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In the first of a fortnightly column reviewing new Indian films out in the UK, Ryan Gilbey reviews Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Singham
Welcome to the first in a fortnightly column reviewing new Indian movies on release in the UK. Indian cinema, and the dominant Hindi-languageBollywood most of all, is the silent success story of Britain's multiplexes. In 2009, more than half of the 20 highest-grossing foreign language films released here were produced or co-produced in India. And yet the attention Indian cinema receives outside specialist publications is negligible. You could say that Bollywood films in Britain were hiding in plain sight, if putting "Bollywood" and "plain" in the same sentence didn't feel like heresy. It would certainly be a shame if anyone were deterred from sampling Indian cinema by this lack of mainstream press; they would be denying themselves one of the richest cinematic food groups of all.
Off we go then ... Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (which translates as You Won't Get a Second Life) is a road movie, a buddy movie, a travelogue and a love story all at once, adhering to that Bollywood law that asks: "Why occupy one genre when you can straddle three or four?" Its bachelor-party-on-the-road scenario, with three former school pals driving across Spain in advance of the wedding of one of their number, may induce a slight Hangover at first glance. But any resemblance to brash US comedies evaporates long before one character is shown weeping gently following his first diving expedition. The scene ' all shimmering underwater photography and sombre poetry on the soundtrack ("The moment flows by like molten sapphire/ Deep blue silences") suggests that the projectionist has queued up a reel from The Tree of Life by mistake.
The film's premise could have been spewed out by a computerised plot generator. Each of the three friends ' workaholic high flyer Arjun (Hrithik Roshan), clownish Imran (Farhan Akhtar) and coy groom Kabir (Abhay Deol) ' gets one neurosis to overcome. And still the movie is winningly funny and ingenuous. A phalanx of Hollywood script doctors might have punched up the one-liners, but they couldn't have improved upon the warmth and rapport of the cast, or the delicate structural twist that shows the apparently simple opening scene, in which Kabir proposes to Natasha (Kalki Koechlin), in a more complex light further down the line.Musical numbers are used sparingly: we're 100 minutes in, and on the far side of the intermission, before Arjun bursts into song ' reflecting the long-deferred uncorking of his emotions.
For a movie about men, it's stubbornly un-macho. When Arjun loses his phone, the replacement comes in shocking pink ("I'm a trader, not a Japanese schoolgirl!"); Imran is an Oscar Wilde buff; the women are unmistakably more confident than the men. And with so much US cinema hinging on father-and-son bonding, it's a relief to find that the one such relationship here can't be resolved by shooting hoops or exchanging playful punches to the upper arm.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara opened on 15 July and became the only new release to enter the top 10 on the same weekend as the latest Harry Potter. It's still playing to full houses, and you can see why. Slick it may be. But tourist board employees representing the various Spanish cities flattered in the movie are not the only ones who will come out grinning.Strong arm of the law ... Ajay Devgan's Singham makes Jason Statham look weak
I suspect that the eponymous hero of Singham (a Hindi remake of the 2010 Tamil thriller Singam) would laugh in the faces of the namby-pamby protagonists of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Rather than describing the incorruptible village cop (Ajay Devgan) who wages war on a big-city ganglord (Prakash Raj), let me quote from the theme song which introduces him: "He never spares the bad/ He embraces the good/ No deviation/ Just destruction." Not forgetting: "He's very strong."
After seeing Singham thrash suspects with his belt, or punch a money-lender so hard that he somersaults, I would perhaps take issue with the song's claim that "He's a child at heart/ Mischievous and fun." But that's really just nit-picking. What else is there to say about him? Well, when he gets hopping mad, his voice acquires this weird reverb effect. A lion's roar accompanies the slow-motion slaps that are his trademark. And he does not baulk at wearing a denim shirt if the occasion demands it. He is basically a complete bad-ass who makes Jason Statham resemble a feeble, consumptive Victorian child.
Singham throws his enemies around like scatter cushions; he uses one poor fellow as a mid-air stepping stone to reach his next target. He's resourceful, too, employing a street lamp as an improvised steering lock to arrest the progress of a speeding jeep. Even his romance with the woman of his dreams gets off to a violent start. Reader, he slaps her. In Singham's defence, she is dressed as a ghost at the time, and has been terrorising passers-by. (Oh, don't ask.)
This nutty, raucous picture ' which opened in the UK on 22 July ' boasts sound design so unsparing that each punch makes you feel as though your head has been crushed between two paving slabs. You may need to unwind afterwards with a nice, quiet Transformers movie.
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