Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

March 23, 2007

Been there, seen that!

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:39 pm

March 23, 2007

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Rishi Kapoor, Upen Patel

Director: Vipul Shah

In director Vipul Shah’s Namastey London, Katrina Kaif plays an Indian girl born and raised in the UK, who’s turned out to be something of an enfant terrible who guzzles vodka like it’s water, dresses in micro-minis under her salwar-kameez, and frightens away prospective grooms by telling them false stories about her promiscuity. But worse than all of this, and the reason her dad’s having sleepless nights actually, is because she’s seriously considering a marriage proposal from her white boyfriend, a cad who’s already been married thrice in the past.

No wonder daddy dearest Rishi Kapoor whisks her off to good ol’ Bharat where after several failed attempts to find a suitable groom for his daughter, he finally coaxes her to tie the knot with the son of an old friend, a sort of small-town bumpkin Akshay Kumar, who’s already fallen head over heels in love with his peaches-and-cream complexioned wife.

Promising to consummate their marriage back in London, Katrina brings Akshay home, but only to reveal to him and to her parents that this shaadi was all a sham, and her heart still beats only for her gora boyfriend. Shaken, but not entirely defeated, Akshay decides he’s going to stay on and win her back with love.

I can bet my last pay-cheque that the one thought that came to your head while you heard me narrate the film’s plot is: ‘Hey, haven’t I heard this story before?’ Well, yes, you have and several times over actually. It’s clear, straight off the bat, that Namastey Londonis a been-there-seen-that story inspired from a variety of films including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam to name just two.

Look, the one thing that a film must have in order to hold your interest, is unpredictability. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to enjoy a film if you know exactly how it’s going to turn out in the end. But let’s face it, unpredictability of plot is something that very few Hindi films can boast of. In which case, when you do know what direction a film is going in, when you do know what’s going to happen at the end of the film, the only thing that is likely to keep you entertained, is the manner in which the filmmaker or the writers arrive at that ending. You know the beginning, you know the end — now can they make the middle so interesting and so unique that you’re willing to stay with the film even though you know where it’s all leading upto?

The same is true of Namastey London. It’s a Hindi film. You know Akshay Kumar is going to melt Katrina’s heart in the end. Now we just need to know how he does it.

Vipul Shah and his writers use the old-fashioned approach – true love conquers all. Some of you may find that archaic and outdated, but once in a while I think earnestness, sincerity and some old-fashioned simplicity can do the trick. Namastey London certainly has its heart in the right place. But sadly it goes about making its point in the stupidest manner. Why is it essential to portray every white person as a racist bigot in order to convey what a desh-bhakt our hero is? That party scene in which a white man makes Indian jokes only to be put in his place by Akshay is so over-the-top and so blatantly manipulative, it makes you cringe.

Ditto for that scene at the mosque where Akshay drives sense into Upen Patel’s head by explaining to him why nothing and no one’s worth changing one’s name and religion for – it’s a scene that’s screaming out for a pat on the back – “Look at all the good values we’re trying to propagate.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a cynic, I’m just saying this film is so caught up being self-congratulatory that it doesn’t even realize where its slipping up. Like the humour for example, which is so juvenile at most times. Or all the stereotypes that the film tends to reinforce.

By the time the lights finally come on and the end credits begin to roll, you feel like you’ve been in that hall for what seems like an eternity. Namastey London is too long for a story that’s too familiar to begin with. It’s not a bad film, but it’s often dull and you can pretty much predict its every next step.

Of the actors Upen Patel turns in a surprisingly decent piece as a British-Asian boy confronted with cultural dilemmas. Now if only he’d work on his dialogue delivery and accent, they wouldn’t have to dub his voice. And someone please ask him to keep his shirt on, we’ve seen enough of his shaved torso already. As the patient and hopeful romantic, Akshay Kumar plays his most restrained role yet, and he’s not bad at all, it’s just that his character seems so ludicrous; you’re unable to take him too seriously. For Katrina Kaif, playing the rebellious protagonist of this film, it’s a part that fits her like a glove. Her acting’s also considerably improved since the last time she was on screen.

But for me, the only actor really worth mentioning in this film is Rishi Kapoor. Both in his comic scenes and his dramatic portions, he brings a degree of naturalness that none of the other actors can serve up. He is easily the emotional anchor of this film and his performance it’s only real strength.

I’m going to go with two out of five for Vipul Shah’s Namastey London. In many ways it’s modeled after those well-meaning 70s films – one part Dev Anand romance, one part Manoj Kumar patriotic saga. It’s sweet and it’s simple but that’s just the question — Do you still have an appetite for steamed rice when everyone else is eating biryani?

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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