If an American were to scratch his chin and look scrutinisingly at Bollywood, perhaps the best way to explain the Akshay Kumar phenomenon would be to label him India's answer to Will Smith. Both September-born superstars are athletic alpha males, earn the biggest packages, have fantastic comic timing, are armed with irrepressible raw charm, have set records for the most consecutive blockbusters, can rescue dud actioners with a smirk, and invariably come across as exasperatingly likeable even when they act in complete tripe.
It is at this point that the American, bamboozled by a truly bizarre poster for Akshay's latest which accurately indicates a juvenile farce with lewd humour and much inanity, is likely to interrupt our carefully considered Kumar-Smith comparison. (Rats, just when we were about to weave together something clever about how they both make excellent music video fodder.)
Asks then this astute Hollywood-fed cinegoer this: When was the last time Will Smith acted in, say, American Pie?
It is a tough question, and the American is being uncharacteristically benevolent, for Kambakkht Ishq is a painfully excessive work of burlesque, one so dragged down by the nauseating combination of toilet humour and lazy screenwriting that it makes American Pie look like Brokeback Mountain in comparison. Nope, Kambakkht Ishq is a weak, often revoltingly cheap film that serves merely as aspirin-seller or hangover-simulation.
With the film's leading man breaking wind in the face of a weeping bride, clearly Kambakkht Ishq is not a film aiming at gag sophistication. Which is perfectly fine, there is nothing at all wrong with an unabashedly lowbrow film, one which delights in skin and scatological humour, and makes no bones about being a collection of gags rather than something with an actual plot. What is wrong is when such a low-rent farce pretends it's a bonafide summer blockbuster.
When a film is small and fringe-y and obviously inexpensive (like this film I haven't seen but one a fellow critic couldn't help 'enjoying'), there is a case to be made for taking it for its tackiness and giving in to the tasteless inanity. On the other hand, when the budget goes from shoestring to Stallonetastic and much fanfare is drummed up with the film released as one of the year's biggest, the tolerance level goes down significantly -- ie, we can't be expected to actually pay for this monstrosity.
We do, with our money, our time and our expectations -- and we're served up a hideous bit of cinematic buffoonery.
Kambakkht Ishq is about a stuntman named Viraj who clearly must have borrowed a hip-hop star's lifestyle when he wasn't looking. Akshay Kumar's character has a round the clock buddy/valet, cars of increasingly glamorous make and wall-to-wall women chasing him, women easily talked into anything and women who want to make 'golden babies' with him. And then there's Kareena Kapoor playing Simrita, a supermodel/doctor who chooses from a gallery of furied overpouty faces, lectures her friends on how all men are dogs, and then goes around tugging her dress up so that she can compete with the worst Bondgirl in history, Denise Richards.
Set the stage for a pair of cardboard cutout protagonists who duke it out in what is advertised as the battle of the sexes -- as if they're the first bickering couple in moviedom. And here they don't bicker, they swear. She's a model who sneers on stuntmen? He's a stuntman who doesn't need anaesthesia while being operated upon? And these atrociously unfunny characters go at it, hammer and thongs, again and again and again, altering not stance nor vocabulary. Groan.
Personally, my heart goes out to Kareena. The woman is strikingly attractive and one of the few leading ladies who can actually act, one who has given us a few blazing performances and has repeatedly shown that she's capable of holding her own against the very finest. She's something else, and even she has to resort to role this demeaning, in a film this stupid? It's a pathetic character, a part-time doctor with excessively lax morals -- she's the kind of medic who would eventually engage in organ theft -- and yet a Bollywoody sense of pre-marital prudishness. And her Bebo main Bebo song is the worst thing in a very ordinary soundtrack. Tchah.
As if these two weren't bad enough, the film is further weighed down by a non-cast, out of whom Vindoo Dara Singh, playing Akshay's right-hand Tiger, is possibly the least objectionable. We have a whiney Aftab Shivdasani, a puzzling one-scene cameo by Boman Irani, and a big Punjabi glassful of standard-issue Kirron Kher. And then we have two women who can't act to save their lives, Amrita Arora, smiling when she's required to look panicked in her very first scene (then again, it must be tough to register alarm while saying the name 'Bebo') and getting progressively worse, and Kehkashan Pandit, who really has no business being in the movies.
And somewhere in the middle there's a manic Javed Jaffrey, playing the lawsuit-happy Keswani who calls himself a sue-er -- with emphasis on the Case in Keswani and much porkiness in the sue-er -- and it's a testimony to the actor's comic exuberance and the script's lack of smarts that this dreadful pun ranks as one of the film's funniest gags, even though the man pops up in fits and starts and never quite goes anywhere.
Moments before one of the film's only genuinely funny scenes, Akshay is recieving an award from Sylvester Stallone. The battered icon makes a neat little Rockyesque speech on the importance of stuntmen, following which Akshay, weilding his trophy like a sceptre, launches into Punjabi and talks about how a young boy who wanted to be Stallone is now sharing a stage with him. It's manipulative to the hilt, but Kumar musters up enough sincerity to keep it real, right down to him touching Rambo's feet.
Live it up, Akshay, but you really need to change your schtick. You might be the fresh prince, one who's brought Sikh regality front and centre with a bass thump, but unless you start showing some smarts, you ain't legend.