Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Don 2 or MI4: Which is a more Indian experience?

Last night, in a bid to introduce Sid and my very-soon-to-pop-out baby to some Indian culture, we went to watch the super slick Don 2: The King is Back.  Unfortunately, culturally and aesthetically the film was so derivative of Hollywood that we would have been better-off watching MI4: Ghost Protocol, the twenty minutes-climax of which is set in squalid Mumbai and even features one of its famous traffic jams.

The film reminded me of a corny dialogue from a late-80s Bollywood-starrer Jamai Raja. It had Shakti Kapoor eulogising a prospective son-in-law with: "woh breakfast London me khate hain, lunch Paris mein, aur dinner New York mein. Bus su-su karne India aate hain". (He eats his breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and dinner in New York. He only comes to India to pee). Don doesn't even dignify India with his precious pee.

Everything about this super-villain is foreign: his empire, his clothes, his cars, his toilets, his targets and his ambitions. Only, the language in which he operates is clean, unaccented Hindi, which in turn forces the film to place Hindi-speaking Indian characters in unlikely settings: as Interpol officers in Malaysia, heading German banks, or as computer hackers or contract killers in Berlin.

There is a lot of talk of how the film can match any Hollywood thriller in its production values. Yes, it can. But all of it is great imitation at best: Don 2 never uses the foreign locales, settings or aesthetics to say anything original or authentic. But then again, Bollywood film-makers rarely use Indian locales, settings or aesthetics with any imagination so why should they accord the respect to foreign locales.

The good news for us is that it doesn't matter. Western film-makers are slowly discovering India as a possible setting for its films. (MI4 is the latest example). Once, they discover us and find an aesthetic language to cinematically represent our strangely ugly-beautiful cities, I'm confident we'll quickly rediscover our streets. After all, it only took Farhan Akhtar two years to recreate Bourne Supremacy's (2004) fabulous car chase in Goa for his 2006-film Don: The Chase Begins Again. Others will take even less.

Here's a great spoof of MI4 featuring Anil Kapoor. I couldn't resist...


Anonymous said...

Mi4 used background shots from India- the scenes were filmed in Vancouver Canada!!!

globalbabble said...

Thanks for pointing it out. Perhaps, Slumdog Millionaire would make a better comparison. I was amazed at how a British director could bring Mumbai to life in a way that few Indian film-makers in recent times have.

Molina said...

Good analysis of Don2 Chetna! Havn't seen MI-Ghost Protocol so can't comment on that. The only thing I'd like to add is that the movie makers probably show what the audience wants to see. The Indian audience's fascination with foriegn locales and white women gyrating to bollywood tunes possibly motivates them to shoot movies overseas in their entirety. Have to say I had higher expectations of Farhan Akhtar!

jaimit said...

I was lucky to see Don2 before MI4. And I ended up enjoying both. As a rule I go with very low expectations from a Bollywood movie. I thought it was pretty slick for Bolly standards.
I also saw Ra-one. There also the effects were slick in parts and horribly bad in parts (climax scene). But there was an unmistakable hangover of Terminator 2 and other Hollywood movies. My theory is simple. It takes a generation to change. You can’t teach an old monkey new tricks. Only those born after 1991 grew up exposed to plenty, thought beyond basics like – good pencils, good notebooks, good storybooks and Cartoon network. They will grow up dreaming differently. They will think beyond and push the boundaries. It is not by accident that the new cinema is led by the younger lot and not the older ones. They are breaking barriers and I see this as a start.
At least now we have a script. Up until now we had thriller with some vague BS twist at the end. I dint feel cheated at the end of it all. Do you remember the movie – Khiladi where the murderer was some guy who had been on the screen for exactly four seconds before being exposed at the climax?
These NEW HOPE kids are only 21 years old now. They will do a lot. Their mindsets are different. I can see it when they enter office as interns and where I teach. Those born around 1983 (world cup victory) grew up to dream and lift the cricket world cup again. And they came from outside the four metros of India – Sehwag, Dhoni, Raina, Zaheer, Munaf, Pathan, etc. – By point – notice the deficit of Brahmins between 1983 and 2011. But that’s another point….

globalbabble said...

@Molina and @Jaimit.. I wouldn't mind the foreign locales so much if the director was then ready to deal with the complexity of setting your story in a foreign locale. There is a neither-here, nor-there quality about films like Don that irritate me - they are basically all-Indian films just set in pretty surroundings. If they set these films in India, they will then have to deal with Indian streets which they don't want to. It smacks of laziness.

That said, yes, I didn't mind the heist plot so much... except that Priyanka Chopra must be the stupidest Interpol officer in the organisation's history. If I worked for Interpol PR dept, I'd be looking to sue Akhtar ;-)

@Jaimit I can't be a NEW HOPE kid but born in 1980, I am glad I at least made the World Cup cut!