Thursday 24 December 2015

Dilwale (2015) - Movie Review
I’m kind of surprised and, honestly, kind of disappointed that it’s taken me this long into the year to talk about another Bollywood movie. Given how we had not one but three arrive at my local last year, I honestly thought that we’d get more coming in this year. However, probably as a result of the release drought in response to no-one wanting to directly to compete with Star Wars, as well as the mass releases on Christmas Day, this is one of the few new releases that have come in in the last few weeks. Well, even given my admittedly limited exposure to Indian cinema, I reckon I’ve taken a look at a semi-decent sample: There was Kick, which started out shaky but ended up pretty good, there was Happy New Year, which was alright but a bit forgettable, and then there was PK, which was legitimately surprising in the best way possible. Time to see how today’s film measures up to the minor experience I’ve had previously.

The plot: Veer (Varun Dhawan) is a mechanic who works with his brother Raj (Shah Rukh Khan), whose repair shop is frequently getting robbed as well as being shaken down local crime boss King (Boman Irani). He finds himself falling in love with Ishita (Kriti Sanon) but, because of a previous incident involving a woman named Meera (Kajol) that ended badly, Raj doesn’t want him doing anything stupid. In the ensuing conflict, we see both sides trying to make up/break up the relationships around them.

I had the ‘privilege’ to see this in a theatre where the guy working the sound system was apparently asleep at the wheel, since the volume was roughly fifty times louder than any other film I’d seen previously at my local. I’m just going to chalk that up to a fault with the cinema rather than the film itself just to be safe, although the sound design in this thing is extremely annoying regardless of that point. Not since Inspector Gadget have I heard a film be this obnoxious when it comes to its sound effects; it’s at the point where they actually think playing the ‘wah-wah-wah’ trombone sans irony was a good idea. However, even that would be excusable if it weren’t for the random I-can-only-assumed-to-be-comedic noises that are littered throughout the film. Of course, this is nothing compared to what happens during the ‘dramatic’ scenes, where things actually start to become funny… for a time, at least. There’s a scene that features a slew of dramatic revelations said one right after the other, and all of them have a dramatic music sting right after them. These get exceptionally soap-opera in how melodramatic they are, but they are made even worse by how badly the music wants us to take them seriously. But even the ironic comedy value is short-lived since, for as funny as it is the first time they do it, it is significantly less humourous the tenth or eleventh time it’s done in the space of a single minute.

The premise is pretty convoluted and the star-crossed lovers aspect has been done to death; however, that isn’t what makes this plot fail. Instead, it’s because of just how badly the relationships are written, even the platonic ones. Everyone comes across as incredibly na├»ve or insultingly hypocritical towards each other. For some reason, characters are more than willing to forgive each other for stealing from right under their noses or nearly getting someone killed. It gets that hokey that I kept expecting one of them to go full Ferris Bueller and admit that they were faking it; if only this film was that self-aware. Then there’s the main relationship between Raj and Meera, which consists mainly of alternating acts of rampant double-crossing, and then somehow acting surprised when the other person acts cold towards them for it. Don’t get me wrong, Shah Rukh Khan is very good at badass portrayals of coldness, as he showed last year with Happy New Year, but it doesn’t work nearly as well here because of the dickish context it’s given. Then there’s the classic ‘conflict fuelled by misunderstanding/lie’, which reduces the film to just being yet another ticking reconciliation clock that makes everything around it feel like a drag.

Speaking of everything surrounding the main plot, this film has an extremely weak sense of humour, not to mention desperate. How desperate, I hope you’re not asking a page full of text? Try “Just because he’s fast doesn’t mean you have to be furious” and “Dude, where’s my car?” I think my facepalm in the theatre resonated through the entire cinema, I did it so hard after hearing those lines. Then there’s the outright bizarre dialogue choices, like the fence Oscar who talks in a mangled version of rhyming slang; it’s not funny, it just makes him sound like a Berkshire Hunt. Or the scene that involves a hefty amount of bullshitting in the form of using whatever is on a nearby TV to construct their story, because that’s something that needed to be brought back.

What makes all of this film’s faults that much more irritating is that, every few scenes, something comes along that actually looks good. The fight scenes, while a little too flashy in their editing and wonky in their choreography, are nice and visceral when we actually get them. Raj and Meera’s five minute date is well shot, looking like something from a stage production that manages to translate well to film. And the musical numbers, while a bit lacklustre in terms of the actual music, are definitely shot with a certain level of ambition and damn good use of landscape. Save for the final sequence which is played during the credits; it was done in a hurry and, both visually and aurally, it shows.

All in all, this is a right ol’ mess. The sound design is shoddy, the acting is very off in places, the properly entertaining moments are few and far between and the plot is up there with some of the most insipid rom-coms I’ve had to sit through in the name of these reviews. It is admittedly good to see Shah Rukh Khan on screen again, and when he gets a chance to he definitely impresses, but he sadly isn’t enough to rescue the rest of the film around him.

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