Saturday, 2 November 2013

Movie Review - Krrish 3

(Warning - plot spoilers ahead)
(Further warning - this positive review is apparently leading to disappointment when people actually see the movie. Please scale down your expectations before watching :-) )

When a movie lies at the confluence of three genres (Science Fiction, Superhero and Bollywood), it becomes trivially easy to enjoy (or to dislike) but makes it very difficult to write a truly insightful review.

I'm going to try, anyway.

I saw Krrish 3 on its opening night in Sydney (Oct 31), a day before it screened in its home market of India :-). [I like watching Bollywood movies in Australia and Hollywood movies in India, because I like to have English subtitles all the time to avoid missing any part of the dialogues!]

I'd seen the two prequels ("Koi...Mil Gaya" and "Krrish"), and while there was improvement between the first and second films, I was still preparing to be disappointed by the third, because - and all Indians will know this feeling, - every time an Indian or a group of Indians (like the national cricket team) manages to get within reach of some international benchmark, they inevitably fail, disappointing their fans and well-wishers. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory seems to be in the national character, and we Indians have been let down far too often by our heroes. [The only real Indian achievers at the international level are the quiet ones in research, academia and technical-professional careers.] Would an Indian film-maker be able to hold his own against his formidable counterparts in Hollywood when venturing into their home territory of the Science Fiction/Superhero genre? Or, more likely, would his film drown in an embarrassing excess of maudlin sentimentality and shoddy production, to universal ridicule?

I confess I felt vicarious trepidation.

Nothing wrong with the poster - so far, so good

As it turned out, director-producer Rakesh Roshan acquitted himself very creditably. Dare I say this is a Hollywood-class superhero movie?

I've read some rather churlish reviews of Krrish 3 after I saw the movie. I think some critics believe their job title obliges them to criticise rather than critique. They have to show off their superior taste and artistic nous, and to do so by tearing down other people's work with a display of fine language. Rarely have I seen such reluctance to praise unconditionally ("Great effects, but too much emotional drama", "ambitious but flawed", "rubbish but a sure hit", "entertains but lacks originality"). Perhaps these critics are trying to reconcile their own tendency to be negative with the obvious fact that this is such a polished product that it's sure to be a blockbuster. Their whole attitude reminds me of the old story of The Jealous Courtiers.

The two most frequently aired complaints about this movie are that it is "boring" and is "unoriginal/plagiarised". Both of these complaints are just plain wrong.

Krrish 3 is anything but boring! Interesting things keep happening throughout the film. There are no moments that drag (if you discount the song sequences - the Bollywood cognoscenti know enough to switch mental gears and pause their pursuit of the storyline to enjoy the songs when they appear).

The charge of plagiarism is only valid at a superficial level. The story is completely original (at least, I haven't seen it anywhere else). Yes, there are specific elements and motifs that a viewer would have encountered earlier. For example, if you arrest Rakesh Roshan and shake out his bags for stolen goods, you might find the following:
  • A wheelchair belonging to Professor Xavier of the X-Men
  • A repurposed sonic screwdriver belonging to The Doctor
  • A bunch of mutants poached from the X-Men universe, including one with a prehensile tongue like Toad and another with chameleon-like capability like Mystique
  • A villain with magnetic powers like Magneto (but in a confusing amalgam with telekinesis)
  • A fortress at the top of an icy mountain, which some say resembles the one in Inception (I didn't think so - it was more like the palace in Mirror Mirror)
  • A rescue of a plane in danger of crashing, like in Superman Returns
  • Some leaping between buildings à la Spider-man, but more parkour style
  • And of course the superhero's standard secret identity as a harmless civilian

I think the charge of plagiarism would stick better if all that copying was badly done. The effects were excellent, and the story was independent, so it's more a derivative work than a copy. In other words, you're only a thief in my book if you're bad at it! [I didn't know the mere knowledge that an idea was borrowed from elsewhere could ruin an experience for people. The Magnificent Seven, being a rip-off of Seven Samurai, must have been a terrible viewing experience, no?]

I thought this movie was intelligently made because it didn't assault my sensibilities with a shoddy storyline. The reasoning hung together quite nicely, and the events clicked together well too. There were no loose ends, either in terms of "how could he/she have known about this", or "how could all this have taken place in such a short time", questions that tend to nag one after watching badly-made movies. In a word, the movie was slick.

A new superhero is born - If the original movie "Krrish" didn't establish him in the hearts of millions of fans, this one should do it

On to the characters, then. Hrithik Roshan is a truly great actor. He's likeable as well as believable in all his roles. The difference in persona between Krrish and his secret identity Krishna is dramatic but expected. Besides, the two never share the screen at the same time, for obvious reasons. The more incredible switch comes from the double role that he plays as father Rohit Mehra and son Krishna. The father is naive and nerdy, with a flabby physique and shabby attire, and a childlike intonation that harks back to his history in the first prequel as an initially mentally disabled person. The son is smart and neat, with a confident voice. When the two characters appear on screen together, their interaction is so natural, it's as if they were played by two different actors.

A scene of seamless double-acting

Father and son are both do-gooders, each in his own way. The son is the action hero who carries out the dramatic rescues. The father is the thinker back at the laboratory, working out the solutions to the world's problems, one bit at a time. When they work together, as in this film, they're an amazing team.

Superheroes are at their best when they project vulnerability rather than strength. One of the most moving scenes in "Superman - The Movie" was at the funeral of Jonathan Kent, Clark's adoptive father. Young Clark's pain is evident in his words, "All those powers - I couldn't even save him!"

That sentiment finds an echo here when Krishna expresses his despair to his father at his inability to save people dying of a virus ("What is the use of my being Krrish?"). That's one of the film's finest moments. You see, it's not enough to have super-powers. You must desperately want to help people. That's what makes a superhero. And Hrithik pulls off both action and emotion with equal ease.

The one aspect in which Krrish 3 has beaten even Hollywood is in the physique of the hero. Except for Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), no actor who played a Hollywood superhero can match Hrithik Roshan's muscles. This man has worked really hard at the gym to deserve the role of a superhero! [Also, it just wouldn't be a Hrithik Roshan movie if it didn't feature a dance sequence in which he gets to show off his liquid moves. This one is no exception.]

Hrithik Roshan - Credible emoting, incredible physique

As we cross over to the dark side, Vivek Oberoi was quite effective as the villain Kaal. [Kaal is the Sanskrit word for Time, and it was amusing that whenever he referred to time in his dialogues, he would use the Urdu word Waqt instead.]

The reason for his disability, why no one else could develop the virus that he did (or the antidote to it), why Rohit and his family were immune to it, all these were satisfactorily explained.

Of all of the villain's minions, the best was the mutant chameleon-woman named Kaya, played superbly by Kangana Ranaut (in spite of a name that sounds like she would be embarrassingly bad at cricket). In fact, she was so good, she upstaged the film's leading lady Priyanka Chopra, who played Krishna's wife Priya. [Priyanka Chopra has gone on record to assert that she (Priyanka) is the film's heroine, and the insecurity behind that statement underlines Kangana Ranaut's powerful performance.]

Chameleon-woman Kaya, the way she looks when she isn't looking like someone else

Priyanka Chopra should in fact be happy with her role. In the previous Krrish movie, she had only ornamental value. She has a vastly expanded role in this one, and she does justice to it. Too bad her character isn't required to exhibit superpowers or perform daredevil stunts.

Priyanka Chopra doesn't look half bad, and one is reminded that she's a former Miss World, after all

By the way, super-villains should heed this advice: When going up against a good-looking super-hero with a vulnerable innocence, keep your female minions well away from him. They might just go sweet on him at the wrong time and betray you. [The Phantom: Slam Evil, Superman - The Movie, Superman Returns, Krrish 3]

I may be a female super-villain, but I can dream, can't I?

Whatever the critics may say, I predict Krrish 3 is going to smash a number of records and become a super-hit like very few others. It's now even a computer game, and a player can choose to be one of four characters - Krrish, Kaal, Kaya or the mutant frog-man.

Krrish versus Kaya - The game is afoot

Is there anything that I think is bad about this movie? Nothing really bad, but there were a few things that could have been done better.

The songs are strictly mediocre. It may not mean much in the Superhero genre, but it's a pretty grave shortcoming in the Bollywood genre.

On a related, er, note, theme music is very important when building a franchise, and the Krrish theme (a very nice one in my opinion) isn't played or emphasised enough.

I wish the movie had been about 20 minutes longer just to give more screen time to some of the other interesting mutants. Other than Kaya and the frog-man (and a few seconds of the cheetah-woman), we didn't really get a good look at any of them. The scorpion-woman, in particular, with her poisonous ponytail, was very intriguing. A longer battle between her and Kaya would have been exciting, I thought.

Bollywood films in general could do with a better understanding of what is considered a child-friendly movie in other countries. The "masala" (spice-mix) nature of Indian films, where there's something for everyone, often results in portions of inappropriate content for younger audiences. In all three movies of the Krrish franchise, there were elements that might be unsuitable for children (disturbing scenes of violence and bullying in Koi...Mil Gaya, the death by impalement of the villain in Krrish, and the many scenes of disfigurement and death by a virus epidemic in Krrish 3, not to speak of the much higher level of violence in the third movie).

Krrish 3 is easier to understand if we look at it as a film aimed at children (with the qualifier in the above paragraph). That doesn't mean it's too childish for adults to enjoy or that it has flaws that only children will forgive. On the contrary, it's pretty close to flawless, and enjoyable by potentially anybody. It just means we need to take ourselves back to a stage in our lives when we enjoyed experiences without the blinkers and baggage we acquired on our way to jaded adulthood. When we leave our cynicism at the door, Krrish 3 becomes the beautiful cinematic experience it is meant to be. Good triumphs over evil, the world is safe, and we can go to bed at night with a peaceful smile on our face.

This is a film that's better than "Man of Steel" or "Green Lantern", about as good as "The Avengers", and just slightly below "The Amazing Spider-man", "Star Trek: Into Darkness" and the Dark Knight (Batman) trilogy. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.
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