Wednesday, January 27, 2010

postcards from Salmanistan: Veer

From the promotional images, trailers, and songs, I was really convinced Veer was going to be a hoot. A crackpot, anachronistic, scenery-chomping, chest-heaving (for both genders), cultural stereotype-wallowing, gleeful hoot. To my grave disappointment, it was all of those words except the last one. There were maybe two scenes where anyone in the movie seemed to be having any fun. In my opinion, if you're going to abandon any attempt at actual history or ethnography in your period piece (despite crediting someone as "research" in the titles), then you'd better replace them with something else worth watching. Exhibit A: Dharam Veer, one of my favorite films of the 70s. Dharam Veer makes no claim of real times, places, or people - or political movements or ideas - yet you do not miss them at all because there is so much other substance going on, done with irresistible, unrelenting, zealous mirth.

Whereas a Desai film rollicks along for a significant proportion of its run time, Veer lumbers like its bulked-up hero. Its idiosyncrasies feel more sloppy than zany. It's several hours of Salman Khan clenching his jaw at you, demanding you be impressed with his gianormous spectacle (ahem) without providing much reason to actually like it. (Not coincidentally, the men of his Pindari clan obtain their wives in a similar fashion, raiding them from neighboring groups.) More often than not, I was bored and/or not engaged with it. I think the state of Bakwass Masala has a new tenant, so bloated with ingredients that it forgot to consider how and why to use them. The whole production is sort of lackluster, despite all it includes.

Speaking of spectacle, speaking of ingredients, Veer is not without pleasures. I genuinely enjoyed "Taali," the first song in the Pindari compound, with clapping and stomping and swords a-clanking. A civilization led by Mithun Chakraborty should have a good song! I also really, really loved seeing a tiger chase a random white girl through the countryside only to be revealed to be one of Salman's pals in a tiger costume. How fantastic to take the 70s masala staple of dangerous animals and push their pragmatic limitations (that is, sometimes using fake animals of various kinds, whether foam or costume) into a blink-and-you-miss-it joke! I even genuinely liked much of the set design, interiors sloshed in rich colors and draped in miles of sheer, billowing fabric. Jodhaa Akbar this ain't, but it had some pretty moments. There were plenty of other things I laughed at that probably weren't intended to be funny, like the constantly reappearing brooch (token masala token!); the fashions circa 1900 that somehow involved jeans, the fur-trimmed vests from Khoon Pasina, and a raid on Justin Timberlake's hat collection*; the varied and strange accents of the British and their evil leader dressed in such metallic frippery that Mogambo himself was envious; Veer's impromptu "Indian dance" at the British school's cultural event; Mithun macking on Neena "Why Am I in This Movie?" Gupta; the recurring growling that I first assumed was a caged tiger somewhere off-screen but turned out to be Salman...the list goes on. It goes on past the final flash forward scene, past alllll the credits, right up until the very last frame that literally says JAI HIND as the film closes.

My list of Veer's unintentional humor does not, however, include Sohail Khan getting a pineapple stuck to his butt.

What else can I tell you? I did not think it was a good film in any way, nor did I enjoy much of it for any reason, even for howl-arity or "so bad/insane it's good," which can hardly even save films like Mard that benefit from much better writers, directors, etc. It wasn't silly enough, light-hearted enough, to be bad in a way that was fun. I think the best way to see Veer will be in a few months, when you can get the DVD, invite a bunch of friends over, and create your own drinking game. Or you could do what I did and enjoy the waves of inspiration for puns and other wordplay.

  • Veering Off Course
  • Oh, Veer, what could the matter be?
  • Oh Veery Veery me
  • Veer Eye for the Stereoid Guy
  • Veers of a Clown
  • Veer and Present Danger
  • We having nothing to fear but Veer itself.
  • Or, from clever comments on my friend Steven Baker's facebook page, "Bhai one, get one free!" (in reference to the presence of Salman and Sohail) and Sneer
Whatever you do, make sure the alcohol is handy. And read this great comic review by the Vigil Idiot - the last frame might just be the funniest thing I've read in weeks. Now, someone kindly pass the bourbon.

* Costume designer Anna Singh deserves to be singled out for a job exuberantly but ultimately poorly done. In a piece in the Hindustan Times, she says "The late 1890’s is the inspiration here. It’s fiction; so we couldn’t focus on one particular style." Um...what? Who says fiction is not allowed to have historically accurate clothing? She goes on to say "Veer is set in the time when the British ruled India. It was a very pronounced period, so there was very little liberty that we could take. Here we are not showing a particular prince or a princess of a particular era." Again, what? The film jumps around in time a lot but in discrete chunks, so you could very easily focus on clothing of the time of the first big battle, the time of Veer's adulthood, and the original starting point from which the story flows backwards (1920). Someone in Veer seemed to think that gigantic hoop skirts should accompany jazz music. Yes. Clearly no liberty taken there. I'd love to turn a nineteenth-century costume expert loose on this thing.

13 comments:

Sal said...

LOL at "we have nothing to fear but Veer itself". I did enjoy watching Neena Gupta doing her "I'm a big mama-sized slice of sexy" dance straight out of "Choli ke peeche" in the Taali song. :)

Kaddele said...

I absolutely have to see this! Pretty sure that Veer will be a better cure than those annoying antibiotics ... Especially after the last comic panel - I nearly fell off my bed here ...

memsaab said...

Love your puns!!!!! Hahahahahaa!

I will wait for the DVD. But still, I feel I must watch it. But with a FF button handy.

Erin Georgia said...

HA! I'm so looking for this when it comes out on DVD... if nothing just to bask in the horror of it, and Salman's moobs and the "Well, it's historical, but not, and timeline?, there isn't one...so obviously Justin Timberlake was the neutral ground for head wear."

OMG.
I can't wait!

Rum said...

This seems like the king of the bakwaas masala! But I think I'll wait for the dvd because i might just screech Nahiieee in the cinema in case its just torturous to watch without a fast word button! But when its out the Masala Pradesh will be waiting in the corner for jousting competition with Veer!

ajnabi said...

Oh, man. Now I have to see this movie, if only for the tigerish growling.

Sharon said...

That comic... possibly the best thing about Veer?

If you're looking for a palate-cleanser, I saw Ishqiya and I *loved* it. :-D

Beth said...

Sal - She was one of my favorite things in the film, even though every time I saw her I thought "WHY ARE YOU HERE?"

Kaddele - Cannot wait for your review!

memsaab - :) Make Carla come over and watch it with you. You will need a buddy for ultimate joke-making enjoyment.

Erin - Justin Timerlake is the only safe way out! :)

Rum - I gather that screeching nahiiii is totally acceptable. A friend who saw it in London said the audience mocked it the whole way through.

ajnabi - One must become at one with the growling. I can see it being really helpful at annoying meetings, with unruly children, etc. In fact, I have to give a tour to university students this afternoon, so maybe I can test it out....

Sharon - That comic is definitely the best thing about Veer. I would love to see Ishqiya but there's no word of it being shown nearby! :(

Sujoy said...

Lemme put it this way,... Veer is more of a trend than a movie.. the movie itself is such an inferior product that it has cinephiles like us to marvel at the utter quality or lack of it in today's modern world of filmmaking..

and more than the movie, i have been lapping up all the blog posts that hv been circulating :)
2 of them my own hehe...

It certainly falls into the so bad,...its untrue..
But unlike Ajooba or for tht matter DharamVeer it is hardly any entertainment ..

Pitu said...

I'm not touching this with a barge pole. But seriously, Anna Singh is the biggest cheat in the film fashion business. And she always seems completely stoned. I love how another TOI article mentioned that Salman's Veer armor cost 1 crore. And then some ppl who've seen Veer said it involved rubber!

N said...

hoop-skirt jazz? That sounds like a must. Musicological revisionism, you know.

B.H.Harsh said...

Brilliant write-up on a movie I couldnt like at all for reasons I myself wasnt able to put up in words.
Thanks to your review, Now I know what exactly it was that bugged me about it. ;)

And that Vigil idiot reviews are indeed hilarious! Thanks for providing the link..

Beth said...

Sujoy - Woe is us! ;)

Pitu - Does she! That would explain a lot. I have a hard time imagining where 1 crore would have gone on that one costume. There's just...no way.

N - I'm serious, invite your brainy friends over and DRINK :)

Harsh - Than you! I bet there is even MORE that bugged you about it than what I was able to write - there's just so much that no single person could cover it all :)

Vigil Idiot is a genius. Whenever I go read one of his comics, I end up spending 15 minutes looking at other things there.