Sunday, June 3, 2012

BAABUL: The Family Jewels

Baabul wants so badly to be an old-school Bollywood masala entertainment that I really tried to like it. There’s Amitabh Bachchan as the happiest of men (until The Tragedy strikes)—he has a mansion, a son (Salman Khan) who is both his “buddy” and the heir to his jewelry empire, and a wife (Hema Malini) who’s still beautiful and coquettish and, being Hema, a great dancer. There’s throaty-voiced Rani Mukherjee, one of my favorite current heroines. There’s a good song written and sung by the Big B himself playing over the opening credits. What could go wrong?

Salman Khan in his pre-gymnified youth
Oh, so many, many things. But let’s cut to the chase. I know Salman Khan still has legions of fans, and I haven’t always found him off-putting—I confess, I thought he was quite charming in his pre-gymnified youth (maybe it’s just that I saw Hum Aapke Hain Kaun when I was new to Bollywood and willing to suspend more disbelief than I can these days). Now, he’s the same in every movie—puffy-eyed and glib, phoning in every scene like a musclebound Dean Martin.

He also laces purportedly comic moments with condescension and casual cruelty. In one such scene, Salman asks a servant to hand over the shirt on his back so Salman can pretend to be poor to woo a girl. The servant misinterprets this request as a demand for a sexual favor. Weeping, he agrees to comply. Ha ha ha ha ha. In another “comic” moment, Amitabh shows Salman the fancy office where Salman will work now that he’s returned from America to go into the family business. A beautiful young woman enters, and Salman, thinking that she is his secretary, ogles and slavers and thanks Amitabh for the favor. And if that weren’t hilarious enough, it gets even better when a fat, poorly groomed woman comes in behind the babe. She’s the secretary. It’s like an episode of Mad Men without the benefit of a 21st-century vantage point. What’s that, you say? This film was shot in 2006? Curiouser and curiouser….

I can only assume that Salman has abandoned all pretense of acting and is now just being himself in every film. And real life intrudes even more unpleasantly when Salman and Amitabh race their sports cars along Marine Drive to see who can reach their palatial home first. Honestly, who thought it was a good idea to put Salman behind the wheel of a car?

John, enjoying himself onscreen with Abhishek in Dostana
Poor John Abraham is called in to do things that are not his forte, like staring off into the middle distance while pretending to be filled with longing for the girl he loves but cannot have. I am not a John-hater, but he’s so much better when he can enjoy himself onscreen.

I assume John was summoned because Water the previous year made him the go-to hunk when filmmakers need someone willing to marry a widow. Yes, Baabul bravely stands up for allowing widows to remarry, at least as long as the widow has a father-figure to authorize and arrange everything. How very almost-the-current-century!

Will Rani come to this?
(Nobody ever actually asks the widow if she wants to remarry—the men just make plans because they know what’s best. What interest could a woman possibly have in such an insignificant thing as her own future? Back to Betty Draper World.)

The veterans are skilled as always—I’ll watch Hema dance any time, and the look on the face of Amitabh in pain can break my heart even when the script, if any, is this lame. But whether we can really feel anything for people who are this oblivious to anyone outside their massively rich, incredibly insular little family is an open question.

Is there no reason to watch?? Well, here’s one for anyone who loves bad English-to-English subtitling: Salman is taking a meeting in London, making some kind of diamond deal and praising the workmanship and quality of the family jewels. “And very reasonably priced,” he says, in English. The subtitler renders this as “And very recently polished.” Like Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night, they’re good because they’re so clean.

Very recently polished

No comments:

Post a Comment