an effort to be less predictable and acquire a bit of street cred, the name of social anthropology, I found myself in Cinecity, Maradana (call me a newbie and make what you will of this, but a cinema atmosphere unlike anything I’ve previously encountered. We’re talking whoops, whistles, claps and cheers after every and I mean every scene of arguable significance- including a close-up of the hero’s biceps- i.e. every few minutes).
I am a relative stranger to Tamil cinema, its gloriously-kitsch-frolicking-on-Swiss-mountainsides-dishoom-dishoom-aesthetic occupying an entirely ignored periphery of my cinematic interests.
Thuppaki (The Gun) is essentially an action flick centered on a terror plot to destroy Mumbai, with a sub-plot of modern Indian romance and marriage (aptly summarised in the most inventive lyrics I have encountered: ‘(Girl) are you an Apple product?’ and the sage advice: looks fade, so marry a guy who makes 200,000 a month, even if he looks like a toad).
A young Tamil, Indian army officer named Jagdish (emphasis on Indian Army in all it’s multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-religious badass, song and dance glory) returns to his family in Mumbai on vacation, where his parents and sisters take him straight from the train station to the home of a potential bride, Nisha. Jagdish discards Nisha assuming that she is an old-fashioned girl (meaning demure, sari-clad and neck tattoo concealed by chaste braid). He later finds out that she’s a father-slapping, short skirt wearing, red-wine drinking experimental smoker who plays every sport imaginable aside from being a pro boxer, which inevitably ends up in an irrational and comedic arranged marriage triangle (cue song: ‘Why does my heart slide on Antarctic ice? Are you a penguin? Are you a dolphin?’) and ultimately undying love, as is usually the case. Easy peasy.
The main storyline revolves around a terrorist plot, by an Islamist terrorist group (trendy) with vague (completely unexplained) motivations to blow things up and create chaos in Mumbai.
Fabulously outlandish plot. Gloriously-kitsch-frolicking-on-Swiss-mountainsides (More progressive song lyrics: ‘I ran a search on google and found no one crazier than him’)-dishoom-dishoom-with Matrix-style slow-mo fight scenes, expert assassinations and explosions at sea. A ‘cold-blooded murderer’ of a hero who ‘extensively tortures’ the baddies (chopped off fingers, forced suicides- the works) and can single-handedly take out an entire armed terrorist cell and rescue five girls (one of them on the knife’s edge of a Youtube execution) with the help of a retired police dog and one gun.
What’s not to like, right? Right.
Contrived Portrayal of Diversity:
Representing ethnic, racial, linguistic, cultural diversity hand in hand with sexuality, stereotyping, typecasting are hot topics within the entertainment industry, where films and largely (American) television shows are being actively analysed and critiqued for their mono-everything casts.
I’m all for diversity, but Thuppaki is so consciously (and consequently unnaturally) diverse.
The Indian army, a central symbol of strongman virtue (including apparently a no-strings-attached license to torture and kill at the whimsy of individual operatives) is composed of all varieties of Indians imaginable, to the point of laboured. The last scene of the film, where the hero’s army train departs to Kashmir, the Muslims (identifiable by skullcaps, beards, covered heads- all typical expectations fulfilled) stand out on the platform (token, human white flags to all the Muslims they offended in the first 2 hours and 20 minutes of the film by saying, HEY the Indian Army adores Muslims, they are our loyal cold-blooded, torturing highly-trained assassins, and they are fighting for our consciously-portrayed-as-diverse-and-united-India against extremist Muslims with Jihadist tendencies. Yes.) A major plot point in the film also revolves around a wardrobe revelation, the coat and tie attire typical to the Christian wedding (diversity for the win?) that helps the terrorists identify the Indian army assassins, who cannot be identified but the fact that they were in suits is common knowledge and where do people wear suits to? Naturally, Christian weddings- get me a list of all the Christian weddings in Mumbai (population a gazillion) so that I can identify and avenge with speedy success.
Extensive Torture? No big deal:
I may have been appalled by the casual and sometimes comedic tone the representation of torture was dealt with in Thuppaki. Jagdish apprehends Terrorist #1, beats him up, chops off his fingers, locks him up in his closet (yes, right behind those dress shirts) and shoots him? Apparently this is completely unacceptable behaviour from a highly-trained Indian Army intelligence type, who will have to answer to no one about his public killing spree. This and the assassination of people in malls, cinemas, boats etc., more torture, using one’s sister as bait to annihilate terrorist cell, etc. You know, the usual.
It is true that films sometimes cast things in black and white, the existential questions and metaphysics puzzles of the grey an irksome inconvenience to the whooping-clapping-whistling masses. But how okay is such light-hearted portrayal of torture? Are we saying we will die and kill for our countries, the greater good of an artificial filmic celebration of diversity?
Perhaps it is a warning of geopolitical significance, You Shouldn’t Mess with New India. Especially not the Indian Army- they will shoot you right between the eyes, if they’re not locking you up in a closet and torturing you first.
Have you seen Thuppaaki? Thoughts?