[This post contains a significant spoiler about the end of the film. I'll warn you again when it's imminent.]
For those of us who did not grow up watching Hindi films (and maybe even for those of you who did, depending on how closely an adult monitored what you were watching when or after this film came out), there is a particular threshold that each of us must cross in our filmi-life's path. That threshold reveals itself to each of us at a different time—I like to think at the exactly right time—and affects us in particular ways. But there is one commonality in the experience: after this line it is crossed, there is no returning, no backtracking, no un-knowing. You can never un-see Rekha and Akshay Kumar frolicking in a pool, drizzling each other with chocolate sauce, and wrestling in the mud while Sumitra moans about naughty girls needing love.
|What sacrifices our hero makes.|
Before getting to the aspect of it that interests me most, I want to praise Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi for offering excellent entertainment value. Its masala mix is much more heavily slanted towards action than my general fare, but thanks to Akshay Kumar's fluid moves and general likability, I even enjoyed most of the fight scenes and only fast-fowarded through the final one. His songs in the film are equally fun and/or impressive.
|The backup dancers have their jackets tied around their waists with the most hilarious and enhancing possible placement of the knots.|
|Production checklist: after shooting, return costume to Dexy's Midnight Runners.|
|Vampire face that, much to my delight, turns out to be a foreshadowing of a later costume.|
A brief aside about comedy: having lived in Toronto for two years, I could not stop laughing at how often the characters mentioned being in America when they so clearly weren't.
|That's right! In fact, you're going to...|
|Love the Mosfilm truck.|
|Raveena had a lot of bad boots in this film.|
Like Khoon Bhari Maang, there are also many wonders to be found in Rekha's costumes, not only because they are dramatic and, um, "interesting" but because they fit so well with her character. She's Madame Maya, and all the accoutrements are part of the illusion/facade/projection. Even better, nobody comments on her ever-changing hair. She's not judged for wanting to look a certain way. Granted, she's already the villain, but there's no sniggering or eye-rolling, no accountant asking her if her wig budget really needs to be so large.
|I'm hopeful Akshay's vampire get-up here is the reason for the bloody mouth in the picture in the discussion of songs (above), but that might be a stretch.|
Two, at approximately 41 when this movie was filmed, she still looks ageless, and, much more importantly, she has the acting experience and gravitas needed to make such an exaggerated, imperfectly written character in a contextless setting work. Contrast her with Gulshan Grover, the other main villain (King Don), who is no more menacing than Joey Tribbiani doing his best example of a daytime soap opera villain. In addition to being unimpressive, King Don isn't even fun. He's just some guy in big suits using a weird voice. Rekha, on the other hand, clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this performance, making the best of what was given to her, and she absolutely sells it. She shows the imperfections in Maya's steely persona at exactly the right time to give them maximum impact and, I must admit, evoke my sympathy. Even in her plainest dialogues, she's working to give them some bite, some animation, some oomph. Maya may be ridiculous, but Rekha is not. What a fine line that is—and how well she walks it.
Madam Maya is a fascinating character. On one hand, she is confident, powerful, and successful in her profession and operates in a world entirely populated by men. No character seems to doubt her place and ability in that world. I don't think there's a single line about "What does a woman know about fighting?" or "Let the men handle it." She is unquestionably awesome in the life she has chosen for herself. But on the other hand, she is given a few emotional arcs that I think most male villains probably would not have, and of course these are both her undoing and her ultimate salvation. However, they also give Maya texture that is interesting to discover and provides Rekha more to work with. Female villains of this caliber are so unusual that I don't know what to make of this one having such a strong conscience.
While Maya is shown at various times to have a heart—and to deeply resent the times in her life that emotional happiness was taken away from her—she is not at all religious. We're so accustomed to seeing non-heroine female characters behaving piously that it's a surprise to see one who doesn't give a rat's ass. This makes her strength more impressive for being presented and conceived of as entirely internally derived and driven...and, for story-telling purposes, makes the contrast with the hero's devotion even more delicious. I think it's significant that other fierce females, Kali and mostly Durga, are required to defeat Maya's henchmen.
And as I type that, I'm wondering if a female character has to be a villain in order to have that kind of freedom? Hmmm. HMMMM.
Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi is silly, entertaining, and interesting. Everyone but the three leads is pretty dreadful (and had little by way of a quality script to work with), but their performances were charismatic enough to carry me through the predictable back story and the side characters I didn't care about (namely Akshay's brother, his girlfriend, and his gang of dimwitted friends). I realize I've hardly mentioned Raveena Tandon as Akshay's girlfriend/Rekha's sister, so here you go: she was fine in the little she had to do and seemed to enjoy bopping around with Akshay in a few fun songs. Even if you don't care about fight sequences, this is one to watch simply for Rekha's performance in an unusual and intriguing role.
To close: a sign of the times
* It occurs to me that perhaps the likelihood of the comic side plot being irritating increases the closer to the present day a film was made. For example, I am almost never annoyed by Agha or Rajendra Nath but always want to punch Satish Shah and Johny Lever.
** At least, that's what the subtitles say. All I feel the film shows of Maya's criminal existence is that she likes working the fights and the lifestyle that comes along with that wealth. She does not seem to have any bone to pick with society at large, any particular institutions, any person in her past who did her wrong or led her to a life of crime, etc. There's no indication of her doing anything useful for her sister (Raveena Tandon) or protecting Priya's "values and culture" (another doozy from the subtitles) other than putting her up in the palatial "American" house and fussing at her for having a male visitor.