Helen knows I've watched some bad movies for the younger of Vinod's actor sons, and now it's Rahul's turn to tempt me down an eye-roll-inducing path of silliness. (But hey, at least it was free.)
It was bound to happen. I'd seen five of his films and all were either very good (Earth, Wake Up Sid, Love Aaj Kal) or they were fine and he was good in them (Bollywood/Hollywood, Dil Kabaddi). Elaan might be good, or at least not bad, if you like guns, quips, clumsy lurches in tone, and not-always-shirted John Abraham and Arjum Rampal emoting.
I do not.
When I wasn't giggling at how bad it was, I was mostly bored by Elaan through the first third or so, at which point my friend Samrat pointed out that it was an oddly 90s take on Sholay. I can't offer an informed opinion on its 90s-ness (though that is how it struck my 90s-ignorant senses too), but once he raised the issue of Sholay, that was almost all I could see. Plus a few dollops of Qurbani, The Brady Bunch, and a zombie. Meet your Gabbar Singh, Baba Sikandar (Mithun looking reeeeeeally rough), a master extortionist so evil that "he's the smartest of all in the world."
That's one bad-ass doily.
Baba's M.O. is to ransom huge sums out of India's business elite. Um. Okay. That's not very moving, is it? Rahul Khanna as Karan Shah is the Thakur, sort of, in that he's the one calling for justice for the villain's victims (differently defined here in 2005's jet-setting business world). After Baba kills his tycoon father,
Kya symbolism hai!
Karan goes to the police like a good boy, but they prove incompetent and unwilling to do the work it would take to catch this international mastermind, so Karan assembles his own team to go after Baba and bring him to trial. Note that: trial. Karan is very much about the rules at the big level, but as the movie unfolds we find out just how little he cares about other "right ideas" like murder in broad daylight in other countries (Italy, Germany, and France, if I followed the plot correctly). Unfortunately, Karan is too bland to inspire much interest in his mission, which is the basic frame for the plot. Even after a rattling NAHIIIIIIIIN as Karan clutches his assassinated father in his arms, he's generally written to be blah and unimportant.
Karan has a bit of a standard masala back story that could be interesting, but for whatever reason the writers (director Vikram and Robin Bhatt) chose not to do much with it until a super-convenient, shiny bow at the end. It adds little to his personality or motivations. Then again, Karan doesn't really do very much, so maybe that's okay. If watching Rahul be a sweet, confused softy who somehow gets other people to do his dirty work for him and then watches the action wide-eyed were enough to carry a film, this would be one heck of a movie.
But it isn't, even for me, especially when Veeru and Jai are played by John Abraham (Abhimanyu) and Arjun Rampal (Arjun). Ugh. Blank and Wooden, the two 30-something actors I try hardest to avoid. When I realized they were both in this, it was like Point Break all over again. Abhimanyu and Arjun are given much more compelling arcs than Karan and provide the emotional connection to the plot that Karan cannot: Abhimanyu, a top-notch assassin, used to be in Baba's crew but was betrayed and is rotting in jail, and Arjun was a super-cop who cracked under extreme emotional trauma and went bad, ruining his previously sterling career. The viewer can get why these on-the-edge guys are willing to take on the world's most devious criminal, and the film could have left out Karan entirely and just let Arjun and Abhimanyu be inspired by do-gooder patriotism (okay, and a splash of personal vengeance) and go after Baba after seeing a news story of his latest atrocity. I think I would have liked that better - Karan is such a blank that there's really no good reason for him to be in the story at all. It wouldn't have been as Sholay-ish, I suppose, but given how little like the original fiery, shattered Thakur Karan is, true Sholay-ness doens't really seem to be a concern anyway.
Much to my surprise, the women who round out the cast even get to be a direct part of the film's tagline of "five unlikely heroes."
Amisha Patel is nosy reporter Priya, whose professional inclinations give her good enough reason to be as chatty as Basanti. Lara Dutta is Sonia, a not-mute, not-widowed dancer/moll.
Love how the guy on Lara's left is so committed to his dance that he's going on despite his laurel leaves falling over his eyes.
I must grudgingly award points for finding two female characters who contribute to the story beyond looking cute (Priya) and sexy (Lara) and representing domesticity (both). But then I'm going to take a few away for shoe-horning Priya into the plot once the action leaves India; her presence in most of the story makes no sense beyond "we need another potential love interest."
Like Sholay, the drive for justice for Karan is punctuated with comedy and songs; unlike Sholay, these feel very out of place and do not add any emotional interest to the flat story of a chase across western Europe to corner Baba in a country that has extradition agreements with India so he can face the law at home. Extradition? Where's the heart in that, yaar? It might be tidy logically, but a lot of the rest of the film isn't - where did a reporter, a dancer, and an MBA learn to use guns so well, for example? - so what's the point?
Hmmm. Too cool and calculating.
Furthermore, one of the three threads tied up by the ending feels uterly tacked-on, an egregious change-of-heart romance for the sake of tidiness rather than any connection between the characters. Blurgh.
Probably the less said by this unappreciative viewer, the better, but some of the songs (by Anu Malik, maybe lending to the 90s-ness)...are so...GAH...that I must comment. The opening song under the titles (taped off of tv here) is probably supposed to be Bond-like, full of silhouetted dancing girls and electric guitar (which when shown is not always plugged in, teehee).
Fine, whatever. Granted it must be hard to be the woman in the film who isn't a former Miss Universe, but did they have to give Amisha such a pathetic song? Having her imagine someone is in love with her is an okay idea (very well done in Sharmilee, for example), but this version just makes me feel bad for her - she's a reporter, after all, so why such a loose grasp on the truth ?
A nice nod to Mary Poppins and clever way to work the standard song teleport, though:
Lara's songs seem standard-issue sex bomb, though admittedly with some great costumes for her male backup dancers in the first one. Mirrored cuffs and pectorals/shirtlets! Toga tops! Sparkly green body paint!
The Lara/John love song is kind of sleazy without any sizzle.
The worst offender of the bunch is "Anderlu Menderlu," a spontaneous number by the other four members of the gang to lift the spirits of a moping Karan. About to launch a major attack, they're holed up in some snow-bound chalet, but wouldn't you know it, it's time for a song! My sensitivities for what is and isn't an appropriate time for a song have become very generous and forgiving, but every now and then a Hindi film manages to make me go "Really? A song?" In this case, I even thought "Really? This song?" The characters go from being vigilante killers to Mouseketeers.
Mousketeers who thrust at each other (around 1:00).
Does the cast of Elaan seem like an odd mix of people to anyone else?
As I watched, I kept thinking "one of these things is not like the other," but who that one was shifted around depending on the scene. Sometimes it was a character who seemed out of place - often Amisha's reporter, whose likeliehood of being part of this story to the extent she was was so slim - and and sometimes it was an actor. I've only seen a handful of each of the stars' films, so I might not be qualified to judge how these particular roles fit with their overall bodies of work, but I never felt this ensemble cohered. Even disregarding their deliberately light moments, I just didn't buy them as a team that could actually carry off the huge and dangerous task they set for themselves.
Costume crew, why are we tying our jackets around our waists? Are we in high school in 1990?
With the promise of little logical, emotional, or performance cohesion, Elaan does not have much to offer if you don't like shoot-outs. If you do, then maybe this is worth sitting through, especially if you have funny friends on hand to snark with. Pay particular attention to how long it takes one of the characters to die (and how much they are able to accomplish) despite at least a dozen bullets in their torso. How very, very long.
From the grab bag.... For no explained reason, John's head is dressed like Uday Chopra's in Dhoom; how nice of the costume designer to make his girlfriend's headwear coordinate.
Elaan has given me a new entry into my list of hilarious subtitles, a menacing (?) threat (?) from Baba to Karan:
"Return to India with your male and female monkeys." Why not just "monkeys," I wonder?
Here's another good one from Abhimanyu:
"Am I expected to turn effeminate and watch the fun?" Don't worry, John - that's not until a few years later in a much better film.
And this is the only Indian film I've seen to involve ice hockey!
In Munich, even! Later on in Munich, Arjun hides behind a French-language newspaper to eavesdrop on a conversation. Certainly no one would be likely to notice an Indian man reading a French newspaper in a German-speaking city. How sneaky!