High on stunts low on substance

Krrish may rake in the big bucks all around, but Bollywood will be better off not building on this brand of high-cost, low-brow copycat cinema, writes Saibal Chatterjee

As expected, Krrish designed and crafted by producer-director Rakesh Roshan as a high-octane vehicle for his hunky star-son Hrithik, has whipped up a storm at the turnstiles. It is after all India’s first film about an invincible superhero driven predominantly by the magic of special effects and daring stunts.

There is no denying that Krrish is a fun film targeted at the undiscerning masses. Hrithik does a great job of bringing a comic-strip hero to life. For the most part, he is convincing. To that extent, Krrish is a successful film — it achieves what it sets out to do.

No Hindi film has ever had more than 1000 prints released simultaneously in the domestic sector and the overseas markets ranging all the way from the United States to Singapore. The bumper opening has, of course, proved the efficacy of that strategy beyond an iota of doubt.

Krrish proffers large dollops of entertainment, but for inordinately long stretches of the unending narrative the film seems to go nowhere. At times, it is difficult to tell whether it is a boy meets girl tale or drama about a good versus evil clash. It is only when the special powers of the hero send him soaring across the Singapore skyline that the pace of the story really picks up.

But no matter what the industry mandarins might say, Bollywood would be better off not trying to ape Krrish. One can, however, only hope that it won’t change the way films are made in Mumbai. The surest way to kill the fantasy genre is to resort to overkill.

That apart, Krrish isn’t quite the sort of cinema that is worth imitating. For one, there is little that is groundbreaking in the film except for the fact that some of the action sequences, conceived and choreographed by a team of foreign technicians, had never been seen before in an Indian mainstream release.

Even as a fantasy, it never quite rises above the predictable. Here is a village boy who lives with his grandmother — it is pretty obvious that this guy is the progeny of the mentally challenged hero Koi Mil Gaya. He is blessed with special powers and he uses it to win his ladylove and save the world from the machinations of an evil scientist.

Producer Rakesh Roshan is a past master at churning out blockbusters all right. Krrish too will rake in the big bucks. But from a purely creative perspective, he seems to have lost sight of the fact that the industry and the audience that it feeds off have both moved on in terms of what works and what doesn’t.

Fantasies have always been the staple of popular Hindi cinema. Yes, it has never had a flying superhero taking on the forces of evil, but even the most staid of Bollywood family dramas have a strong strain of the unbelievable about them. Action heroes in Mumbai movies are people endowed with the sort of strength and courage that are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

Indeed, when a Hindi film captures the imagination of the masses, it is primarily because of the way in which the hero tides over the challenges of life, be it wooing the girl of his dreams against all odds or standing up tall against a posse of baddies. Commercial Hindi cinema thrives on wish fulfilment. No crisis is ever too big for the conventional Hindi film hero. He takes life as it comes and usually emerges from it all largely unscathed, a swagger in his steps and a song on his lips.

So how, pray, is Krrish really different? Except for the fact that he draws much of his appeal and strength from the stunning range of special effects and stunts conjured up by an imported action director, Krrish is cast in a strictly hackneyed mould. He falls head over heels in love with the first girl he meets, dotes on his daadi amma, and hates the sight of men who want to destroy the world a la Mogambo.

Provoked into action, he turns magically into an unstoppable masked crusader. Take away the mask and Krrish is just your average old masala movie macho man flexing his muscles while he flies around like a winged object.

Old hat? Yes indeed, that is precisely what Krrish is. It is the sort of cinema that, despite all the state-of-the-art trappings and lustrous production values that have been generously showered on it, takes Indian cinema back to the days of the epics, which, as we all know, thrive on huge doses of fantasy and valour. But in regressing, Krrish commits an even bigger crime: it borrows concepts liberally from the Superman flicks.

But being a Hindi film hero, he really knows no boundaries. He is caped like Batman, climbs the sides of buildings like Spiderman, zooms around like Superman and has the strength of the mythic Hanuman. If that is the kind of cinema that is going to be the future of Bollywood, God save the world.

It will be interesting to see how the market responds when the real thing, Superman, flies into our metropolitan multiplexes next week. Will Krrish hold its own against Superman Returns? We will know soon enough.