Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bang! Bang! Bing! [copious outpourings dedicated to Teesri Aankh: The Hidden Camera] {April 07/09, 2006}

Harry Baweja, the father of such feists as Trinetra (featuring the classic bye bye bye bye bye bye (mai.n tujhe chho.D ke)), love triangles featuring death, officially comatose people, doppelgängers with maaraa-maarii and/or hot-selling music (Dilwale, Imtihan, Diljale, Karz: The Burden of Truth) had shifted gears to making cheap Hollywood rip-offs with Qayamat: City Under Threat (The Rock) and Main Aisa Hi Hoon (I Am Sam). His latest flick is the unofficial sequel to Jo Bole So Nihaal titled Teesri Aankh: The Hidden Camera. After "Sardar in New York" we now get "Wiggy in London." This mess takes a leaf out of the book of boredom defined by Mohit Suri's Kalyug and riffs on the Pune landlord webcam scandal from early 2005. Fans of mainstream cinema and people familiar with Baweja's work can rest assured that he delivers a product that does little to nothing with its premise and merely serves as the cinematic equivalent of half-boiled daal. B-mongers, however, have much to rejoice about.

The film opens without any starring credits. We get the other essentials against a CGI montage of images that convey the use of web email clients (Yahoo! Mostly) to send salacious attachments to recipients with implausible email addresses like The opening sequence begins with an exterior shot labelled "control room." Where is this control room? Why should we care? These are unimportant questions. What we get next is a look at the events in this "control room." It's a meeting of cops and the agenda is the CM's rally on the 27th (the month and year are quite inconsequential, trust me). Sunil Shende appears in the thankless brief role of the head of the meeting (his rank is probably the equivalent of the Commissioner, but one isn't told more; besides, all this is inconsequential). Sitting next to him is Anjan Srivastava as Naik (Designation, once again, of a higher order but unknown; once again, no details necessary). In the audience we see several token extras dressed as cops, a plainclothes cop, Ayub Khan (who, as it turns out later, is Vikram from the foreign branch -- of the police, perhaps, or perhaps the Greengrocers Association of Great Nowhere; who cares, he's a cop, and a bad apple as it turns out, and that's all that matters), and finally -- how could we miss that bad misplaced wig? -- Sunny paaji in cool plainclothes. He is Arjun Singh, ACP as it turns out later, from the "Delhi cadre" (subtitled: caddell; WTF is caddell? Did they mean cadelle, a "small cosmopolitan black beetle destructive to stored grain"? Imagine that! A cosmopolitan black beetle). The camera pans cut between Shende delivering his dialogue and Sunny's reaction shots (deadpan). The CM's rally is a red hot herring, and realising this, Anjan Srivastava takes the liberty of drawing Shende's attention to a headline from some newspaper about parents in Pune who committed suicide on discovering a porn film featuring their daughter. Shende tries to restore the meeting's focus, but thundering responses from Sunny ensure a follow-up sequence dedicated to Sunny's thesis proposal. Added to the audience of higher-ups is Achyut Potdar, who plays yet another high-ranking official of unknown rank and origin. The gist: Sunny desires to put an end to the porn racket headed by an evil lech with the mythologically resonant name of Sudama Pande (itrans: sudaamaa paa.nDe) who operates from London. Just as Nihaal Singh inveigled his ticket to New York City in JBSH, Arjun Singh manages to get a ticket to London and also the complete cooperation of the British Government (to keep things simple, all scenes featuring the negotiation of red tape and diplomatic unpleasantness were deleted from the final edit). After this point, we never see Shende, Srivastava or Potdar ever again. Baweja ensures that we focus only on Sunny paajii and his exploits from here on.

Baweja now employs the familiar mix of flashback and desii tissue-friendly premises to introduce the character of Arjun Singh's fiancée Sapna (itrans: sapanaa) played by Nightmare Nymph Neha Dhupia. Dhupia wants to make something of her life before her marriage to Sunny paajii, the Protector of the Palluus. So she decides to go to London as part of this beauty gig called "Face of the Nation" (someone had extremely poor taste sending the likes of her there). She ends up being a victim of The Hidden Camera Gang led by Sudama Pande and ends up being knifed, chopped, diced and dumped into a trash bag. Enter Amisha "Jigglesh" Patel as the mute Amu, who witnesses the act of murder and is now on the bouncy run from the murderers. To round up the cast of unwanted faces, we have Aarti Chhabria playing Aarti (dang! No time for new names eh?) playing Amu's sister, who, unfortunately, has not lost the power of speech. We also have Ashish Choudhary (a person more qualified than the parts he had to play in flicks like Girlfriend and got some of his due in Shaadi ka Laddoo). Here Choudhary plays Rahul (no last name required), Aarti's beau and general PG-rated lech, a director trying to film a movie in Elstree Studios with actresses like Natalia who has never died on screen before. Natalia and a plump Indian face join Shende, Srivastava and Potdar in the Now-You-See-Them-Now-You-Won't List.

Mukesh Rishi as Sudama Pande is one of the few people relishing every moment of screen time they get. The other two are his henchmen Dinesh (Mukesh Tiwari) and Dinesh (Murali Sharma), who are also plotting a mutiny to take over his business. Mukesh Tiwari plays Dinesh Hasamukh with the kind of surreal brio that would make Buñuel proud. Murali Sharma lays out thick slices of ham in his reading of Dinesh Gambhir. Sudama Pande spends most of his screen time oiling the gears of his illicit business over a Bluetooth earpiece and being treated to skin displays by pole-hugging Caucasian lasses. You have to see the relish he pumps (no pun intended) into lines like Hey! Do something! Put some sex into it. He gets his own catchphrase too: Don't tell me the problem, tell me the solution, which brings to mind unpleasant memories of PHB and irate customers. Mukesh Tiwari decides to pay tribute to Ricochet Rabbit by randomly spouting the phrase "Bang! Bang! Bing!" All Murali Sharma gets to do is look serious and constipated in the sequence when he knifes Dhupia repeatedly. Norman Bates would be proud.

Which brings us to the stars of the film (aside from Sunny paajii). Amisha Patel's gazongas. They provide visual mirth, do their own stunts and threaten to overshadow Sunny paajii's action sequences (more below). And all that sign language is bunk. Howlarious bunk. Finally, Ms Patel realises that her true calling is better served by the moniker "Stuffed at Tufts." Faithful viewers are also rewarded with family-friendly gratuitous shots of Ms Patel in her bathtub advertising for an unknown bubble agent.

Song and Dance: In addition to hogging almost all the song and dance sequences, Dhupia tries to exercise her acting chops (for a similar form of physical exertion watch Bipasha Basu play the piano in Ajnabee -- you'll know what pumping weights in the gym looks like). Every song relies on traditional Bollywood non sequitur to make its appearance. With four music directors (the alliterative Sukh Shinder Shinda, Harry Aanand, Nitz and Sony) and four lyricists (Sameer, Karmjeet Kadhowala, Nitin Arora and Earl D'Souza), you would expect some variety. What you get instead of one peppy Punjabi patty after another. On display are metaphors like titaliyaa.N (butterflies), which, perhaps, are better expressions of youthful ardour than armadillos or cadelles. They even manage to rope in Asha Bhosle to sing sharaabiyo.n for Megha Chatterjee's sensuous moves (she gets rewarded by an end credit of "Megha Chetrjee") and Jazzy B to do an on-screen display of epileptic cool. As a consolation, there are no sad weepy songs.

Stellar subtitles: "Elstree Studios" gets subtitled once as "LCD Studios" and once as "L Street Studios," but never ever as Elstree Studios (despite the presence of a shot of the studio's banner).

Landmark sequences:

* Mukesh Tiwari doing a mix of Poirot, a bloodhound, a hippie on an LSD trip and someone who got the wrong textbook on dance and street theatre while in pursuit of the mute Amu.

* Sunny paajii in the jeep and attacking goons: Patel suspects that Sunny's not the real deal (cop-wise) and tries to jump out of his jeep, ending up decorating the front and windshield. Enter a gang of goons firing away like there's no end to bullets. Sunny paajii uses his sophisticated analytical skills and comes up with a solution: he punches through the windshield and pulls Patel into the jeep. A few more collisions later, the jeep is wrecked but all is well.

* Sunny versus the biker goons: Sunny grabs the front wheels of two attacking motorcycles and then gives them a whirl. Note that the riders are conspicuously absent in this wonderful sequence, thus robbing it of its impact.

* The whack-a-mole moment: Sunny enters a video store called TSK ENTERTAINMENT (what a name!). The guy behind the counter pops up with an "Excuse me?" only to be rewarded by the Patent-Pending Paajii Punch. The Punch gets some of its own screen time later in the film.

* When some goons grab Patel and get into a bus of their own, Sunny paajii uses the Long Stride Approach to give chase, eventually managing to get into the bus from the back, after which he proceeds to hurl people out through the windows.

It's when the end credits roll that you remember the controversy over Sunny Deol's role in the film. He gets top billing and is credited with a "guest appearance," even though by all existing standards of Billing And On-Screen Time employed in Bollywood, he is the star of the film. Baweja and Deol have had a fallout on this account, even though Ashish Choudhary's "special appearance" billing should seal the deal in Deol's favour. Dialogue writer Pathik Vats gets a starring credit, but I don't know what this form of life looks like.

Obligatory Sholay reference: Murali Sharma's bahut beinasaafii hai

The mystery of the title: Lord Shiva had nothing to do with this film. Perhaps the makers were wary of using the original title Shiva Ka Adhura Insaaf (after all Dharam paajii had appeared in Shiva Ka Insaaf, where he played Shiva, had very little screen time and let his name be used to get some market share). You never know. Like all the vanishing characters, missing last names, and uncomfortable wigs, this is a question that only Baweja can answer. Will he? Only the hidden camera can tell us.

postscript: Harry Baweja and all filmmakers of his ilk who decide to make movies on subjects like this should realise that the only way to add some measure of quality is to actually have some T n' A. "Nekkid" as Joe Bob Briggs would put it. You can't do the family-friendly porn thing and bore people out of their wits. You can't seriously expect us to believe that you want us to take these people up on their acting[sic] smarts[sic] or you on your ability[sic] to write [sic] and direct[sic] a film, can you?

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