April 30, 2008
It starts with a Mercedes careening wildly. Left, right. The radio switches between stations. There’s a struggle inside. It goes off road, hurtles off a cliff, and tanks in a lake. Saif Ali Khan, caught underwater between drowning and escaping, looks out and then to the camera. He explains, in all earnestness, how he got here. Pause for thought. This movie is the latest evidence of the thinking over at Yashraj. In their magnificent marketing minds, this new audience is done with unnecessary things like feeling, empathy, and common sense. It has no use for suspense. This is the new India. What it wants is style, Tashan. And what that means is bronzed bodies, and Kareena Kapoor happily drenched at every opportunity.
Tashan oozes everywhere, even in physical assault. “I’m going to rape you,” says Jimmy Cliff (Saif) to Pooja (a paper-thin Kareena) in one hair-raising encounter. She can only smile in admiration. “Oh Jimmy!” a female voiceover swoons, taking us back to the golden days of India’s finest screen rapist, Prem Chopra. It all means nothing, of course. But it’s done stylishly, and that’s what truly matters.
But here’s the thing. Tashan’s a pretty good story if it wasn’t for the varnish. It’s a revenge tale with riveting flashbacks and little asides that could have been beautiful sub-plots. There’s the magic of actual drama and comedy alive here. But really, who cares for these things, so why take them further? Loosely, here’s the plot. Anil Kapoor’s Bhaiyyaji, a stylish English-loving don who uses sports equipment to kill and maim, is betrayed by Pooja, his assistant, and Jimmy, his English tutor. Bachchan Pandey (Akshay Kumar) is summoned to find the girl. After they mess around a bit with Jimmy, Bachchan and Pooja flutter eyelashes. They turn against the don big time. All this is done pretty stylishly, with foreign dancers, and a useless firefight or two thrown in.
The details are irrelevant. A particular music video sensibility – quick cuts, booty-shaking – infiltrates the entire movie, with none of the continuity you’d expect. What else could explain Bachchan suffering the inconvenience of a bullet in the arm (the focus of that particular scene), and the wound vanishing thereafter? And what of Pooja, on her way to Haridwar to perform her father’s last rites, stopping by in Europe to work it in hot pants and a bikini? There’s also the supremely unfortunate cut where Pooja appears to have grabbed Bachchan’s crotch during a dance routine.
Only Akshay emerges shining from this nonsensical wreckage. His body slinks and melts when he’s sheepish, and stands erect and tightens when he’s angry. It is implicit that style can only take you so far – a fact that escaped Vijay Acharya (director) and the producer Aditya Chopra, who drop-kicked substance out the window when they conspired to make the Dhoom series.