Package Deal: 'Main Hoon Na,' Hindi blockbuster

A group of us went to go see Main Hoon Na (I'm There, Right), the latest blockbuster Hindi film -- playing at a multiplex in Orange, Connecticut. A competent review of it is available at Apunkachoice, so I won't attempt a full review here.

The 'important' thing to say is that this is a patriotic film that avoids stigmatizing Muslims, and is profoundly nationalistic while also advocating peace between India and Pakistan. The director said in an interview somewhere that in recent years "Pakistani" has become a synonym for "terrorist" in Hindi films, and she wanted to do something different. She does, but it remains to be seen whether audiences will buy it, or find the idea of Indian nationalism without hatred-of-the-Other to be too unrealistic to bear.

Ok, enough 'important' comments -- on to the song-and-dance. You would think that since this was the first film directed by Farah Khan, one of Bollywood's hottest choreographers, reviewers would be paying more attention to the dance sequences. Actually they haven't been, because the dance sequences in the film are formula. And the fact that Farah Khan is a female director didn't stop her from exploiting the bodies of her heroines to maximum effect. There is a kind of obsession with women shaking their hips here: I don't know if that can be called a 'feminine touch', but it certainly isn't feminist! There are also acres of midriff (the younger heroine is reminiscent of Christina Aguilera), though to be fair, India actually invented a device for exposed midriff thousands of years ago -- it's called the sari.

Main Hoon Na's song sequences and fight sequences are overstuffed with visual puns and gimmicks, which suggest either that the attention span of the audience is shrinking, or that the director is a little insecure. Many references are to classic Hindi films like Sholay and 1942, but some sequences also invoke recent Hollywood blockbusters as well. For instance, there are almost predictable references to The Matrix, including a brilliant parody that involves the hero in freeze-frame mode, dodging not bullets but globules of spit from a salivically over-endowed physics professor.

The fight sequences are some of the best I've seen in a Hindi film. Some tricks are borrowed from the Wachowski brothers, but many moments feel original. Farah Khan doesn't speed things up to the pace of the Matrix in her fights. Rather she aims to achieve a John Woo effect: slow, dawning awe. (Woo fans will see other references to Woo, including pre-Hollywood films like The Killer, in some of her shots.) Perhaps her skill with the fight sequences is where her experience as a choreographer really helps her, and the film.

Not everyone will like this film. Main Hoon Na is trying to be a big blockbuster -- it departs early from realism on the wings of a John Woo dove, and never returns. Moreover, it is trying to be three genres at once (patriotic/military/action, family saga, teen comedy). This can be confusing for really anal people obsessed with little things like narrative coherence, but not for me, or apparently, anyone else in the movie theater last night. As my friend Susheel said, smiling after we walked out of the theater: "Package deal."