Sunday, 26 October 2014

Happy New Year (2014) - Movie Review

As much as I like to pretend that I know what I’m talking about, I really don’t for all intents and purposes; I just like talking about movies. It is with today’s film that my lack of experience shows as I go into a Bollywood movie. Not to say that I’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before, but then again, I might as well have because I only have two under my belt so far: Kick from earlier this year, which was good, and I vaguely remember watching Dhoom when I was younger. Aside from that, I know very little about the norms of Bollywood movies and I will without a doubt get thrown off by some things. However, I did start this blog partially as a learning experience for myself, so I guess I’ll just have to learn as I go.

The plot, put simply, is a high speed collision between two separate genres. It has a heist film setup: Our main character Charlie wants to get revenge on the main villain Charan Grover for getting his father arrested. He plans on stealing diamonds from his vault, which Charlie and his father helped build, and framing Grover for it. However, his plan requires that he enters the World Dance Championship in order to get to a specific room needed for the heist. So, with the help of his motley crew of friends and colleagues, he has to compete in the championship AND carry out the heist, all without getting caught.

If that plot sounds like it isn’t cohesive, that’s because it largely isn’t. The ‘heist film’ and ‘dance film’ plots keep butting heads with each other and it seriously feels like too much disparate crap is happening to get properly invested. Not to say that both sides don’t work in a vacuum: Both plots, separately, are engaging and have satisfying payoffs, and for a dance movie to have a good payoff is a difficult feat. It’s just that I really think they could have been meshed together with a bit more precision. Then again, given how we’re essentially dealing with Ocean’s Eleven meets Step Up, the end product could’ve ended up more muddled than it did.

Since it’s a Bollywood movie, I might as well discuss the music quickly. It’s… okay. I mean, it has a bit too much auto-tune in some songs for me to really get into them, but on a whole it’s alright: It’s loud, it’s festive, it’s cheesy at some points and it’s even properly uplifting at others. Some of the songs are really catchy like Satakli, which I still have stuck in my head as I write this, while others just kinda go in one ear and out the other. It’s a mixed bag with nothing quite as earwormy as Yaar Naa Miley from Kick, which I still hum to myself months after first seeing it, but none of it is all that bad either. It’s just… okay.

The comedy is very spoof movie, in that it pokes fun at pretty much every movie trope it feels like. Now, given the plague on modern cinema that is the modern spoof movie (Thanks, Seltzerberg!), this might come across as a bad thing, but unlike most modern spoofs, this actually knows what it’s doing: Even within its framework of a heist/dance film, it has moments where it pokes fun at action movies, underdog stories, even other Bollywood movies. One of my favourite moments is when Mohini, the dance teacher for the group, gives them a motivational speech before they compete that is so generic that she accidently tells them to “go out there and play” instead of dance as if she was a football coach. How is it that an Indian film is better at making fun of Hollywood than Hollywood itself is most of the time?

That’s not to say that all of the comedy worked for me, and this goes back to my inexperience with Bollywood cinema: Some of the jokes are references to specific Bollywood movies that completely flew over my head, like how one of Charlie’s colleagues was hired because he looks exactly like Grover’s son, which they lampshade by directly naming the film that that plot point was referencing. Most of the comedy, though, is decent slapstick and character interaction, which always works for me.

The ending, without giving away too many spoilers, is definitely one of the highlights: The dance movie plot resolves in true underdog fashion that gives a good message about being proud of one's Indian heritage, and the heist movie plot resolves with Charlie finally confronting Grover face-to-face with one of the coldest and most bad-ass gestures I’ve seen in a movie this year. I won’t spoil it, but it is straight-up awesome. I will admit though, going back to the dance movie plot, the whole Indian pride thing that crops up did feel like it came out of left field, but that’s just a general problem with having these two genres intersect with each other in this way.

During the credits, however, this film does something truly amazing: They do a mock dance competition called ‘Worst Dance Championship’ as a riff on the in-story competition with the director as the judge, where all the teams competing are made up of the cast and crew: The people doing stunts are one group, the producers are another, the caterers are yet another, that kind of thing and all of them get a chance in the spotlight. It’s very entertaining to see a movie have this kind of self-awareness and I wish more movies had it to this level.

All in all, this is a decent, if forgettable, film. While the whole may not be the most cohesive production, the separate parts each hold their weight in entertainment value, and despite its long running time (3 hours plus interval), it is a surprisingly breezy watch. I still say that I liked Kick better, which had similar narrative problems but overall was a more fulfilling watch, but this is worth seeing if you’re a fan of Bollywood cinema. Can’t be too certain if it’ll convert you if you don’t, though.

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