TASHAN

NR

-By Frank Lovece


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Just as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films played like famous-movie-visual greatest hits, so too does this feature directorial debut by Bollywood screenwriter Vijay Krishna Acharya. Opening his big-star neo-noir with a deliciously subtle, gradually revealing scene of a doomed speeding car in the Indian hinterlands, Acharya then flashes back to the calm-before-the-storm call-center (so that's what they look like, caller) before plunging into a world of more twists than Chubby Checker danced in his life. Crowded with dizzying visuals, dry humor, cartoonishy violent set-pieces that play like Indian spaghetti Westerns, and gorgeously shot musical numbers, Tashan (appropriately, Hindi for "style") is what you might call a kitchen-sink drama—in that it gives you everything but the kitchen sink, and then throws that in, too.

Going by his nom de call center "Jimmy Cliff," a swinging bachelor (Saif Ali Khan, in a 180-degree turn from his master-of-the-universe millionaire in the recent Race) has a pretty good life in modern Mumbai. He's like a ’70s American swinger, right down to his lounge-guitarist mustache and flowery shirts. Between his low-pressure office job and his freelance English tutoring, he's got just enough bucks and babes to give him a vague hankering for something more out of life.

Enter innocent young thing Pooja Singh (Kareena Kapoor), whom he first spies drenched in a downpour like in some hazy perfume commercial. Smitten, he can hardly say no when she asks him for English lessons—for her boss, eccentric businessman Lakhan Singh Ballebaaz, nicknamed Bhaiyyaji (Anil Kapoor). Pooja is his personal assistant, and Bhaiyyaji so trusts her that she picks up and transfers suitcases of cash from his "restaurants."

She has a tale of woe, of course, and soon convinces poor sap Jimmy to steal a suitcase of money and run away together. Only she doesn't quite get the "together" part, leaving him holding only the metaphoric bag. Learning that Bhaiyyaji is actually a psychotic criminal kingpin, and his comically chubby aides (Manoj Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra) actually sadistic torturers, Jimmy gives himself up to the gangster and offers to help track Pooja down. Bhaiyyaji teams him with highly recommended thug Bachchan Pande (Akshay Kumar) to retrieve the dough and bring Pooja back for punishment-by-marriage. And, oh yeah, Bachchan is instructed to off Jimmy along the way.

Hitting the road, the mismatched manhunters hate each other so much, they're ready to kill over which radio station to listen to. But after finding Pooja, who takes them all over India to gather the separated bundles of cash (don't ask—the time-frame makes no sense), the three shift through changing alliances, and soon the guys' macho bravado gives way to violence-tinged, odd-couple humor. Add the brief hijacking of a Hollywood film crew, in order to escape a roadblock set by police inspector Hooda (Yashpal Sharma) and, hey, break into movies, plus a Sergio Leone shootout at a desert outpost, complete with a midget holy man and a shockingly unexpected death, and by the time the action shifts to Bhaiyyaji's SMERSH-like compound, you're saying, "Jimmy on a jet ski flipping through the air over a catwalk and firing machine guns? Suuuuuuure, why not?!"

It's all wildly entertaining, though the English-language Indian critics didn't think so, hating Tashan for its discombobulated plot and over-the-top style. But when a movie calls itself "Style," what in the name of Ganesh do you expect?



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