Perhaps the similarities are to be found elsewhere. Certainly, it feels like we have travelled little distance between the Khiladi of 1992, who sang ‘Khud ko kya samajhti hai’ at a ribbon-wearing Ayesha Jhulka (while his gang of boys, in a surreal-but-subliminal-
The maker of the match is Hangdog Himesh—the Reshamiyya himself, playing the (ill-fated) son of a Gujarati marriage arranger whose father has thrown him out of the house. The prospective groom – Akshay Kumar, with the magisterially ridiculous name of Bahattar Singh – doesn’t seem to care much about who the girl is. His rather minimal requirement is that he be matched up with an Indian girl, because his (ill-fated) family of Punjabi rural henchmen has only been able to acquire foreign women in the past: Black, White and East Asian. But the Indian Indu is in love with a chap by the name of Azad – the purpose of whose (ill-fated) name is to keep him oh-so-ironically in jail through much of the film (and who we anyway know to be ill-fated because surely Asin is not going to actually marry anyone except Akshay).
But returning to the matter of our hero’s manliness, I think we’re supposed to think of Mister Bahattar as an evolved sort of chap because he
a) doesn’t force himself upon the girl he’s besotted with (yay for small mercies)
b) demonstrates his greatness to her in a truly khiladi sort of way (mainly by driving her car better than she does), and
c) brings the above-mentioned Azad out of prison, all the better to show his ladylove how mistaken she’s been in her romantic choices (“like a little child crying for a toy that you know will only last a day or two, but you have to bring it to her anyway”).
We must of course disregard the fact that our hero is a man whose life consists of posing as a cop, capturing trucks full of smuggled goods and beating up people for a living. After, all the heroine’s father is a mafia don, too – and neither of them have the slightest self-doubt about their dubious life-choices, except lamenting the fact that they can’t get shareef girls to marry into their households. (Er, yes, foreign women are automatically un-shareef.)
Yes, yes, this is a ‘comedy’, I know, and next I will be told that I ought to “leave my brains at home”, like a misplaced pair of spectacles. Yes, fuzzy vision would certainly have been a help getting through this film, which assaults the senses in every possible way. When we’re not reeling from looking at Akshay Kumar’s electric blue kurtas (worn with orange-yellow scarves in what is meant to be an approximation of Punjabi trucker costume), we must deal with watching him romance an Asin fully-clad in Marathi-style saris or flowing scarlet gowns, as bikini-wearing white girls pirouette around the pair. That’s in his fantasies, of course – in real life, our poor hero only gets to dirty dance with a lean, mean white woman in a 1970s-Hindi-movie style disco, while Asin gets to be the object of the taming of the shrew narrative I mentioned earlier.
What else can I tell you about Khiladi 786 that you might not have already imagined? That a brother-sister pair called Mili and Bhagat are meant to provide comic relief by being plump and disabled respectively? That Mithun Chakraborty is so bored by his massively over-done, massively moustachioed character that he’s already reprising his previous role in an Akshay Kumar movie –Housefull 2? That this is the sort of film where even the characters have to be reminded of what happened to them three days ago by being shown a sepia-toned flashback?
Khiladi 786 begins by announcing that the world has two categories of people: earners and spenders. And every wedding is an occasion celebrating the union of the two types: “jahan ek kamaane wale ko ek kharch karne wala mil jata hai”. That offensive, sexist beginning doesn’t keep the film from paying its cynical lip service to ‘love marriage’—and it’s not going to keep a whole country from spending our hard-earned money on it either. We only get the movies we deserve.
Published on Firstpost.