At long last, thanks to Hello, we have an opportunity to bitch about One Night @ the Call Center (tagline: Rs. 95 only). The unparalleled success of this book (biggest English bestseller by an Indian author) proves how mediocre readers’ tastes in this country really are. One Night is so tackily put together and so completely not in sync with the good English writers of our times, it’s just plain embarrassing. Any regular reader of books will squirm and cringe at the shoddy writing and total lack of ideas and wit. Chetan Bhagat claims he always intended to keep it simple. But it’s one thing writing accessibly for a large audience and completely another to write like an average 10-year-old. It’s a pathetic excuse for a book, really.
Now couple the book with the promos for Hello we’ve been subject to over the last couple of weeks. Why would any self-respecting, semi-intelligent person want to go watch the movie, you ask yourself. Anyway, you get hauled to the premiere lured by the masochist vision of shaking hands with Chetan Bhagat, and before you know it, it’s all a reality. No matter how hard you pinch yourself, the censor certificate shows Hello in the title space and some million reels to go. It’s almost midnight when the movie starts. Bets are on – how long are we going to last? 15 minutes? 25 minutes? Any chance it’ll be the half-way point?
But here’s the thing: We sat through it all and not against our will. You see, Hello is a half-decent film. How? Why? It took a while even for me to get myself to admit this. But it’s true and on some reflection the reason too became apparent. The fact of the matter is that the film has a solid story and readymade characters for the director as a starting point. For a Bollywood film, this happens rarely. Because it is based on a book, the loose ends are tied up, cinematic liberties (as far as plot goes) are few and the characters could actually be real people. This is many, many steps ahead of the usual Hollywood DVD rip-offs which we’re subject without an iota of creative thought given by the screenplay writers. Why think original when the Americans have done it for you, huh? Except of course, despite every effort in that direction, the average Indian and American can never be alike. In Hello too, the writers take several potshots at America. A 35 yr-old American has the intelligence of a 10 yr old Indian, yada yada. Good. But not enough. Almost looked like a bad case of sour grapes. Clearly the Americans will continue to make 35 times more money than Indians and their lives are portrayed as oh-so-uncomplicated. Nonsense.
The film succeeds in many areas – the chemistry between the characters is palpable. This is saying a lot. There is a serious core to the film that stems from the characters who are quickly established (no long-winded histrionics, no nothing) and change (come of age, fall in love, etc.) by the end of the film. This of course, is a classic writing technique for cinema. Some of the dialogue and setups (especially the exchanges between Sam and the his evil conscience) are genuinely funny. The entire film is more or less set in one location and yet rarely slackens in pace (credit to Umesh Gupta for his editing.) There is a feeling of uninhibited-ness about the way the story unfolds; there is rarely any holding back, even if it means progressing with cheesy ideas and scenes. Take for example the bit where Gul Panag and Sharman Joshi (ex-lovers currently in flashback) are at a nightclub and have a fight, but make-up soon enough. They are celebrating their 2nd ‘anniversary’ as a couple and have promised each other that they’d make it special by having sex. So, they go ahead and do it in the product-placed car. No big deal. Very interesting. Of course, it’s intercut with a giddy-headed song going “Dance vance, Chai shai” in the club which wants to make you throw up, much like all the other songs that slam you from nowhere like you’re stuck in a paintball fight blindfolded. Seriously. That’s also the thing about Hello – it’s unapologetically Bollywood. And of course, that’s a bad thing. The costumes, the tacky sets, the Salman Khan, the helicopters, the third-rate cutaways in America with the fourth-rate actors, ARGH. Not to mention the ‘frame’ of the story and the God call – this is fecal matter transported directly from the book on to screen.
The ensemble cast, however, does do a commendable job with outstanding (relative to the film) performances from Panag and Joshi (as Sam and as the little devil). Sohail Khan seems to have found his sweet spot with this sort of humor. Dalip Tahil is way to over the top (probably not his fault) and doesn’t flow with the rest. Special mention for the cinematography by Sanjay F Gupta – which is just awful. The man needs a new focus puller and a reality check on what’s happening in cameraland.
To reiterate, Hello is alright. This is purely because it’s script and characterization are significantly stronger than it’s peers. Unfortunately, this highlights how mediocre as an audience we’ve become.