Whatever one may say about her brand of cinema, there is one thing for certain: Farah Khan knows her Bollywood. She has proved, twice over, that she is the only filmmaker who can take Bollywood conventions of yore and sell them to a modern audience. She does so by unsubtly, but gently poking fun at the little quirks and details while remaining steadfastly faithful to the broader framework. Her films, for all their fun and humour, have usually a strong emotional core which Indian audiences readily take to. Her films look gorgeous and usually have tremendous entertainment value. Hers is the kind of cinema that would make Manmohan Desai and Mukul Anand proud.
However, it is hard to imagine a Farah Khan film without Shah Rukh. It’s not just the familiarity. There is a certain comfort they had, a unity of vision, which showed in her previous films. I think that is one of the prime reasons why a lot of people have been sceptical about Tees Maar Khan, despite the otherwise appealing promos. A lot is riding on it, and it’s not just the money. It is a challenge for Farah Khan not only in terms of maintaining the same entertainment value as her previous outings but also on establishing a reputation independent of Shah Rukh Khan. It is also a litmus test of sorts for Akshay Kumar who has consistently delivered increasingly bad films such that even his better ones (Action Replayy) got a cold shoulder from the audience. So, TMK carries with it the reputations of some serious heavyweights and needs to satisfy an increasingly unforgiving (and worse, indifferent) audience. The question is: does it deliver?
Tabrez Mirza Khan a.k.a. Tees Maar Khan (Akshay Kumar) is one of India’s most notorious con-artists. He steals from the rich, but does not share with the poor. In his own words, trying to catching him is like trying to save a whore’s dignity. It’s kind of pointless. Like Abhimanyu in Mahabharata, he learned his art from the womb thanks to his mother (Apara Mehta) who feasted on 70s Hindi crime movies. He is dating a half-brained wannabe actress Anya (Katrina Kaif). Now, he must pull off a seemingly impossible task: stealing fabulous treasures worth Rs. 500 crores but weighing 10,000 kgs loaded on a train on its way to Delhi to be deposited in the State Treasury for two international twin smugglers (Raghu, Rajiv). But nothing is impossible for Tees Maar Khan.
The first half of the film is tremendously good. The opening credits may offend a few but the depiction of how TMK learns his skills in the womb is original, inventive and laugh out loud funny. There are some brilliant lines and even better comic sketches which are put together into a silly but rib-tickling narrative. The jokes work throughout. Sheila Ki Jawaani sizzles, and how! The song is electric and the video by itself makes me want to recommend the film. It beautifully pays homage to one of the most iconic item numbers of all time (“Jumma Chumma De De” from Hum). Salman Khan’s cameo, while obviously gimmicky and forced, is entertaining enough to make you forget everything else. The production is fabulous. The composition of each scene in terms of costumes, art work and cinematography is a visual feast. The first hour has Farah Khan stamped all over it.
However, in the post-interval portions, things start to stagnate. Jokes fall flat. The proceedings get too dull and meandering. Thankfully, the penultimate portions featuring the heist itself are quite funny and lift the film a bit. However, the climax (which is more like an extended epilogue) is just painful to watch. Ideally, the film should have ended right after the heist. But the writers stretch an already dubious premise too far; to the point where it stops being funny. The end credits (a hallmark of Farah Khan films) lack the celebratory spirit which her first two films had. The culprit here is the team of writers (led by her husband, Shirish Kunder). It’s in moments like these that you wonder: where is Abbas Tyrewala when you need him? Only he, and maybe Farah Khan herself, can make such absurdities work. In the hands of Kunder and his team, it is a massacre that manages to destroy the what little impact the film had till that point.
In terms of performance, Akshay Kumar does the best he can to make the material funny; and he succeeds, at several points. He is a better choice over SRK for such a role and brings tremendous energy to his character. Katrina Kaif looks supremely sexy and looks perfectly natural playing a bimbo. I wonder why that is. Wait, not really. Akshaye Khanna has sub-standard material to work with but still manages to pull in a few laughs. Apara Mehta is hilarious in portions. The legion of supporting actors is sporadically funny, often dull and occasionally irritating.
Ultimately, I strongly suspect that TMK suffers from that “My Hubbie Strongest” Syndrome. Sometimes, it is not a good idea to mix family and work. Kunder is a good editor. However, he has a lot to learn in the writing department. While it is not a complete failure, TMK remains several notches below Farah Khan’s previous works. The emotional resonance is non-existent and the humour is nowhere near good enough to compensate for that. It is a half entertaining, half annoying and a wholly absurd enterprise. Houston, we have a problem.
P.S.: There is one splendid reason to watch the film though: the trailer of Saat Khoon Maaf. It is an audacious project even for Vishal Bharadwaj and may just be the crowning glory of Priyanka Chopra. A haunting and powerful trailer, it makes you wish you were watching that film instead of this one.