Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Borrowers: Road, Movie and Action Replayy

The travelling cinema in Road, MovieDev Benegal's Road, Movie (2009) holds out the promise of being a cross between Y Tu Mama Tambien and Cinema Paradiso. Like the former, it features a young man (Vishnu, played by Abhay Deol) on a road trip/rite of passage during which he picks up a beautiful woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) with whom he becomes involved. Like the latter, it invokes cinematic nostalgia: the ancient truck that Vishnu and his fellow travellers are nursing across the desert is a travelling cinema, with a trove of old movies in back.

Unfortunately Road, Movie doesn't resemble either of its models closely enough. Instead we watch Vishnu and his passengers—Mohammed Faisal as a footpath boy, Chatterjee as a gypsy woman, and veteran Satish Kaushik, who steals the movie from affectless Abhay—rolling across endless vistas of flat, featureless desert in search of a village festival at which to show their movies. The (existential) joke—mild spoiler alert—is that the the festival only materializes once they stop looking.

—End of spoiler—

Another joke, or at least I hope so: they quickly run out of water, but are able to drive for day after day without having to replenish their fuel. Ah, the magic of the movies!

Road, Movie is supposedly based on writer/director Benegal's experiences with a travelling cinema in Rajasthan. And there is a great moment when we watch a group of villagers gazing raptly at a scene from the classic Deewar (1975). But either Benegal had trouble getting rights, or perhaps he realized that showing scenes from classic films might invite unwelcome comparisons to his own effort. In any case, there are only two instances where a film-within-the-film is shown. And the second one, where a silent film comedy is shown to a group of impoverished Rajasthanis, is a scene straight out of the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels (1941)—another road movie, come to think of it. Add in the improbable encounters with Chatterjee and with a too-easily-mollified band of dacoits, and Road, Movie satisfies neither as slice-of-life realism nor as an homage to past film classics.

Aishwarya Rai in Action ReplayySpeaking of movies that borrow from other movies, Action Replayy (2010)—a thinly disguised Hindi remake of Back to the Future (1985)—also disappoints. Bunty (played by Aditya Roy Kapoor and his hair) takes a trip in the time machine of My-Name-Is-Anthony-Gonsalves (Randhir Kapoor) back to the 1970s; he wants to make his parents (Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai) fall in love and stop their bickering in the present. Don't think about that chronology too hard—wouldn't that make college-boy Bunty well over 30 in the present day? And wouldn't it have been easier (and avoided a few time-travel paradoxes) just to have convinced his parents to go to couples counseling?

Anyway, the only justification for a plot this lame is to provide an excuse for some fabulous 70s fashions and music, plus some comic future-meets-past scenes. Most of these opportunities are missed, with the biggest disappointment being Pritam's distinctly uninspired musical efforts. Perhaps the anti-plagiarism indemnity director Vipul Shah allegedly made Pritam sign inhibited him; if there was ever a soundtrack that could have used some borrowing, it's this one. The Holi song "Chhan Ke Mohalla" the only number that's at all memorable. Which is not to say that it musically attempts to evoke the period, because it (like most of the rest of the soundtrack) doesn't:

Aish is the one bright spot in the movie, but the focus is unfortunately on Akshay. I won't even mention the story's regressive sexual politics, because there are too many reasons already to skip this one.


  1. I didn't think that Action Replayy was thaat bad, but most people didn't like it. Okay, you need to turn your brains off to enjoy it...

  2. Lime(tte), I'm glad that you liked Action Replayy. There are definitely enjoyable songs, scenes, and performances (Aish is an underrated comic actress). And I certainly don't think that mine is the first, last and final word on the movie.

    I confess that I'm not a big fan of brainless entertainment, but I don't object to it when it's actually entertaining. For me, Action Replayy wasn't nearly funny enough, and it didn't take full advantage of the comic (or musical) possibilities of its 1970s setting.

    Thanks for your comment!