Sunday 7 August 2016

Silly midwicket: "Dishoom"

A high-octane actioner set within the world of international cricket, Dishoom proves broadly as absurd as that description suggests - although writer-director Rohit Dhawan (Desi Boyz) seems at least semi-aware of that fact. The set-up sees India's star batsman kidnapped in Dubai on the eve of a major 20:20 final against Pakistan, and the Indian authorities sending in Special Task Force agent Kabir Shergill (John Abraham), a tough nut introduced punching a man out of a lift for objecting to his smoking, and then pulling a gun on his girlfriend in order to expose that she's been cheating on him. (Nice guy.) Stepping off the plane carrying only deodorant, his gun and a pack of smokes, he's given 36 hours to find his quarry - a task that would be a lot easier if he weren't paired with one Junaid Ansari (Varun Dhawan, the director's brother), a moonfaced local rookie scarcely up to the job of locating a missing dog. It's the big lug and the little weed, then: were it not for the subtitles, you might persuade yourself you'd walked into Central Intelligence again.

It is, too, a workable partnership: Abraham newly deadpan, able to raise a snigger from a single arched eyebrow, Dhawan's goofiness chiming with Junaid's Super Mario Bros ringtone. What the other Dhawan does with this pairing, however, is less assured. This filmmaker can bowl us the odd narrative googly: the first half moves confidently and coherently back and forth along the kidnap's timeline, which has its genesis in a very real blight on the modern game. Yet a heightened level of mucking around in flashy locations (hotels, a hip bar, a motor museum) suggests Dishoom shares a greater percentage of its DNA with that cycle of films in which Adam Sandler whisks his entourage away to a leisure resort for limited shits and giggles, and events take a literal left turn around the intermission as our heroes pursue a lead into the fictional breakaway republic of Abbudin, where lions freely roam the streets and kids trade in their pocket money for live hand grenades. 

What this accursed place is really meant to represent is anyone's guess, but given that the locals speak a form of Arabic and are seen to observe the call to prayer, and given that one of the kidnappers' accomplices has been shown wearing a Pakistan cricket shirt, Dishoom seems to be blundering into dangerous geopolitical territory. It does so, however, with such evident naivete that you might just forgive it, via a motorcycle-and-sidecar chase that unfolds like a live-action Nick Park imagining, and climaxes with Junaid being repeatedly smacked in the goolies by the flags in a minefield. At this juncture, I wondered whether Dhawan had a less elevated version of those Bing-and-Bob Road movies in mind: he has a ready-made (and willing) Dorothy Lamour in Jacqueline Fernandes, whose pickpocket Ishika temporarily interrupts the musky prevailing air of bromance by wearing the hell out of a burqa and socking over her big musical number "Sau Tarah Ke".

Otherwise, it's all a bit second division and cobbled together. Junaid's movie nerdery generates a nice throwaway Lagaan riff, but the finale relies on a desperate gambit involving a dog tracker, and the anything-goes comic tone is set by an early cameo from Akshaye Khanna - generally a sign of the twaddlesome - as a sexually ambiguous heavy who insists our heroes strip down to their underwear before he answers any of their questions (his wistful parting words: "Their fathers must be bakers, 'cos those are perfect buns"). At a moment where concerted efforts are being made to modernise the Hindi cinema, Dishoom takes a perverse pride in digging its heels in and remaining defiantly old school - although it, too, senses this might be a silly and ridiculous stance, which if you squinted or drank hard enough might resemble a half-step forwards. They'll probably make a sequel with these characters, and they will almost certainly be pushing their luck.

Dishoom is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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