Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Over the Top: DHOOM 2

Bollywood movies are an acquired taste. You don't go into them expecting realism and subtlety. Having seen only half a dozen or so, I'm hardly an expert, but one thing I've learned is to toss out my assumptions about what a movie should be the moment I start watching. Designed to appeal to the broadest possible demographic (kids, parents, grandparents, uncles, the family goldfish), they follow the maxim of "more is more." Or in the case of a big-budget action-comedy-musical-romance like Dhoom 2 (2006), "more is lots more." Got a kitchen sink? Go ahead, toss that in, too--maybe someone will need to wash up.

The most expensive Hindi movie made at the time, Dhoom 2 pulls out all the stops by mixing state-of-the-Bollywood special effects, absurd action sequences, eye-popping musical numbers, broad comedy, sexy outfits, shameless product placement, smoldering glances, and two of the most beautiful humans to ever fight, pout, or dance their way across the screen, Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai.

In the Not Exactly Chopped Meat category are second-generation Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan (Rai's hubby and one half of India's own Brangelina), Uday Chopra as his top-heavy, Jimmy Fallon-like sidekick, and former model Bipasha Basu as the B-plot love interest.

The story is simple: Bachchan and Chopra are cops pursuing Roshan and Rai's high-tech jewel thieves--inspiring a series of car chases, quick changes, and musical numbers that take us from Mumbai to Rio de Janeiro. Utilizing a definition of pop cool that might have come from a 1970s TV commercial, Dhoom 2 is like a movie mixtape where no cliche is off-limits--a 2-1/2 hour non-sequitur defying reason, logic, sanity, and the laws of physics. Some of it's silly. Some of it's charming. Some of it will make you want to flex whatever pecs you have and find a sprinkler to shake them under.

Unlike, say, The Apple, Dhoom 2 is the product of a well-oiled film industry with decades of practice pulling off such hyperkinetic, genre-morphing mixes. It shouldn't work, but if you stick with it long enough you may find your stone-faced "Really?" become a slightly awed "Really!" By the time Aishwarya Rai makes her official entrance, about an hour in, you should be well on your way to laughing with the film instead of at it.

Teach me how to smolder, Abhishek
A few things to keep in mind: Bollywood movies are traditionally considered a full evening's entertainment, so they can be unusually long by Western standards (I'll sometimes break them up over two nights). Dhoom 2's 147 minutes was actually about average at the time. Also, the actors regularly switch between Hindi and English, often within a single sentence, so the subtitles will at times seem redundant--until they're suddenly not. Unfortunately, the version on Netflix feels the need to translate every single word and song cue, long after you've figured out that "Dhoom machale" means "Let's rock!"

You don't need to see the first Dhoom to enjoy this sequel (I still haven't). Just jump right in and let yourself be overwhelmed by the beautiful faces, tacky dance music, candy-coated costumes, energetic choreography, and audacious anything-goes spirit. It's all so colorful and played with such campy conviction, you'll feel like you're inside a bubblegum machine that's been shaken up and down like a snow globe. But don't worry: that's a good thing.

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