Race – Movie Review

Director Duo Abbas-Mustan (not otherwise known as ‘The Brothers Burmawalla’) have been steadily putting out pulp thrillers since their early 90s hit, Khiladi. The brothers’ latest offering, Race, hit theatres a couple of weeks ago, and since then has gone on to do unexpectedly good business. Some of this success can be attributed to the fact that it’s the first truly ‘Bollywood’ movie to come out for months; whether we admit to it or not, posh city folk like nothing better than an indulgent entertainer now and then. The last one that fit the bill — Om Shanti Om — was released last October. If only someone would tell our filmmakers, who are increasingly shifting their attention towards an output of macho noir violence-fests, epic historical snore-a-thons, Oscar bait (and always failing that, Filmfare Critics award bait) and trendy urban train wrecks distinguished by their characters calling each other ‘Guys’ a lot and knowing what ribbed condoms are.

In this age where the term ‘Pulp Fiction’ is more synonymous with an overrated art movie than the vibrant genre that supposedly inspired it, it’s nice to see that someone, somewhere at least isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or make a genre of pure entertainment ‘relevant to this post 9/11 world.’ Wielding the twin cannons of amoral pulp and bollywood exuberance (with both genres’ devil-may-care attitude to realism as their car’s engine) the brothers have came out with a winner.


To summarise the plot of Race would be foolhardy. It’s ostensibly about two rich step-brothers who stand to inherit tons of cash in insurance payouts should either of them die in an accident. Obviously, this being pulp, one of the brothers is rotten and wants to bump the other off, and the story goes from there. How it does so is nothing short of marvellous: over the course of its two and a half-hour running time, Race manages to squeeze in more plot twists and sudden reversals than a whole DVD box set of thrillers. The twists themselves are all the old ones, but the makers are obviously aware that the viewers will be actively trying to guess which one comes next, and almost always the twist that they do deploy is not quite the one you were expecting. Is there one twist too many? That’s an irrelevant question in this case. It’s a tightrope walk, for sure, but it manages to be consistently entertaining.

The characters are sketched very broadly. You have the work-hard-play-hard businessman, his alcoholic schemer of a brother, the dame with a dark past, the pining secretary, the corrupt cop and his bimbo assistant, all of which is laid out within ten seconds of their onsceen appearance. It’s more archetype than character, and in any other movie this would not be enough, but Race is a film where your focus is always on the increasingly knotty plot; any attempts at making whole characters out of this bunch would distract from it.

Also, if you made these people more realistic they would throw the ludicrousness of the world they inhabit into sharp relief. Here people are blown up in broad daylight, men survive treacherous falls and deadly car accidents, and insurance companies have no problem parting with 50 million in cash once a little paperwork is done. Race is unrealistic to the core, and it knows it; it’s a sexy pre-code comic book where there are no good guys, but everybody isn’t a dour Frank Miller creation either.

To their credit, the actors do a fine job with what little they have. Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna are wonderful when they’re playing bad guys, and it only dawned on me a few days later that they were both in Dil Chahta Hai together (playing very different characters). Anil Kapoor’s fruit-munching cop is loud, over-the-top and has more bad jokes in him than there are pips in his orange, but even this manages to fit snugly into the proceedings. The women have less to do and don’t quite distinguish themselves beyond eye candy and comic relief.

What really impressed me about Race to begin with is the great pacing. Usually in films there’s an energetic first fifteen minutes, and then the filmmakers decide they’ve had enough quick stuff, and according to that ‘How to Make a Movie’ book they read, it’s about time to slow down and add in some character and texture to it. Not so in Race, whose first half maintains its breakneck speed from start to finish. Even post-interval they keep it up, and it only ever really slackens for a few minutes here and there. To anybody who says it can’t be done, this should be Exhibit A.

If anything lets Race down, it is often its technical side. There’s terrible sound mixing in the songs; Bollywood movies are loud and hissy anyway, but the songs here are really pushing it (and I saw it in a good theatre with excellent sound). The soundtrack itself is the by-now standard action movie staple of Pritam-composed songs and a revolting Salim-Sulaiman background score (they should stick to film songs; they’re much better at it). Lots of jarring hip-hop and crashing guitars. Some of it is hummable but most is not, and one wonders how much better the film would be if the score wasn’t trying to hit you over the head every two seconds. Oh, and the songs literally come out of nowhere (incuding one which happens just after a major twist in the second half), but like every excess in this film, I went with it.

Also, the film could have used a few more weeks of post-production, especially digital grading. There’s some wonderful physical camerawork to see, but since a lot of the film is shot during stark daylight it doesn’t quite have the same impact. Towards the interval there’s a fantastic day-for-night sequence on a high-rise terrace; it’s coloured to look surreal and weird, and I wish the rest of the film’s sequences could have had that much attention paid to them (but they probably ran out of time/money).

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here with dreams of logic and social relevance. This is the land of surreal entertainment that Bollywood should never really forget, and as long as Abbas-Mustan in their matching white clothes are around, it never will. Race is pulp without parody, Bollywood madness without apology. It’s loud and loopy and I loved it.

Khoya Khoya Chand – Movie Review

Khoya Khoya Chand Review Image
The good thing about living in a country with a Friday/Saturday weekend is that movies release a day earlier than other places, and because of the extra day an early evening screening can still be relatively empty (most people are still at work). Not that I expected a huge turnout for Sudhir Mishra‘s latest, Khoya Khoya Chand, but in multiplexes Hindi films are shown in the smaller screens, and those hundred odd seats can fill up quickly.

Starring a bunch of well regarded actors who aren’t quite stars yet (and one wonders why), Khoya Khoya Chand is a gorgeous, quirky and ultimately satisfying movie about Indian movies. Om Shanti Om from a couple of weeks back also was an homage, but while it was a loud and tongue-in-cheek pastiche of 1970s potboilers, Mishra’s film is a subversive, adult drama set in the fifties and sixties, the transition era from black-and-white melodramas to technicolour kitsch. It does so with class.


The theatre was pretty empty; in this neck of the woods stars sell, and unfortunately, despite Shiney Ahuja and Soha Ali Khan being in more than a couple of hit films between them, they aren’t considered box office darlings (…yet). In this film, Ms. Khan’s the dancer turned ingenue turned rising star, while Mr. Ahuja’s a novelist turned screenwriter who’s drafted in to work on one of her films. She’s being groomed and bedded and marionetted by an older star (Rajat Kapoor), he’s exorcising his demons through cinema.

In anyone else’s hands, this film with its hackneyed premise would be a complete shambles. But Sudhir Mishra is not your average director, and when you buy a ticket for one of his films you should expect something a little out of the ordinary. Don’t get me wrong: on the surface the film is a melodrama. There’s enough stolid weeping and heaving sighs, but that’s just a device that puts you in the period that defined Indian cinematic melodrama. Everything else — the screenplay, the characters, the dialogue — are refreshingly new. It feels less like a movie and more like some kind of epic novel, and is structured like one. It’s a weird, sometimes surreal film and I’m sure that will put off a few people, but it really worked for me. This isn’t a documentary, it’s a poem.

Of course, if the actual film had been a complete dud I wouldn’t have really cared, because it just looks so good. The cinematography, the lighting, the set design are all top notch. They’re hyper-real, expressionistic like the screenplay, changing as the years go by to suit not just the period but the look of the films that came with it, and also the characters who are experiencing it. Shiney Ahuja’s scenes, for instance, are shot in warm brown hues with deep blacks, while the sequences in the sixties are riotously painted with the pinks and turquoises of early cheap colour films. It’s done with a kind of subtlety and grace that is breathtaking. It’s like watching Guru Dutt — in colour! It’s what that sepia-dunked monstrosity from earlier this year — Guru — should have looked like (and that was probably made at thrice the budget). This is a film worth watching just for watching.

That the characters are as good as the visuals only adds to the enjoyment. They shake off their stereotypes, stamp them into dust and are unapologetic about it. They’re politically incorrect, sexist, misogynist, exploitative and flawed — and you still like them. While the lead pair are the focus of the film and they do their jobs very well, it is really an ensemble cast, and what a cast indeed. Rajat Kapoor brings his A-game as usual, while Vinay Pathak, Saurabh Shukla and a host of others (even Sushmita Mukherjee, who never gets a good part!) play equally complex characters — actual characters — instead of just the filler roles or comedy jobs they are usually given.

But the real revelation of the film, for me, is Sonya Jehan. She’s terrific in a role that would otherwise have just been throwaway. She shows some real acting chops, and there’s parts of the film where you wonder why Shiney Ahuja is still pining for the that other woman. Hopefully, this role will lead to more good stuff from Ms. Jehan. I’d hate to see her slumming around in the latest Mahesh Bhatt bollysploitation thing a few years from now.

Now, of course, the big question: will this film do well? Um, probably not. It’s just too weird. Young people won’t get the strange 1950 affectations of the characters (the young couple a few rows behind me chattered and giggled all though it, and were laughing at the film). Old people will be outraged that their nostalgic vision of the pure classic era of Hindi films is shown to be full of immoral, oversexed, inelegant and rude people, however realistic that might be. It’s still a great film, and I dearly hope that it will find an audience, but I fear that audience will not be in the hundreds of millions.

But what do I know? I’ve been wrong about this stuff before, so don’t let that get you down. Khoya Khoya Chand is a fantastic film, and is well worth your money (just don’t expect a typical Bollywood movie).

And now, a rant about the english subtitles. Warning: lots of naughty, naughty words.

Those Fucking English Subtitles

Of late, somebody’s been sending out Hindi films with English subtitles, and whoever subtitles them seems to think that the word ‘fuck’ is interchangeable with the comma.


It’s horrible! “What are you doing?” says a character. “What the fuck are you doing?” reads the subtitle. “You’re as selfish as he is,” says the girl. “You’re as much of a bastard,” reads the text. So much of this movie especially is in the nuanced dialogue; the particular accents and colourful patois of these varied characters.

When Shiney Ahuja’s mannered Luknowi tells someone off, he says, “Here’s what I suggest you do: Take your script, place it under your rear, and take a long, deep breath.” What does the subtitle say? “Shove it up your ass!”

Half the script is lost in this inane, immature subtitling job. If you don’t understand Hindi, then I’m sorry, but the film is pretty-much ruined. The only problem with Khoya Khoya Chand are those. fucking. english. sub-fucking-titles!