Director David Dhawan is responsible for my worst Bollywood movie of 2009: Do Knot Disturb. Dhawan looks on track to reclaim the title this year with Rascals, a movie that exemplifies filmmaking at its laziest.
Let me start with a small example of the laziness that permeates Rascals. Early in the film, a tough guy named Anthony (Arjun Rampal) walks into a bar to watch a soccer game, and he places a bet on Brazil. Cut to the TV for a shot of the game, and it’s a game between Germany and Argentina.
A mistake like that wouldn’t have been a big deal if the movie was otherwise competently made. But here’s what it tells me about Dhawan’s level of respect for the audience: he has none. He thinks that moviegoers will be happy to spend two hours watching Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Dutt slap each other while Kangana Ranaut struts around in a bikini.
The problems stem from the crap story at the heart of Rascals. The plot is essentially a dumbed-down version of Bluffmaster!, but without a moral compass. Devgan and Dutt play Bhagat and Chetan (respectively), a pair of thieves who each independently steal from Anthony on the same day. Both flee to Bangkok, where they become rivals for the affections of Khushi (Ranaut).
Bhagat and Chetan spend the bulk of the film trying to thwart each other’s advances on clueless Khushi. Anthony doesn’t reenter the story until the last twenty minutes or so.
Rascals feels much longer than its two-hour runtime. Scenes are introduced without any set-up, and frequently without narrative purpose. Despite having two action stars as its leads, there are few action scenes, but lots of boring conversations between characters. Ranaut’s shrill delivery makes these scenes almost unbearable.
It’s not entirely Ranaut’s fault that her character so irritating. Khushi isn’t written to have any sort of depth or personality: she’s a dumb sex object, as is the only other major female character in Rascals, an escort named Dolly (Lisa Haydon).
A reliance upon stereotypes is another example of creative laziness in Rascals. Women are stupid and only good for sex; white women are particularly slutty (as evidence by the suspiciously high number of scantily clad, blonde backup dancers in Thailand); men are sex-crazed.
Not wanting to let an opportunity for casual racism slip by, Dhawan includes a scene in which Bhagat and Chetan are caught up in a bank robbery. The robbers are all black Africans. In Thailand.
I won’t go so far as to say that Dhawan is racist or sexist (though I can’t figure out why he thought it was cool to have Anthony vent his anger toward Bhagat and Chetan by slapping his innocent sister in the face). I just think he’s careless. Careless about the messages his movies send, not to mention careless about details.
Details like having the characters in Rascals celebrate Christmas just days after they celebrated Valentine’s Day.
After being disappointed by Dum Maaro Dum, I decided to check out the first collaboration between Abhishek Bachchan and director Rohan Sippy: Bluffmaster! The pair’s first effort is clearly the superior of the two.
Bachchan stars in Bluffmaster! as conman Roy Kapoor. His heists have netted him loads of cash, and he has a sweet girlfriend named Simi (Priyanka Chopra) who thinks he’s a stockbroker. Simi learns the truth about him when a movie producer Roy conned shows up at their wedding.
Six months later, as Roy mourns his failed relationship with Simi, he watches a pair of small-time con artists trick a doctor out of his wallet. Roy retrieves the wallet and earns the friendship of the doctor, Bhalerao (Boman Irani). One of the cons, Dittu (Ritesh Deshmukh) is so impressed with Roy’s skills that he asks to become Roy’s student.
While Roy contemplates Dittu’s offer, he begins experiencing blackouts. Dr. Bhalerao discovers an inoperable brain tumor and gives Roy just months to live. Given Roy’s history of untruths, Simi assumes Roy’s brain tumor story is a trick and slams the door on him.
Dittu, unaware of Roy’s condition, explains that a prominent hotelier tricked his father out of his life savings. Roy decides to spend the little time he has left helping Dittu get his father’s money back. It’s the first time in Roy’s life that he’s ever put someone else’s needs above his own.
What distinguishes Bluffmaster! from Dum Maaro Dum is the former’s superior plot structure. While Dum Maaro Dum is mired in flashbacks and sideplots, Bluffmaster! moves forward at a steady clip. Just as it appears Roy may have a chance to win Simi back after all, his scheme with Dittu becomes more complicated than he expected. All the while, the threat of imminent death hangs over Roy’s head.
Bluffmaster! is based on the Argentine movie Nine Queens, which was also remade in America as Criminal. Additionally, Bluffmaster! shares similarities with Hollywood films like The Game and Matchstick Men. All of these movies directly or indirectly supply the template for Bluffmaster!. Meticulous continuity is the only way to make such a complex story work, and it does so in Sippy’s sophomore directorial effort.
The acting is uniformly good. Bachchan brings charm to a character who is initially a selfish crook. Irani is stellar as an elder who sees potential in Roy and has great affection for him. Chopra and Deshmukh are solid as the skeptic and the sidekick, respectively.