In 2004, two initiatives were launched to pass off mediocre blue-blood Babalog as superstars, while making a shitload of cash for their stakeholders.
One was the UPA government. The other was the Dhoom franchise.
In both these, the trick was essentially same. Smoke. Mirrors. Hype. And for smarter people to hold up the halo for the mediocres.
By 2004, the powers-that-be had tried, with no success, to pass Uday Chopra, the scion of one of Bollywood’s richest and most powerful families, off as a romantic hero. But after the spectacular tanking of his solo “Mere Yaar ki Shaadi Hai”, the writing was on the wall.
It was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was to make Uday Chopra’s fantasy of being an A-list hero comes to fruition.
But they didn’t give up.
Dhoom was born, in an attempt to package Uday Chopra as an action-comic hero, but this time with solid support. Or what was known as the donut principle, surround the hole in the middle with sugary goodness. They got Abhishek Bachchan, another blue-blood of similar talent but with slightly better career prospects than Uday Chopra, to be his cohort and rising stud-muffin John Abraham to be the villain. To which was added Pritam’s inspirational music, Rimii (that’s how I think she spelt it then) Sen’s double alphabets, some bike chases, some scenes that looked suspiciously similar to Ocean’s Eleven, another hero whose name I have forgotten (oh wait…it was Eesha Deol) and a lot of Chopraian marketing and media muscle.
It worked. Kind of. Dhoom was a hit. But Uday Chopra, despite having cinema in his shirts and pants (Rahul Gandhi speak for “in his genes”), was not going to be able to go to solo outside the family’s productions.
Two years later when Dhoom 2 was made, the challenge was even greater. Now there were two underperfoming Babalog that had to be passed off as stars, with Abhishek Bachchan adding folds below his chin more rapidly than hits to his belt. With great responsibility, comes greater casting. The powers-that-be brought in even more serious talent to hide the limitations of the lead pair, making the so-called villains the marquee names. They got Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai to headline, though the heroes were still, on paper, Abhishek Bachchan and Uday Chopra. Dhoom 2 piled it on thick and fast, Roshan playing a Hispanicy basketball-player who rollerblades and dresses up as the Queen, Aishwarya Rai playing a faux “Are you like checking me out” accent, lifts from “Mission Impossible” and periodic appearances of Bipasa Basu’s sandbags. And then there was Aishwarya Rai’s first on-screen kiss (She had refused to kiss Chandrachud Singh in Josh, but then who would want to kiss Chandrachud Singh or “Bhabiji” as we used to refer to him) with Roshan, which while being as cold as Aishwarya Rai, was hyped to be controversial and bold. Ho-hum.
And now 2013. Tata Young, of the original Dhoom Dhoom song, has become Tata Old. Abhishek Bachchan is as relevant today as a dial-up modem. Uday Chopra is still Uday Chopra. With the latter having ostensibly announced his retirement, (i.e. given up hope), the powers-that-be decided to give him a farewell mega-hit. Since they could not fly down Sammy and his team to Wankede, they did the next best thing.
Chicago. 1990. People wear either Prohibition-era clothes or look like they stepped off from the sets of Duck Dynasty. A talented magician, played by Jackie Shroff, runs the Great Indian Circus which plays in an ,enormous Beaux-Arts style opera house. It is a sad, little one-man act, consisting of an Alok Nath-eyed Shroff pulling rabbits and other assorted things from the Mausichigaand. The sinister “Western Bank of Chicago”, headed by the cliched “evil white man” is not impressed because he wants to see women in short skirts pulling stuff out of the mouth of a hippo. Despite the heart-wrenching pleas of the son-of-Jackie-Shroff and Jackie Shroff’s Richard Burton accent, the evil white man decides to shut it down. Faced with heartbreak or in the grip of anger brought on by repeated retakes, Jackie Shroff suddenly says, like a pakka denizen of the Windy City, “Bankwalon tumhare aisi ki taisi” and shoots himself with Al Capone’s spare gun.
Shattered by this experience, the son-of-Jackie-Shroff grows up to be Sahir (Aamir Khan) who decides to take revenge on the banks by robbing them, because since banks don’t have insurance against robbery, robbing the same bank a number of times destroys them. Eager to avoid capture, he leaves behind his calling card and a message written in Hindi. Chicago’s finest are immediately onto it and conversations like the one below leave the audience no doubt as to how smart they are.
Banker: “Whos the guy who has robbed us?”
Chicago’s finest: “It’s a thief sir”
Unable to make head or tail of the Devnagri script, and since Chicago does not fall under Preet Bharara’s jurisdiction, which if it was he could have done a cavity search and found not a brain in the cranium of anyone associated with the story and the script, a call is sent for ACP Jai Dixit (Abhishek Bachchan) and his sidekick Ali (Uday Chopra), who, immediately realize that since the messages have been written in Hindi, the thief is an Indian. Meanwhile Aamir Khan hires Katrina Kaif as his assistant, after an audition that entails her doing a strip tease. Having a woman in a short skirt who can be out-acted by a hippo and the cash from his heists (how he pulls them off is never shown precisely, perhaps because the people at the helm, I am assuming, was too lazy to have been “inspired” by sequences from a few good heist movies), Aamir Khan builds up his Baba’s dream. But he has not contended with Abhishek Bachchan’s angry-old-man-who-is-unhappy-with-his-Isabgol face ….
What the fuck am I doing? I am trying to synopsize the story of Dhoom 3. There is NO story. Or, more precisely, the story is like the Congress party’s constitution,there but really not important. Suffice to say, before the end credits roll, you will get to see Uday Chopra play Jack Sparrow, Abhishek Bacchan play a homeless person, Aamir Khan ride Batman’s Bajaj, plot holes the size of Sharad Pawar, intellectual punch-counterpunch that would make a two-year-old laugh, and, by today’s standards, some really crappy special effects (the running down a skyscraper or hanging from a edge of a ledge look so “taken against a blue screen” that it’s laughable).
But mention must be made of Aamir Khan, the “method man” and “actor’s actor”. In a strange coincidence, he always finds himself in original works that have remarkable similarities to Nolan’s movies (in Bengal, we call him Nolan-guru and he is available only in the winter). Memento. Now another one. Had it been someone else, I would have said “copied” but Aamir Khan, being so international and sincere and method and Satyamev Jayate, would never be a part of something so Bollywood. His acting in Dhoom 3 is brilliantly diverse—consisting of a few stock expressions randomly sequenced—mildly angry face, intense Ghajini face, watching-strip-tease face, Bum-bum bole face and Ailaa Juhi Chawla face. For someone who claims to “think everything through” it’s strange how if you looked at his expression, you would never think he was running down a skyscraper or holding a man hanging over a ledge, so free of context it is. One doesn’t expect much from AB Junior or Uday Chopra or Katrina Kaif or a park bench when it comes to acting, but when Aamir Khan dials in a mediocre performance and runs with the cheque, the cynical undertone of the whole project stares at you in the face so hard that it becomes impossible to ignore.
Of course, Dhoom 3 is a grand success. Every big-name movie nowadays seems to be. It has made God-knows-how-many-crores in the time that it took you to read this post. The director, whose greatest achievement so far was in getting Anil Kapoor to shave his chest for Tashan (an effort that I believe would have required sheep-shearing machines from New Zealand), will now be the toast of Bollywood. Abhishek Bacchan, whose performance is being praised (albeit for now by his father), has a super-hit as a hero. (Yes he would like you to believe he is the hero)
Hell, even Uday Chopra may be back for an Afridi-like encore.
And in the midst of it all,
“Decent cinema, tumhari aisi ki taisi.”