Monday, January 25, 2010

Wanted:The Review

I am surprised to find that most reviewers have dismissed Wanted as an action masala belonging to the golden era of the eighties – Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Jeetendra in their prime, dancing, beating people to pulp and weeping over raped sisters even before the usher has pointed your designated deathchairs with his steel torch. The movie starts with the sound of gunshots and blood splattering on the screen, the hero makes his entry in a basement warehouse reminiscent of Big B’s Deewar sequence and beats them in a fashion jo maanav kalpana se pare hai, unfunny spoofs crowd upon each other, the chief comedian’s punchline is his obese physique and his hilariously impossible desire for the heroine (who carries more weight on her front than the comedian on his entire frame) and one of the gags involves the shlokas – “Teri ma ki choobeep, teri ma ka bhonbeep”.

Honestly, does this sound to you anyway like a cheap masala flick? It’s obvious that the critics have missed the heavy symbolism hidden in the folds, as manifold as the folds on Ayesha’s love handle.

The movie starts in the fashion of a Bhansali period drama: a woman kick boxing sequence with roaring East Asians around and a Bihari Don (a bloated Abhishek Bachchan) watching the proceedings. The don is the character Dawood has based his life on and is now on his way back to Mumbai. A brief sequence follows the narrative of Company then: a Mohanlalesque honest cop arriving in Mumbailand with the resolve of cleaning it of its filth – the Shahid Kapoors and Dino Moreas– but is advised to start small and then told about the evil Bihari migrant workers who threaten to take the cake from the mouths of the Manoos who just by virtue of being born in a place now deserve to have them all and eat them too, even though if others have baked it. Montages from Company are quickly shown to refresh our memories.

The cop immediately pulls away a lowly officer from his duty patrolling the waters outside Gateway of India to the task of protecting Mumbai from a greater threat than a bunch of strafing terrorists – Bihari workers. For that purpose, the hero has been given a double O to take out any Bihari eking out a living. He hangs around with a bunch of peons at Churchgate, Andheri stations, taxi stands staring stiffly ahead all the time but with excellent peripheral vision. Immediately, the cop lays a trap to encounter a bunch of workers who have just landed at Virar and induces them into an abandoned PSU factory, with showering sparks and molten metal but abandoned by the striking workers, with that old North India weakness – supari.

Now, the run-up to this introductory sequence is MCed by the head peon, a puffy Indra Kumar who once, along with Armaan Kohli, defined the rank bottom of Indian hero type, with Abe, woh Rambo ka baap hai, Terminator ka chacha hai, Rocky ka dadu hai, Bruce Lee ka nana hai, Last Action Hero hai woh!And then surprise o’ surprise, emerges from the shadows not Tusshaar Kappor but Raj. Not the Malhotra one, but the Nunnu Thackrey, played by Salman, the inspiration evident in the announcement by the faux rappers: “Super Killer Demented, Momma says he’s Wanted!" Raj then proceeds to stamp his “Immigration Denied” seal on the poor bunch of workers in the manner of South Indian Action flicks.

Tired from a day’s work here, he steps outside to get some fresh air where about a thousand Manoos wait to garland him and do what they used to do in the workless halcyon days – taking out Ganpatis and dancing on the roads to synchronised PT steps – before the migrants came and made their gaan fatis. [A note here: Watching Prabhu Deva and Govinda dance together was a history-being-made moment only a diehard masala fan can understand.]

And then he goes back to lolling around the stations waiting for the next batch of the desperate migrants masquerading as the mafia, and Prabhuji keeps spewing truckloads of them every time Raj disposes of a battalion of them while filing his nails. And that is every fifteen minutes into the movie.

Enter Uddhav, played by who else but Mahesh Manjrekar as a corrupt cop, who remains surprisingly restrained and hence just a million decibels over the top. Uddhav is in the same business as Raj – killing Biharis at random – and indeed their territories, and constituencies, might have never overlapped had not the case of the Bihari baloonwaali fallen in both their laps.

Now the gubbarewali was not always a gubbarewali. As the brilliant transcripts accompanying my CD suggest here, she started as a weatherman (sorry – weatherperson) who gets thrown out of her TV show because of her excellent English. Forced to rely on her wits, an impossible task on any day, she becomes a vendor of balloons but does not know enough of Marathi to get a license to sell her wares and has to carry them around under her clothes while pretending to work in a BPO. Indeed, the balloons become twin symbols for her ethnic and sexist stereotyping. In a scene when trapped in a hot lift (full of delicate romantic moments reminiscent of Mere Mehboob like when the heroine sits between the hero’s crotch and asks what is vibrating and he answers – my cell phone) the hero blows air in her mouth and just as he asks her to blow him in her turn, the doors of the lift part.

A lot of critics have unfairly panned Ayesha’s role saying her presence in the movie is as good as a chair with two cushions. I disagree on two counts. First, a doormat would be a better home furnished example. Second, the symbolism embodied in her character is difficult to understand for the unsubtle. Branded for her English, gender and ethnicity, the heroine carries the painful burden of this hate on her chest courageously; her immense onus suggested only in delicately framed shots like these.

You might say that Ayesha is the script of the movie. Had it not been for her the movie would have been endless streams of Bihari workers, deprived of their rakhwala trapped in the Big Boss house, massacred at the station by Raj and Uddhav.The introduction of Ayesha introduces the very dilemma Ralph Fiennes faced as a concentration camp officer in Schindler’s list – the temptation of the gubbares of someone you have been taught to blindly hate.

In all, Ayesha propels the movie with four scenes along.

1. First, she goes to an aerobic run by Vinod Khanna to pretend that the only secret to her bloated top is a fine fitness regimen and no balloons.

While returning she runs into and gets groped by Uddhav or some Bihari goons (In fact, Uddhav is so desparate that he even threatens to rape the heroine’s lighter-by-quintals mother! – another definite first in Hindi cinema)

2. Second, she summons Raj through her irritating and fat Maggi brother with a mobile

3. Raj turns up and stamps his double OOs

4. Fourth, when Salman turns to her and wants to move to the other O with her, she weeps copiously and engages in philosophical dialogues with him like here where she questions the preconditions of affection thus, “Jisse bas logon ki jaan lena aataa hai, woh kisee ki feelings ko kya samjhega!” All Raj can do is look desperately bored and checking her balloons with his amazing peripheral vision and wishing she was peddling grapes and he could just walk away.

These four scenes run endlessly in a loop and indeed threaten to do so forever till, fortuitously, two things happen. Vinod Khanna dies and the gym closes. And then, Raj kills all the Biharis, and even Uddhav, who could have molested the heroine. And the picture ends thus abruptly – a bare-chested Raj (I seriously thought that after a decade I might be able to survive a Salman flick with seeing his shaved nipples but no – the villains had to throw Molotov cocktails at his shirt) heaving over the corpse of Uddhav and staring at the camera and realising it is over. The End flashes.

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