 mph.

Yep. Tezz is Speed on a train. (My suggestion for a snappier title: Speed 3: Off the Rails.)

Surely Aakash has a good reason to concoct this deadly plan, right? To avenge the death of his wife at the hands of the British immigration police perhaps? [Warning: spoilers ahead.]

Nope. Nikita is very much alive, and Aakash knows it. As he’s being dragged through the airport, she even tells him she’s pregnant.

For four years, Aakash lives apart from his wife and child, scheming to extort money and “get his life back.” Why didn’t he just ask her to move to India with him? He’s an engineer, so it’s not like he can’t get a good job in India or elsewhere. Even if his extortion scheme works, they won’t be able to live in the U.K.

So, without Aakash’s ill-conceived (if not completely nonsensical) overreaction, there is no movie. That’s probably reason enough to skip Tezz. But if you need more, there are other compelling reasons.

The film lacks transitions between scenes. Once scene ends abruptly and another starts immediately without any notion of how we got from point A to point B.

Anil Kapoor’s character — recently retired Inspector Khanna — suffers the most from this lack of transitions. He’s in the train control center; then he’s at a crime scene; then he’s in a government hearing, all without any regard for how he could possibly cover that much ground in such a short time.

Another problem is the bad CGI effects that animate the train. Devgn said recently that it’s not fair to compare Indian special effects to those made on a Hollywood budget, but most of the action scenes in Tezz are quite good. Money was budgeted for lavish car chases and an actual helicopter, but the filmmakers cheaped out on the speeding train: the one element that needed to look believable.

Need another reason to skip Tezz? How about a racist dance number?

Early in the movie, Aakash’s and Aadil’s escape from the police is interrupted by a dance number (without a transition between scenes, of course). The song “Laila” starts with Mallika Sherawat surrounded by dozens of dancers dressed as Dracula. The Indian dancers eventually change into blackface makeup and afro wigs.

The filmmakers* should be ashamed for including something so pointlessly racist in Tezz. Then again, director Priyadarshan made Khatta Meetha — the most deplorable and sexist film I’ve ever seen — so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

* – According to reports at The Times of India, Priyadarshan didn’t want the item number “Laila” included in the movie on the grounds that it didn’t fit the story (which is true). He was apparently overruled by producer Ratan Jain, though the song may have been removed from some prints lest audiences find it too sexy. I found no mention of concerns about racism in any of the reports.

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