Before I get to the movie itself, I want to try to figure out what Farah Khan and/or her marketing staff's game is about this film being a very blatant remake of After the Fox - which I just watched yesterday, and believe me, TMK is at least 60% the same as it unreels, in addition to the almost identical basic story. I haven't been paying attention to the kerfuffle, but from what I gather she originally denied that TMK was inspired by ATF but then later admitted it was a remake, and an official one at that. What a strange way to handle it: if you've got the rights to remake a film, then why not just say that that is what you're doing? Why not stop negative rumors right away and be proud you've done the right thing by going about it legally and ethically?
On to the film! There's a broad spectrum of performance and writing possibilities between "less is more" and "broad as the day is long," and while it is unfair to ask this movie to be something it neither is nor probably intended to be, I wish Farah had pulled TMK back from the latter a little more often. A few aspects of TMK felt very low to me - and not just "you don't have to think at all in order to get this" but actually clumsy or base, like TMK's endless catchphrases, conjoined twins, and the $&!@# gay stereotypes that defined five characters. In fact, even just turning the CBI officers* into actual people would have helped a lot, principally because they are central to the film's most wackadoodle scene, the escape on the airplane. On an upcoming episode of Masala Zindabad, Amrita will talk about the importance of the first 20 minutes of a film to one's overall impression of it, and I was almost lost as the airplane shenanigans went on and on and on. The blame for that falls on whoever was in charge of the extras, who were clownish well beyond what was required to contrast Akshay's cool, smooth criminal. And who was that plank of wood in high heels playing the airline authority's spoiled daughter? Terrible. Anyway. I like my movie tongue to be in cheek rather than waggling manically and blowing raspberries, which is why I like Main Hoon Na much more than Tees Maar Khan.
I do appreciate that Farah and crew did not do another film so dependent on movie references, as much as I like those. After the Fox is a very appropriate story to transplant into Bollywood, and the adaptation made sense and suited both story and context well. Trains are more interesting to rob on screen than a boat - they're much more intense and menacing - and I was pleasantly surprised that TMK's escapes established his physical criminal abilities (lock-picking and quick disappearance) instead of the "master of disguise" work that Peter Sellers's Fox specializes in. (Interesting that a masala-loving director like Farah would pass up the opportunity for a double role and tons more costumes, though, isn't it?) But on the other hand, I wish Shirish Kunder had left in all three of the female characters instead of condensing Fox's love interest and the wannabe starlet (his sister) into one. And why not make some of the prominent villagers or police female? Of all the people running around in this, only two are women, and there's no need for that shortage. Snarky self says that maybe it's to give Katrina less to be compared to?
The only real problem I had with the actual storyline of TMK was its odd lurches into schmaltz. It felt as though Shirish and Farah thought "Oh hang on, we haven't had any emotion-jerking children yet! Quick, let's toss some into that forest over there! And make them in effect orphans! Who are slave labor! For drugs!" The adult characters' responses to that situation made no sense either, with fathers too busy shouting to each other "My son is over there!" to remove their children from danger. TMK's soft heart for the villagers was sweet, and even the song celebrating it wasn't egregiously out of place, but the scene with the missing children had zero context either before or after its appearance. It would have been very easy to invent something else heroic and dil-squish-y for TMK to do that fit more easily, even something involving kids, like save one from a spotlight that almost crashes down on her or a truck going amok. But it felt shoehorned into the flow out of...well, I have no answer based on what else I saw in the film, so snarky self pipes up again to propose a lack of confidence in more subtle character development.
Overall, though, I enjoyed myself sufficiently, giggled a lot, cackled here and there, and was truly in love with the bright but coherent colors in the sets and costumes. (Speaking of sets, I want that poster Akshaye Khanna has of himself in his movie star-sleek house, not only because it's visually hilarious but also because I love how romantic leads in 90s and early 2000s films have giant photographs of themselves in their own homes and I want the set crew to know that I loved their joke. And Katrina's bedroom! GORGEOUS. I already have a red living room but that wallpaper and paint combo was to die for! The Khan kitchen was also really cool, filled with happy colors and little framed prints.) As with Housefull and Action Replayy, Akshay Kumar was generally much, much better than a lot of what was going on around him. Though I don't count myself a particular fan of his, he was entertaining to watch and had oodles of fun and sparkle. Maybe this was good timing - I was soooo in the mood for fun and sparkle after a month dominated by viewing choices like Udaan, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, Siddhartha, and Love Sex aur Dhokha. He's got an engaging vitality that this film made good use of - I kept thinking of both his character and his performance as the engine on the train, staying on track and keeping up the speed. However, I remain unconvinced that Katrina Kaif can act or dance. I was hoping her brain-dead wannabe starlet was going to be a parody like Lina Lamont, but I honestly think that the cardboard delivery and flapping about are mostly her.
No one will be surprised to hear that I laughed like a loon at much of Akshaye Khanna's performance, ridiculous as it was. Even in Priyadarshan films I haven't seen him go overboard like he did here, and for a fan like me it was a fun experiment. He tempered the jaw-clenching nicely with a few puzzled, the-lightbulb-is-almost-on looks as his manager kept insisting something was fishy. And the very idea of Akshaye as that kind of superstar is a hoot in itself. That said, even effectively channeling dacoit-era Hot Papa Khanna with the angry shouting, sash, and black tilak, I think he'll do better long-term in more nuanced secondary roles like Aaja Nachle and Luck by Chance. I'm just glad I got to see him on the big screen without having to resort to Shortkut or No Problem.
And while that's not a major point to end on, that's okay, because I don't have any major points to make about Tees Maar Khan. I didn't hate it, I didn't adore it, it made me laugh, it had lots of pretty colors, and nobody in my local cinema laughed at the "joke" about raping prostitutes. That's good enough on a snowy Saturday afternoon.
* Irrelevant question: does anyone else take an instant dislike to Aman Verma? He always seems so weasley to me. On the other hand, I love Murli Sharma - he's probably my current top "that guy"!