Directed by: Puri Jagannadh
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Sonu Sood, Sonal Chauhan and Raveena Tandon
All images courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com
Picture the scene: one of the biggest weekends for Hindi cinema as the second half of the year kicks off, one would hope, nay, expect the Bollywood obsessive to be down the multiplex at the first day, first show, having sketched out a plan on how to see multiple releases before the rest of the world does. My plan was to go to the Delhi Belly world premiere on a Thursday night and then catch Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap (BHTB) on the following Friday morning. However, family commitments struck and instead of the red carpet, it was the dancefloor of a sangeet night on Thursday night and then the actual wedding on a Saturday meaning three whole days passed without seeing two major new releases. Reader, you will appreciate how traumatic this was for me and like an adulterer who regrets his affair immediately, I pined for film as I sat watching a big fat Punjabi wedding take place.
Still, Monday morning inevitably reared its ugly head and with the speed of an Olympic sprinter, I was down at the cinema and decided to watch BHTB first and Delhi Belly after. The experience was pretty much like going on first class on a plane with no crowds or running up escalators to get to the screen to nab the best seat – instead, I breezed through the box office to one of the larger screens on the first floor and then the cinema hall only had two other people seated to see this film – an old man who shouted at the screen and clapped loudly and another man who spoke on his phone (which led to both myself and shouty old man telling him off and saying to take his phone calls outside which he did. We scared him so much that he got up to leave at the interval and did not return.) So, settling back, it was time to catch up with what I had missed on the weekend.
BHTB is the story of Vijju (Bachchan), a small time gangster who is hired to kill ACP Karan (Sood), a policeman who is closing in on a gang lord responsible for bomb blasts in Mumbai. Though mature in age, Vijju is young at heart and is quick to deal with anyone who calls him a buddah (old man). As the story develops, we learn all is not what it seems with Vijju and he is certainly not the man the audience are lead to believe he is…
I have to be honest, to start with I wasn’t too keen on BHTB. Though I hadn’t seen any of the trailers or really listened to the songs (call myself a Hindi film obsessive?PAH!) I certainly had an expectation of what the film was going to be like and was a tad disappointed it hadn’t met that expectation. However, I did start to warm to the film towards the end of the first half and by the second half, had accepted and bought into the crazy vibe the film was tapping and was certainly entertained by it. I was initially confused at the liquid like nature of the story which seemed to be flowing fast without any clear direction and how/why certain things were not explained or why there was an almost unhinged quality to the film but eventually it dawned on me that this was by design rather accident – BHTB has its tongue firmly in its cheek and is actually quite clever in that it emulates cinema from the 90’s in a knowing manner but presents it in such a way that the modern audience or at least those with a knowledge of that time will understand what is happening – for everyone else, it is all about the entertainment factor. So we have crazy action sequences, witty dialogues, songs that are pure kitsch and seem to go on forever and of course, Mr Amitabh Bachchan delivering lines and executing scenes with a panache that is unmatched (more on that later).
Technically, the film is fantastic, with some interesting montages and a waist height point of view shot thrown in for good measure. The action is very exaggerated but then this is in keeping with the tone of the film and anyone who takes it seriously deserves to be left confused. Perhaps this is BHTB achilles heel – if the viewer refuses to buy into the suspension of disbelief with this film, then they won’t enjoy it. Whilst this idea of buying into a film’s ideology is crucial for any film to be well perceived, it is doubly important with BHTB as this is a facet of cinema that was pretty much created by Amitabh Bachchan and only he can pull it off. Quite simply, if you don’t like him, then you certainly won’t like the film. Even further, if you are a fan but don’t like this particular guise, then BHTB won’t deliver on those expectations one may have had (as was the case with me). Styling wise, Amitabh’s wardrobe is deliberately quite eclectic, with neons, prints and neutrals all meshed together for a funky effect. I did like his piped blue blazer worn when he first meets Kamini and I also liked the cravats and scarves worn as neck ties. I also liked the tweed safari style suit worn at the climax which Amitabh wears with aplomb. The rest of the costumes are very wearable but there are no outfits that really stand out and this prudent decision to not overstyle everyone except Amitabh works well in the film’s favour.
In terms of performances, I’ll come to the main man in a moment but as for the rest of the cast, Sonu Sood does a very good job as the police inspector, playing the role straight and with apparent ease. It is also the polar opposite to his role in Dabaang which he was rather good in. Sood definitely has leading man potential and it is just a matter of selecting the right roles and continuing to perform that will see him get leading roles in his own right. Hema Malini has little to do except at the end where she was a given a little scope in an emotional scene. Otherwise, this is a one man show and Hema knows it so we can forgive her for phoning it in. Raveena Tandon picks up exactly where she left off and is pure 90’s in her performance which works well in this film but whether she will be able to adapt to the current modus operandi remains to be seen. The rest of the supporting cast do a good job and do everything asked of them but for me, no one stood out above the rest.
And now to Mr Bachchan, who from the moment he comes on screen, elevates BHTB to a different level and carries the show on his shoulders as easily as one of his double breasted blazers. That Amitabh is a versatile actor is beyond doubt and his effort in each every scene is noted. What I really like is how he enters into the spirit of the character so readily that you forget that you are watching Amitabh Bachchan. Yes, this film is not like the amazing Paa but nor is it meant to be – in fact, one could say BHTB is like Paa in that it relies on a central performance to drive the film and could only have been done by Amitabh Bachchan but at the same time, it is exploring a different facet of his persona and not only pays tribute to it but revives it in a timely fashion – as we see characters of dubious morality become heroes on screen more often (referring to Dabaang here again amongst others), there is a dark side to Vijju which Mr Bachchan calmly references throughout the film and delivers the part with so much conviction that like characters, the audience are immediately drawn to him and side with him so that even if we laugh at Vijju sometimes, we also laugh with him in equal measure. Quite simply, Amitabh Bachchan goes back in time but without losing any integrity or performance value and that in itself is very impressive and is the force that propels the film forward.
One thing that struck me whilst watching BHTB is the quiet way in which the film serves as a reminder of how some actors get better with age and the ageism and obsession with youth in films in general has probably deprived the viewer of many fantastic films. Quite simply, there is no other actor who could have done this film and carried with it off with such strength and ease. Once again, even though it may not seem obvious, Amitabh Bachchan pushes the boundaries of Hindi cinema showing that not only is there scope for mature actors in the industry but also a need for it too – a film like this may encourage those not familiar with the back catalogue of AB’s films to go and watch them which is no bad thing (even if only to prove how films have developed over the years). I am actually quite curious to see BHTB again as I think this is one film that will really benefit from repeat viewings and get better with it too. There are so many little in-jokes and references contained in a short space of time that it can be a little too much to take in just one viewing. For fans of Amitabh Bachchan, there is no question that is a must watch film – if you are not a fan and cannot tolerate AB on screen, then this is one to avoid. But anyone who is thinking of calling him a buddah? Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap!