Thoughts on Dhoom 3: MAJOR SPOILERS!
With Dhoom 3, Aamir Khan’s quest to revive masala, a project that began with Ghajini, comes full circle. Mapping the masala origins through a fractured memory in Ghajini, via a quest at unearthing the meaning of real loss of those at the fringes in Talaash, we arrive to the sad and certain death of an identity that cannot exist in doubles, and cannot survive singularly either. That this realization of the Aamir Khan project of masala-memory happens in the third installment of a franchise that is known solely for its bikes, babes and beefcakes is probably the boldest statement and biggest blunder simultaneously.
Dhoom 3 is a misunderstood beast. And make no mistake; it is a beast of a film alright. From the most expensive song ever in Bollywood history (Malang) to production values at par with international standards (this is unarguably one of the most polished looking Hindi film on the big screen) and VFX/CGI that for once don’t groan under the weight of their own spectacular ambition (this when lesser films have tomtommed their effects as Bollywood’s pride, Hollywood’s envy); Dhoom 3 arrives with all its hype justified. That the production values and VFX/CGI don’t merely up the ante in the expected action aspect of the franchise (i.e. chases and stunts), but are employed in the service of a narrative that is really a drama at heart with the Dhoom franchise trappings cloaked around it as a disguise to make it more arresting and box-office friendly, is also something that is leaving many of the audiences disoriented. After all, you don’t go to a circus and not be shown clowns and elephants, but instead accomplished artists performing dazzling derring-dos and sleight of hands.
But who’s to say that a circus should only be meaningless fun, with nothing really at stake. That a clown’s act cannot be a disguised play on pain. That one has to be ashamed of necessary contrivances.
At the heart of Dhoom 3 then is The Great Indian Circus. This Jackie Shroff run enterprise meets its end when an American banker deems it laughably unworthy of a loan. This despite the fact that one of the banker’s own associates seems to reflexively applaud Jackie’s showstopper trick The Boy In The Box, which involves his son who shall grow up to be Aamir Khan- the antagonist of the film -vowed to revive his father’s Circus to its deserved glory and bring the financial institution to dust that has denied his family its pride. The pride, as stressed by the departing father, is in “kartab dikhana”, and doing so without being ashamed of it.
And so, the film goes about fulfilling its promise to deliver masala unashamedly, doing so in a franchise that is actually a borrowed genre from the West. The chases and stunts happen yes, but all to help fulfill a promise to a father. There is a love-story that it embraces as well… and most importantly, a plot twist that not only underlines the film’s commitment to masala, but also goes in making a meta-filmic point about the genre and its current state.
The plot twist is the twin. The Boy In The Box, borrowed from Nolan’s The Prestige (also a film about the deception of the visual medium), is actually not a trick at all. The two brothers, one of them slower, live as a singular identity. They represent the multiple abilities of a masala film to exist as one whole, even when they are serious and stupid in equal parts. This argument is brought to the fore in an emotionally charged scene when the slower of the twins questions the other on his legitimacy to be a part of the acclaim- “Kartab main karun, aur wah-wah tumhari!” The ‘normal’ twin would like to believe that he is the privileged one and the lesser is just his “parchai”, only to realize that perhaps while the other can still exist without him (as harmless rom-coms and suburban dramas do), he will face a sure end all by himself. That the narrative concludes with neither of them surviving is the judgment of the Aamir Khan project that masala as it should be… where the stakes are always real and so is the loss, where the romantic interlude coexists with fraternal love, where the honour of a family has to be upheld at all costs, where the action, comedy and drama all blend together in one ‘real’ whole… doesn’t exist anymore… and probably never will.
This is where the Abhishek Bachchan casting becomes so important… and it is almost providence, that Abhishek is a part of the Dhoom franchise now that it has arrived to this conclusion in the 3rd installment. Abhishek’s cop Jai has always been the anomaly in the earlier Dhoom films, playing it only a touch less serious than his superlative Dum Maaro Dum act. Realism and ‘real’ are two very different concepts. Realism is merely the attempt to replicate reality in an art form. Many of the new-wave Bollywood films like Gangs Of Wasseypur, etc. boast of realism, while never operating in the ‘real’. The fabrication of reality always exists, made hyper-real almost. Where the best of masala films of the 70s succeeded were in staying true to the folk origin of the cinema narrative, where like the best of mythology the characters were larger than life and the proceedings demanded suspension of disbelief, but the pitch of the performances and the psychosocial conflict of the characters were very ‘real’. Abhishek’s cop act has always been guided by these older films. What the narrative of Dhoom 3 finally provides him with is an antagonist who plays it exactly the same way. Not for no reason do Aamir and Abhishek have as many as six major exchanges, where they both either complement each other or seem like opposite sides of the same equation. It is Abhishek who enjoys the privilege to become the friend of the slower twin as well. It is he who acknowledges this twin’s innocence. It is also no accident that he is betrayed by the serious twin as well, a failure to understand that what is masquerading as ‘simple-minded’ is very devious indeed. Indeed, by the time the film ends, Abhishek realizes that what preceded was more than just a cops n’ robbers chase.
P.S.- There are various other aspects of the film to talk about, little things to notice such as how the introduction of Katrina Kaif (an obligatory song that is usually a part of our films) plays it exactly for what it should be (she dances not just for the hero’s eyes, that illusion is broken with her dancing in front of an audience in a performance where she is told that she better arrest the audience’s attention for those whole 5 minutes)or how the cinematography in various shots cleverly and slyly forebode of things to come (superbly realized in the sequence where Aamir and Abhishek meet for the first time and the twin-shots of the brothers falling down as children and in the climax) and so on. In fact, in retrospect, the only parts of the film that don’t really click are the action set-pieces, and not because they are poorer than those in the previous two films of the series (they are unimaginative yes, but realized exceptionally) but because they seem so perfunctory in the larger scheme of things happening in the film.
- Abhishek Bandekar