By Vidya Pradhan
You may pooh-pooh directors like Karan Johar and Vidhu Vinod Chopra for pandering to mass appeal but, let me tell you, making an ‘entertainer’ is not easy as it seems. The alchemy that happens when the right story, dialogues and cast come together is elusive to most Bollywood directors, and sometimes even the most seasoned players are left with a product that, like a movie set, has no substance behind it. Shaad Ali, who has ‘Saathiya’ and the effervescent ‘Bunty Aur Babli’ to his credit, blunders big time with JBJ. I was a little puzzled that despite the crazy hype surrounding this Yash Raj production, I did not have the faintest idea of the plot of the movie before I walked into the theatre. Well, that question was answered in the first tedious 45 minutes. There is no story. The movie starts well enough with Amitabh singing the peppy title song as the credits roll. (The paunch is a little disconcerting, but much can be forgiven Big B.) We are then introduced to the brash and crass Ricky Thukral, played by Junior B. Ricky is Bunty on speed, but without the essential innocence of that small town crook. Abhishek throws himself into the role with gusto, hamming outrageously. Ricky then meets Alvira( Preity Zinta), at a train station(Airport? Bus depot? London?). Why she would give him the time of day is inexplicable, since her character is meant to be snooty and stuck up. Somehow they strike up a conversation where his romance with Anaida( Lara Dutta) is laid out in flashback. After several unfunny comedic minutes, Alvira starts on the story of her relationship to Steve( Bobby Deol). I couldn’t tell you what happens next even if I wanted to because at this point I walked out of the theatre. Comedy is hard to do, and my standards for cinematic excellence are pretty low, but I found JBJ intolerable. Reminiscent of that other orgy of directorial indulgence, Jaan-e-man, there was plenty of technical finesse and production values were excellent but the lines had no zing and the plot had no dramatic tension. The cast is having a blast, at the expense of the audience. The actors obviously had much more fun making the movie that the viewer will ever have watching it. There are plenty of in jokes that are delivered with a wink, wink, nod, nod to the audience. Ricky references the Bachchan name, and Miss World is often brought up in the scenes with Lara Dutta. The internal logic that even a fairy tale made in Bollywood has to have is glaringly missing here. But the worst failing of the movie is that characters are just not worth caring about. In Bunty Aur Babli, you were moved to sympathize with the two con artists, even wanting them to succeed at their game. But in this over produced skit, it is hard to find anything culturally or emotionally to identify with. Everyone seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Alvira is from Lahore but thinks of herself as a pukka Brit. Anaida is from Karachi but speaks with a bad French accent. Steve is half Brit and half Punjabi and speaks in the affected upper class Indian accent that sounds totally fake. Lara looks cute and cuddly and totally unlike a suave manager of the Ritz in Paris (though she does dress well). Preity simply looks tired. Abhishek as Ricky is the only saving grace. Sporting a devilish desi look, he milks every weak line for all its worth and manages to elicit a few chuckles from the audience. Contrary to popular belief, big stars+song and dance numbers+foreign locations do not a masala movie make. These may be the ingredients, but the proportion, the order in which they are used, and the timing are vital to the success of the recipe. Critics in India have been kinder to the movie than it deserves but I would be surprised if the movie-going public was as forgiving. Still, to be fair, the other viewers around me seemed to be enjoying everything Ricky said and did, which is a testament to the fact that Abhishek Bachchan has arrived. Maybe I will catch the movie again on DVD where some judicious fast-forwarding could reduce JBJ to a watchable 30 minutes, just to see what exactly the story was, if there was any. If you do decide to brave the movie despite this review, let me know how things turn out. On second thoughts, never mind.