Thursday 8 September 2011

Lovely, not amazing: "Bodyguard"

Bodyguard is one of the few Bollywood movies to have cracked the upper echelons of the UK box office chart in 2011, and for that we presumably have star power to thank, the leads being heavy-eyed beefcake Salman Khan and lipglossed dim-bulb Kareena Kapoor. The former takes the title role as absurdly named hired muscle Lovely Singh, introduced in a manner somehow both magnificent and silly as all get out: literally flexing his pecs in time to the opening musical number, he's soon observed rescuing Katrina Kaif from the attentions of a deranged fan and - all in a day's work - foiling a sex trafficking ring in a sequence that necessitates headspinning shifts of tone (the women are cowering) and the wholesale destruction of a storage warehouse. (At one point, Lovely has an entire wooden shipping crate dumped on him from some height, only to emerge from the experience not only unscathed, but still standing upright. What a guy.)

These challenges negotiated, it's onto the next assignment: keeping watch over judge's daughter Kapoor after a threat is made to her life. This will entail following her everywhere she goes, including to her classes at university, where damsel and protector begin - yes - to fall for one another. At which point, you might leap to the conclusion Bodyguard forms the Bollywood take on The Bodyguard, had not Shah Rukh Khan got there first with 2004's perfectly entertaining Main Hoon Na. The new film is broader still. When the porky comic relief falls over running for a bus, the camera shakes, as though to simulate a minor earthquake; there are cracks at the expense of a midget student Mike Myers probably wouldn't have been allowed to make at the expense of Verne Troyer in the Austin Powers films; and, when faced with the ministrations of another, mincing student, our hero feels the need to concede "I don't belong in your category, brother, but can I give you a compliment? This is the first time Lovely Singh has been scared." (Maybe it loses something in translation, but it sounds like homophobia to me.)

Characterisation is similarly untroubled by nuance: you wonder whether audiences haven't been drawn to it because Khan represents a particular masculine ideal (granted, he cuts a certain dash in his uniform) and Kapoor, tossing her hair and spilling bangles everywhere, a feminine equivalent - albeit one who just needs to be rescued in any given situation, where a comparable Hollywood narrative would find something vaguely active for her to do. In any event, their courtship - chiefly conducted via mobile phones cursed with the most annoying ringtone in Christendom (it turns out to be a sample from one of the songs, so especially masochistic consumers can go home and download it) - proves protracted and insipid, and the film only really comes alive during the action scenes, which writer-director Siddique turns into a kind of ballet, taking at least some of the edge off Khan's alpha-male bonecrushing.

The star's certainly more at home here than he is stepping on rakes (yes, really) in the wearying comedy interludes, or having to do little shuffles to show how much in love he is, usually to songs that appear to derive from the less abrasive end of the Will Young/Wally Murs repertoire, or indeed with the emotion required in the course of some insanely self-sabotaging last-reel plot-cramming. There are flickers of amusement, both intentional and otherwise, along the way - fatty's T-shirts ("Six Pack Coming Soon") come to serve a similar purpose to Judah Friedlander's baseball caps in 30 Rock - but it's mostly as airheaded as you'd expect from any project proposing Kareena Kapoor as the postergirl for higher learning.

Bodyguard is on nationwide release.

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