It’s about time Bollywood filmmakers stop using the “leave your brains at home” mantra for making and marketing masala films. In most cases, it justifies the existence of incredibly pointless films that even fail to do the one thing they promise – entertain. Farah Khan’s latest film, Tees Maar Khan (written by her husband Shirish Kunder), is a prime example of this. It is an astoundingly complete ensemble of everything that can go wrong with a film - paper-thin plot, embarrassing writing, atrocious acting and uninspired directing. All in all, this is probably one of the worst films of the year, and what a shame since it’s the big Christmas offering and is the last big release of 2010 for Bollywood.
When names like Farah Khan, Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, UTV and Vishal-Shekhar come together, a certain standard of at least somewhat entertaining cinema is expected. I’m not even asking for anything path breaking or intelligent. But this film takes buffoonery and hamming to a whole new level.
The basic premise is that of a wanted criminal – Tabrez Mirza Khan a.k.a Tees Maar Khan (Akshay Kumar) – who we are told is such a genius that he can escape from any prison and rob treasure big enough to bring down India’s economy, that too from a moving train. What he comes off as, instead, is a half-baked character that makes up everything as he goes along, much like the way the film seems to have been made. He has in his posse three henchmen called Burger, Dollar and Soda (need I say more?), an annoyingly dumb Bollywood starlet girlfriend Anya (Katrina Kaif) and a melodramatic mother who thinks her son is a famous film director. When the villains of the film – the conjoined twins the Johri brothers - ask Tabrez to rob the moving train, he hatches a plan to mount a fake film shoot and get a village full of gullible people and Oscar-aspirant superstar Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna) to unwittingly help him loot the train. Why a supposedly experienced actor doesn’t get suspicious when the entire robbery is filmed as a single handheld take is beyond me. But then again, it’s silly of me to expect an iota of logic here.
One of the most annoying aspects of TMK is that literally no one (and I mean, no one) knows how to talk in a normal tone of voice. It is two hours of constant yelling and exaggerated tones, with expressions and movements as jittery as a baby on caffeine. I’m all for a loud comedy if it’s done right but there is a skill to that too – the yelling and exaggerated movements must have their own timing. This felt more like the actors and filmmaker telling the viewer each time they think they told a joke. Take, for example, each time the Johri brothers talk to their informant over the phone. They get confused whenever he ends his call with “Over and out,” asking each other which cricket match is going on, who got out and how many overs are left. That was a funny cricket reference, did you get it? You should laugh now.
The only redeeming part of TMK is the sizzling dance number ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and filmed on Kaif. In this song sequence Farah Khan shows her talent with putting together thumping music, sensual choreography and jazzy production design to make what is essentially a music video forced into the film. The song comes in early on in the film and everything goes downhill afterwards. The film quickly degenerates into taking digs at everyone in the film business from Aamir Khan and Anil Kapoor to Danny Boyle and Manoj Night Shamalan. As an embarrassingly offensive joke, Tabrez pretends to be ‘Manoj Day Ramalan’ and explains that his brother has the name ‘Night’ because he was born at night and is therefore dark. Later, we are introduced in the village to three effeminate men, all wearing pink, who are casually called ‘ladies’ by Kaif. All the characters are constantly lost in their own stupidity, which creates a huge disconnect with the viewer.
Khan’s first two films – Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om – actually seemed like classier entertainers compared to TMK. There was also a certain level of emotional connect in the first two films. It makes me wonder how much the superstar power of the lead actor has an impact on the film as a whole. In this case, there is a marked difference in style, approach and resonance when Khan made her shift from Shah Rukh Khan to Akshay Kumar.
As is now customary with Farah Khan films, TMKtoo is littered with filmic references and cameos, but never before has she gone so nauseatingly over the top. There is also an obsessive reference to the Oscars, which spills over into the end credits where all the cast and crew are given awards in a classic case of self-flattery. While I always appreciate Khan’s generosity in giving her entire crew their five seconds of screen time in her films, the awards sequence concept here seems highly ironic for a film that tortures the viewer for its entire duration. But then again, I guess it’s just as well they award themselves because no one else will.