Thank you, thank you. For my next number, I will set my backup dancers ON FIRE.
Taal (Beat) is a flashy, tacky spectacle that is a lot of fun as long as you can cope with Akshaye Khanna's hideous haircut. The music by (Oscar-nominated!) A.R. Rahman is, as in Yuvvraaj, leagues beyond the film's quality - except that Taal is a very decent little story with pitch-perfect narrative form, whereas Yuvvraaj was a car careening around with no driver. Taal demonstrates again - as Black & White and Ram Lakhan - that director Subhash Ghai has a cunning ability to just crash into genius sometimes. Because Taal was really, really well-told, with an ending that aspired to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna in terms of sprinting, sobbing, gargantuan satisfaction.
THE HAIR. LOOK AT HIS HAIR.
The story is simple. London-based rich boy Manav (Akshaye Khanna, in The Hair) accompanies his dad, Jagmohan (Amrish Puri, in gentle paternal mode), to India for the first time. There, in the gorgeous setting of Himachal Pradesh, Manav spots village girl, Mansi (Aishwarya Rai). Her father is a locally famous folk musician, Tara Babu (Alok Nath), and, when not accompanying her dad on one of his folk songs, she teaches yoga and runs around in the rain. The lovers are smitten, leading some of Manav's evil relatives to grumble and gripe about gold diggers and poor folk who don't know their place. Eventually, Manav and his wealthy family head down to Bombay - but not before Manav and Mansi exchange tender embraces, an onscreen kiss (!), a scarf embroidered with "Manavsi" (GET IT?! LIKE BRANGELINA!) and promises of eternal commitment.
Not long later, Mansi and her father head to Bombay too in hope of setting up the marriage. Unfortunately, they come to the mansion "without an appointment" and on a day when Manav is out - so the evil relatives have a helluva time prolonging the tortures and making Mansi and her father undergo a nine-hour game of musical chairs in the burning sun (this started to feel very Alice in Wonderland after a while). Properly humiliated and grumpy, Mansi and her father confront the Evils, and things degenerate into name-calling and bitch-slapping. They storm out.
And who should they run into but - yes, Anil Kapoor! We mean "Vikrant Kapur", the hugely successful and hugely trashy music producer, who cheerfully rips off Tara Babu's folk songs according to his personal Seven Commandments of Selling Out and Getting Ahead in Mumbai. Vikrant, who Prof. Lutgendorf describes as "postmodern" and an older, cynical-er SRK from Dil To Pagal Hai, operates at a mile-a-minute, and he speedily invites Tara Babu and Mansi to join him. At least they'll be able to join him in profiting from their music!
And thus, the love
- 1. The arrogant yet sweetly endearing Manav, whose puppy-dog pouts reveal a tender sensitivity.
The Pout #1: includes wounds that need to be tended, puppies that need to be cuddled, and woobieness.
- 2. The arrogant yet sweetly insane Vikrant, whose puppy-dog pouts reveal a tender, wounded sensitivity.
The Pout #2: includes older wounds that need to be tended, REAL TEARS COMING ON, but, alas, no puppy.
- 3. The puppy.
The Pout #3: dispenses with other formalities and just GIVES US THE PUPPY.
We know what you're thinking ("THE PUPPY!"), but you'll just have to watch the film to see how it all plays out.
Now onto the main thing that everyone mentions about Taal (Prof. Lutgendorf, Carla, Beth...): the product placement. We think the product placement - in particular, the use of Coca-Cola - in this film was GENIUS. Pure, unbridled, postmodern GENIUS. Don't believe us? Read on!
Never has beverage choice been so inextricably linked with matters of the heart - behold, as Beth names it, the "Coke-bottle flirting". There is a notable scene when, at a party, Manav drinks from a Coke bottle and cheekily sends it to Mansi. Prof. Lutgendorf notes:
Cultural point here: this is not merely bad manners, but a violation of the strong Indian taboo against jutha, or food/drink contaminated by someone else’s saliva, so when Manasi daringly takes a sip it is somewhat akin to kissing Manav. Not surprisingly, this will follow ‘ere long…
Indeed, "sharing the Coke bottle" comes to mean a lot more than just, well, sharing a Coke bottle.
The odd and funny "moohahahHAHAHAHA!" Dr. Evil laugh moment.
The puppy again. What?
Later, as the more world-wise and cynical Vikrant begins to fall for his heroine, he starts to hit the liquor and, interestingly, his love is finally given raucous, epic expression in a drunken Sufi-esque chant, Ramta Jogi, where he recalls "drinking everything available" and "living entire centuries in a moment". This all seems to imply that Vikrant has aged past the era of young, pure Coca-Cola love and is now in the more hard-edge, emotionally baggaged red wine love. This is, of course, much more appealing and interesting (who needs bubblegum heroes? not us! Han Solo, all the way!) and has poignant Sufi undertones. Interestingly, this is also the only scene in the film where it seems that Mansi feels the slightest flicker of affection for Vikrant. Gasp! Is the Rumi working?
Well, no. Behold another symbolic scene: when we see Manav and Mansi's fathers laughing over a couple Coke bottles together. When we the audience and Vikrant witness this, we know it's time for Vikrant's heart to pack up. And when Vikrant drinks from a Coke bottle and hands it to Mansi, urging her to, "Drink up! They're our company sponsors!" she is hesitant. Sorry, my Sufi man, Coke love has beat wine love!
The music of Taal is just gorgeous - which is right and proper, as Taal is about music, after all. There's the spectacular Jungle Mein Bole Koyal, the touching Ishq Bina and the repeatedly-used leitmotif Taal Se Taal Mila. A vibrant and addictive soundtrack, we've actually been listening to it ever since the post-Yuvvraaj "A.R. Rahman is AMAZING!" boom here at the PPCC.
Beneath that hard, sleazy, oily shell of a man, there is a tender, loving spirit. Not convinced? Perhaps you'd prefer...
Performance-wise, Prof. Lutgendorf is, of course, right in noting that Anil Kapoor owns it and manages to make Vikrant a parody of his earlier screwball performances (and of SRK's performance in Dil To Pagal Hai): he is clearly OTT insane, pinballing from crazy to crazy, with moments of unexpected depth and vulnerability. When Vikrant asks Mansi desperately, again and again and again, "Do you love me?" We at the PPCC kept going, "YES, WE LOVE YOU!" And we do. We'll take one Vikrant and one puppy, please.