Film review by: Witney Seibold



I love the philosophy behind Bollywood filmmaking: if you’re making movies for a poor populous for whom filmgoing is an extravagance, you’d better give them their money’s worth. Hence, most Bollywood films are at least three hours long (but can be as long as five), contain epic battles, huge melodramatic conceits, emotions pitched to the heavens, and probably several extended song and dance numbers. Nothing happens small or subtle in a Bollywood film, and the poverty-stricken audiences leave the theater after a five-hour experience (plus intermission), sated.


            Hence, “Race,” a Bollywood film that, had it been made in America would have been a 90-minute trifle, is extended into a three-hour epic of crime, assassinations, double-crossings, and a lot of noisy car races. There was even an intermission. And even though it’s overblown, even by American standards, it’s still deliriously fantastic in its own way. It’s rare that this kind of film makes it overseas, so it’s grand when it does.


            The story: Ranvir (Saif Ali Khan, huge Bollywood star) is a rich horserace owner who also occasionally does dangerous car stunts (he’s seen at the beginning bungee jumping off a hot air balloon into a moving car, just so he can slam on the brakes before it plummets off of a cliff). His step-brother is Rajiv (Akshaye Khanna), an alcoholic who looks like a mash between Hank Azaria, Bill Pullman, and Bruce Campbell. Ranvir is dating a model named Sonia (real-life Indian model Bipasha Basu), but is secretly loved by his highly efficient, yet slightly more mousy secretary Sophia (Katrina Kaif).


            Ranvir is a savvy businessman, and is easily able to double-cross his rivals (including a mustache-sporting Snidely Whiplash type). Rajiv enjoys that kind of movie alcoholism that involves a lot of stumbling, but without any of the painful dependency that comes with real alcoholism. When Rajiv spots Sonia for the first time, he claims to go straight if only he can date her. Ranvir humbly transfers her to his step-brother, and they all sing and dance in happiness and sobriety.


            Ah, but, TWIST! It turns out that Sonia (occasionally spelled “Soniya” in the subtitles) is really a runaway who has been a prostitute and a murderess in the past. Rajiv has been doing some research on her, you see. Rather than merely throwing her out, he enlists her in an elaborate plot to kill Ranvir and collect the insurance. There’s a lot of lying and scheming. An assassin gets involved. The secretary announces her true feelings. Briberies, extortions, the usual stuff ensue.


            Then there’s another twist. Then another. Then there’s an intermission.



            Then we’re introduced to a skuzzy cop named RD (Anil Kapoor) and his ditzy assistant Mini (Sameera Reddy). RD is strangely obsessed with fresh fruit. He manages to uncover or be involved in at least three more major plot twists before the film’s finale in which there is a high-speed car chase down a mountain with one car with no brakes, and another with a bomb onboard.


            I dare not reveal too many of the twists. They should e experienced fresh. Oh, and did I mention that there are about 6 song and dance numbers to feature a lot of bump-and-grind undulating and bikinis? Well if I didn’t, I should have.


            Oh, the delirious action heights “Race” reaches. The director Abbas-Mustan (which is the Bollywood directing team of Abbas Alibhai Burmawalla and Mustan Alibhai Burmawalla) almost seem like they’re making a parody of an American action thriller, when you realize that they are, instead, taking a typical American action thriller, and merely carrying it to a further extreme. Why stop at too much? Why not have a three-hours movie where the pot never stops, models writhe in revealing outfits, cars blow up, and double-crosses come as often as jump cuts? Why not have characters switch motivations, for the sake of a twist? Why not have twist after twist that make no sense whatsoever? “Race” sees no reason why not.


            The film takes place in South Africa, which seems to be the Bollywood version of Miami. Many of the subtitles are poorly-translated. We get lines of dialogue like “Your intoxication is intoxicating.” One character remarked that $100,000,000 was “a bog amount of money” [sic]. Since it’s Indian, much of the dialogue is in English, but it’s still subtitled, and, strangely, with different dialogue (“”I’ll see you there” is subtitled as “Let’s go”). Some silent portions have subtitles anyway. There were misogynistic jokes about lack of sex making one stupid. Cars flip in the air with the slightest tap. There’s a lot of provocative shirtless writhing in the dance numbers, but not a single on-screen kiss, much less a real sex scene. There are explosions and fights, but not a single drop of on-screen blood. It’s like a 13-year-old’s version of the best action movie ever.


            And in a weird way, that 13-year-old got a lot right.


Rock on.



Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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