Vantage point

Saturday, January 24, 2004


A lot of movies have been made lately that have the handiwork of "ISI" bandied around a lot. These movies star menacing looking terrorists wanting to blow up everything Indian in sight, and it is our heroic armymen and policemen who foil their evil designs. While a section of the society protests this "anti-Pakistan" genre of movies, claiming it vitiates the atmosphere of peace that should be aspired for, the filmmakers and those who watch these movies defend them saying that their movies are not far from reality. Yes, the angle of ISI activity shown in movies like Sarfarosh, Qayamat, Zameen may be based on what really happens. But there is another side to this reality. And it is this side of reality that Rajkumar Santoshi strives to bring forward in Khakee.

The movie starts off on a superlative high, with one of the best shoot-out sequences in Bollywood history. Dr. Iqbal Ansari, played by the immensely talented Atul Kulkarni, is an ISI agent in Chandangarh, a small town in Maharashtra. He has to be brought to Mumbai to be presented in a special court. A heavily armed party of policemen transporting him, is ambushed in Chandangarh itself. It is this ambush that is portrayed in the aforementioned sequence. Through that sequence, which is technically as brilliant as any Hollywood action movie, Santoshi grabs the viewer by his collar and pulls him to the edge of the seat. Uniforms worn by everyone in the cast are actually worn-in police uniforms, and they give the movie a feel of reality.

Eight policemen are killed, but Ansari is still in police custody. A team of 5 policemen is sent from Mumbai to get him there safely. These 5 are Anant(Amitabh), Shekhar(Akshay Kumar), Ashwin (Tusshar) and two havaldars. They are joined by Mahalakshmi(Aishwarya), who has seen and can identify one of the terrorists, and so has to be safeguarded. Trying his best to stop them is Angre(Ajay Devgan). This is all the story I can reveal without being guilty of "spoilers".

The biggest spoiler though, is Santoshi's penchant for the theatrical and the sanctimonious. He manages to keep the movie perfectly tuned, like a well oiled machine, till the interval. There are slick action sequences, funny scenes (mainly from Akshay Kumar), and a plot that is very absorbing, and a novel one. The movie was going along fine. If he had just stuck to what he had started, in terms of style, we would have had a classic on our hands. However Santoshi strives to introduce "twists" in the story. And these twists keep coming! Unfortunately, most of the twists, except for the main one, seem painfully contrived.

Then there are lectures. Like most of his movies, here too, Santoshi takes it upon himself to "educate" the Indian public. There are enough yawn-inducing and obvious lectures to make you feel like you are sitting in the World Social(ist) Forum in Mumbai. These lectures are responsible for two follies. One is that they take away the tautness of the plot that so far differentiated it from a regular masala movie. Second is that they waste Amitabh's talent, since most of them are simple pedestrian "iss desh ki janta ka desh ke corrupt politician...blabla.." type speeches. The speeches would seem OK from a Nana patekar, and it is the fact that we have heard tons of such speeches from Nana that makes Khakee yawnducing. Towards the end of the movie, one really starts looking at the watch every two minutes. Twist after twist is forced upon us, even as the mind screams "Abey khatam kar na Santoshi!!!". The story stumbles towards a close.

Now about performances. Amitabh is his reliable old self, doing full justice to the role of an ageing policeman. Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai, who are there as comic relief and eye-candy respectively, do their limited jobs. Tusshar Kapoor, playing an earnest young cop, is for the first time in a role that does not make me want to chop his head off. Maybe he is improving as an actor, or maybe I am getting over the fact that people like him will be lead actors in Bollywood and there's nothing I can do about it. Ajay Devgan turns in a decent performance, but like the plot, his role too was much more impressive pre-interval. For once, he does not portray the angre(sic) young man(sorry couldnt resist that one :P). Atul Kulkarni's performance, is without doubt the best in the movie and he shows that he is here to stay in Bollywood.

The last scene of the movie is good though. It is well conceptualised and well executed, and brings back memories of the pre-interval "Khakee", when Santoshi hadn't gone berserk. The last scene has all the qualities that the movie lost midway. Santoshi would do well to remember the "Keep it Simple Stupid" formula. I hope, just like I have been hoping for over ten years, that Santoshi's next movie will do better justice to his talent as a director. Maybe he should hire a good script-writer, who will resist twisted temptations.

So is Khakee watchable? My verdict is, yes, but just about. We have Santoshi to thank for its good points and Santoshi to blame for its bad points.