Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty

As I mentioned in last night's Kenji Mizoguchi post, I probably would have been better off heading to the Harvard Film Archive for The Life of Oharu, but I figured it had been a while since I last watched some Bollywood, and... yikes.

It's kind of shocking just how misguided this movie seems to be. I came home from it to watch the latest episode of 24 and found myself pondering that Jack Bauer would have found Virat Bakshi a little too vicious where terrorism is concerned. After all, Jack cuts through terrorists like a chainsaw with little regard for civil/human rights, but he's generally not stupid about it. I think that might actually bug me more than the nastiness I note in the review - I can sort of get into that sort of level of violence in a movie if it seems to be making sense, but Holiday has Virat smashing his way through things without actually being clever or right for any reason beyond chance.

But, apparently this is a well-reviewed hit as Bollywood movies go. Go figure.

Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2014 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

I like to think I'm pretty generous to movies that aren't very good, trying to be encouraging of what they do well and not allowing a bad two hours of make-believe to bring about real anger. I think I've gotten to the point where I can appreciate Bollywood's unique rhythms, heightened presentation, and two-for-the-price-of-one structure, too. Taking that into account, then, I don't think I'm being mean-spirited or ignorant, and I certainly hope I'm not being any sort of snob, when I say that I spent much of Holiday's 161-minute running time wondering just what the heck everyone involved was thinking.

As the movie starts, a train full of soldiers taking their annual leave from the border is broken down and late, but it eventually arrives, reuniting Captain Virat Bakshi (Akshay Kumar) with his family. Just in time, too, because there isn't much left of the auspicious hour to meet the match his family has made for him, the lovely Saiba Thapar (Sonakshi Sinha). He declines the match, at least until he sees her in a different context while he's hanging out with his policeman friend Munkun (Sumeet Raghvan), and by the time their paths cross a third time there's clearly enough of a sort of antagonistic flirting going on that HOLY SHIT SOMEONE JUST BLEW UP A BUS FULL OF SCHOOLCHILDREN!!

It's not unusual for a Bollywood movie to have some pretty severe tonal shifts to it - that's part of the unique experience of going to these productions - but that one is pretty hard to beat. Well, at least until later in the movie, when writer/director A.R. Murugadoss interrupts Virat preparing to torture someone for information with a bit of door-slamming farce and a musical number. The see-sawing between a grim ends-justify-the-means counterterrorism plot and wacky romantic comedy, complete with goofy sound effects to go with double-takes, is so dizzying that the only way it makes any sort of sense is as satire. Maybe it reads that way to someone more familiar with Indian pop culture and politics than me, but I did not catch any sense of deliberate absurdity to it. If it's satire, it's the troublesome type that is all but indistinguishable from the worst of what is being mocked.

Full review at EFC

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