x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bollywood trifle pits honour against passion for laughs

Bodyguard explores the conflict between duty and emotion, but it's played largely for laughs.

Director: Siddique
Starring: Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Raj Babar
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When a movie is about a bodyguard, it will inevitably have the escort overstep the bounds of friendship with the client. That's true whether it's Kevin Costner looking after Whitney Houston or even when it's just Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter escorting Charles Grodin as a white-collar criminal in Midnight Run. The latest regurgitation of the theme sees the director Siddique remake his 2010 Tamil hit Bodyguard in Hindi, riding the wave of recent films using language to tap into different regional crowds.

Timed to come out at Eid, the marketing team clearly hoped that star Salman Khan would repeat his trick of 2010 when the Eid release Dabaang became one of the highest ever Bollywood grossers.

When you cast Khan in the lead, it's inevitable that the emphasis will be on his physique. The body fetishism is so ridiculous that in one fight scene a burst pipe blasts water at the bodyguard with such force that it rips the shirt off his back. It's meant to play for laughs and the light-hearted tone is established in the first dance scene when lyrics about the manliness of the bodyguard accompany absurd choreography in which Khan flexes his biceps in time. For anyone not sure that this is a comedy rather than an action film, the next scene reveals that the character's name is Lovely Singh. The action-comedy is in blaxploitation and 1970s Bollywood territory. All that Lovely needs is the white suit.

His client Divya (Kareena Kapoor) is the daughter of Sartaj (Raj Babbar), the man who saved his mother's life when she was expecting Lovely. As a result, he feels a life-long debt and is determined not to give Sartaj any reason to doubt his honour in the conduct of his bodyguard duties. Thankfully, Divya would never fall for someone who wears his uniform at all times, even when escorting her to college. Indeed, he is such an irritating square that she devises a plan to pretend to be an anonymous admirer calling him to offer clothing advice. It's as ridiculous as Clark Kent taking off his glasses to become Superman that the bodyguard fails to recognise his client's voice or notice that somehow she's always on the phone when he's talking to his telephone admirer.

Outside the pair, the only actor who makes his mark is the newcomer with a sumo wrestler physique, Rajat Rawail, playing Tsunami, a name designed to comment on the destruction he leaves in his wake. When working out he wears T-shirts with slogans such as "I'm in shape (round is a shape)".

As the film plummets to its inevitable conclusion it pays not to delve too deep into the porous plot. The slower, more emotional second half plays as a poor man's Cyrano de Bergerac, with Divya hiding in bushes so as not to reveal that she is Lovely's secret admirer.

But then something remarkable happens; there is a sting in the tale, with a heart-wrenching and brilliant twist of an ending. It's a climax that the slapdash and silly action-comedy that precedes it really doesn't deserve.