5 June 2011

Cinemascope: Ready, Kung Fu Panda 2

My Sunday Guardian film review column this week.

Standard Salman fare, if that’s what you want

Director: Anees Bazmee
Starring: Salman Khan, Asin, Arya Babbar, Paresh Rawal, Mahesh Manjrekar, Akhilendra Mishra, Puneet Issar, Manoj Joshi, Sudesh Lehri, Manoj Pahwa


As a Hindi movie-goer of the 2000s, you might have been lulled into nostalgia for a time when villains had bizarre hairstyles, wore outrageously flashy clothes and mouthed menacing dialogues of the "Isse jaldi coma se bahar lao, doctor, nahi toh main tumhe coma mein daal doonga" variety. Or perhaps you've been yearning for the Hum Aapke Hain Kaun style family, with saccharine-sweet chachis, 'naughty' nephew and fluffy white dog? Either way, have no fear, Ready is here.

Anees Bazmee's film is ostensibly about a rich, beefy and jobless young man who's trying to stave off an irritating girl sent by his family Guruji to be his future wife when he discovers that she's (a) not sent by Guruji, and (b) escaping an arranged marriage. Since it has been established in the opening scene that Prem spends his spare time (i.e. all of it) helping unwilling brides flee arranged marriages, this is just his thing. So he saves her from Bizarre Hairstyled Villain No. 1. Then, needless to say, love happens. By which we mean Salman and Asin get to sing a forgettable song while traipsing around Buddhist temples, in Bangkok supposedly (but Sri Lanka, actually). Then he gets to the real work of reforming Asin's villainous mamas. With the aid of their unsuspecting accountant (Paresh Rawal), the baddies are first lured by lucre, and then, when they least expect it, subjected to deep-down lessons in family values by Salman's dad: be nice to your elders and do let your wives eat dinner before you, because "women's worlds begin and end with us, and so we really must take care of them". And so the old-style baddies (of jhoothi shaan, boorish manners and bad hair) are transformed successfully into a version of Salman's own HAHK-style khaandaan. Whether this is an improvement you must judge for yourself.

But all this is just by the way. What Ready is really about is Salman Khan – with or without shirt, with or without spectacles, with or without almost-obscene-dance moves. If you think you'll enjoy watching Salman dine out on playing Salman, go for it.


Buddhist philosophy & Panda kicks in 3D

Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman


2008's runaway hit, Kung Fu Panda, was about a slacker of a panda called Po who is unexpectedly picked to learn Kung Fu in fulfilment of an ancient prophesy, and then – even more unexpectedly – called upon to defend his world from the evil snow leopard, Tai Lung. Kung Fu Panda 2, released last week, has Po enlisted to battle a new villain, Shen, the white peacock, all flourish and metallic claws, who is out to conquer China – and wipe out Kung Fu – with the aid of his new invention, gunpowder.

In a kind of Kamsa-Krishna style plot twist, Shen also happens to have been the one who wiped out all the pandas in the region (including Po's biological parents) several years ago, when it was foretold that he would be defeated by a black-and-white warrior.

So in the best sort of epic tradition, Po is fighting simultaneously for Kung Fu, for China – and for himself. It seems a hard task for a genial, roly-poly panda who still seems to trundle along rather than run and admits that "stealth mode" is not his strong suit. But as his teacher Master Shifu (voiced splendidly by Dustin Hoffman) says to him early on: "Remember, dragon warrior, anything is possible, when you have inner peace."

Finding inner peace, it turns out, in Po's case, lies in finding out who one is – but also in realising that it's what one makes of oneself that matters. "The cup you choose to fill has no bottom," says the soothsayer to the ever-peaceless Shen. The film is chock-full of such philosophical nuggets, mostly delivered with panache. A proper Buddhist does not seek to harm an opponent, but just redirects unwanted violence back to its initiator, says Shaolin Kung Fu teaching, and it's fun to see this implemented literally, when Po swings Shen's cannon balls right back at him.

But the most profound pleasure of Kung Fu Panda 2 is in its stunningly visualised 3D universe. From snowy mountain passes and waterfalls to the smoky depths of ancient cities, it is a landscape that owes much to Chinese art.

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