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When bad is beautiful

The box office performance of Abbas-Mustan’s Race proves that crime sells. The movie teems with bad guys, worse women and the worst form of film immorality, writes Khalid Mohamed.
Hindustan Times | By Khalid Mohamed
UPDATED ON APR 05, 2008 09:53 PM IST

Exit heroes, enter dudes out to grab big bucks, babes and bombs. Bombs? Don’t titter, these versions of Diwali crackers blow up cars in the middle of big city roads. Neither a policeman nor a pedestrian grumbles.

Hang on. Is this a rant on the lack of plausibility in the cash-obsessed Bombay movies? Naah, that would be like expecting the nation’s fantasy factory to acknowledge the tears behind its vibgyor contact lenses. Sub-chic glamour sells big time today. So does the Hollywood influence served on a cheesy toast. Which is to say that the good old quality called Indianness is becoming fast extinct in our popular cinema. Imitators of Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone or even an obscure B-grader crime flick accessible on DVD, are here to stay. Alas.

Glaring case in point: Abbas-Mustan’s Race which has been claimed as the first major money spinner of the year, so far. It’s another story that the movie harvest in the first three months of 2008 has ranged from the disappointing to the very disappointing.

The director brothers, who call themselves a duo even in the credit titles, may have scored a hit in the name of a ‘mass entertainer’ (read contemptuous of the audience’s sensibilities). But probably they aren’t aware of the fact that success is ephemeral in this business. Even the names of yesteryear’s hit helmers like Shakti Samanta, J Om Prakash and Prakash Mehra are recalled mainly by the over-40s generation.

Right. Abbas-Mustan aren’t striving for immortality. But how about a measure of responsibility (the word ‘social’ affixed to it would be begging the issue)? A pinch of decency? A hint of humaneness? Obviously adapted from America’s sexploitative Goodbye Lover (1999), which itself was panned for being reprehensibly immoral, the duo’s 14th film in two decades, inadvertently scores a first of sorts. They have made a brand out of immorality.

Not one of the characters — albeit enacted by prime players from the star firmament — arouses our empathy, care or concern. Forget grey areas. The men have no compunctions about killing, stealing, bedding each other’s wives (girlfriends? does get confusing), double and triple-crossing, cheating at the race course and scamming insurance companies, besides caring a damn about the law force, reliably conspicuous by its absence.

Two of these men are stepbrothers with an extremely vague childhood rivalry. Both want to kill each other for some 200 million dollar insurance packet in Durban, even while leading a lifestyle that requires a fatter bank balance. An investigating cop on their trail is after the dirty money, too, accompanied by an assistant who would make a bimbette seem super-brainy. Two other women leap in and out of chintzy costumes and bed sheets, turned on by money, sex, money, sex. If these are heroines, whatever happened to the mean old vamp please?

In effect, Race teems with bad guys, worse women and a worst form of film immorality. A blatant loud signal is transmitted — crime pays and how. And to think there was a time when it was a given in cinema that the guilty cannot get away with loot or murder. In recent times, Bunty aur Babli sought to cover its tracks by turning the desi Bonnie and Clyde into special police agents. Laughable? Quite.

Sporadically, Ram Gopal Varma’s underworld sagas have been indifferent to ingrained film principles and the ‘correct path’ by glorifying the Gangster Raj. In Satya, Bhai Bhiku Mhatre may have met his end. But in Sarkar, a family shown to be steeped in crime got away with killings and threats, ensuring a convenient sequel. Okay, so Varma may have been inspired by The Godfather. Only Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork, in its first edition itself, saw the exit of Don Corleone.

Back to Race, it hardly matters that the screenplay doesn’t even bother to show that the insurance company, which pays up the millions, would have checked out the harum scarum in minute detail. Hopefully, this will not give ideas to impressionable viewers. Needlessly, an orphanage is dragged into the plot, suggesting that it’s ridiculously easy to make a donation and obtain an alibi.

Clearly, with Race the duo has gone for the kill. Their recent movies have sought to capitalise on adultery, deceit and assorted cruelty (Ajnabee, Aitraaz, Humraaz, Naqab) imported from the DVD shelves. Ironically, there was a time when they would take pride in the fact that they opened every film with a mother in centre frame. Today, they have changed to a deadly dame with murder in her heart — if she has one, that is.

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