From the promotional images, trailers, and songs, I was really convinced Veer was going to be a hoot. A crackpot, anachronistic, scenery-chomping, chest-heaving (for both genders), cultural stereotype-wallowing, gleeful hoot. To my grave disappointment, it was all of those words except the last one. There were maybe two scenes where anyone in the movie seemed to be having any fun. In my opinion, if you're going to abandon any attempt at actual history or ethnography in your period piece (despite crediting someone as "research" in the titles), then you'd better replace them with something else worth watching. Exhibit A: Dharam Veer, one of my favorite films of the 70s. Dharam Veer makes no claim of real times, places, or people - or political movements or ideas - yet you do not miss them at all because there is so much other substance going on, done with irresistible, unrelenting, zealous mirth.
Whereas a Desai film rollicks along for a significant proportion of its run time, Veer lumbers like its bulked-up hero. Its idiosyncrasies feel more sloppy than zany. It's several hours of Salman Khan clenching his jaw at you, demanding you be impressed with his gianormous spectacle (ahem) without providing much reason to actually like it. (Not coincidentally, the men of his Pindari clan obtain their wives in a similar fashion, raiding them from neighboring groups.) More often than not, I was bored and/or not engaged with it. I think the state of Bakwass Masala has a new tenant, so bloated with ingredients that it forgot to consider how and why to use them. The whole production is sort of lackluster, despite all it includes.
Speaking of spectacle, speaking of ingredients, Veer is not without pleasures. I genuinely enjoyed "Taali," the first song in the Pindari compound, with clapping and stomping and swords a-clanking. A civilization led by Mithun Chakraborty should have a good song! I also really, really loved seeing a tiger chase a random white girl through the countryside only to be revealed to be one of Salman's pals in a tiger costume. How fantastic to take the 70s masala staple of dangerous animals and push their pragmatic limitations (that is, sometimes using fake animals of various kinds, whether foam or costume) into a blink-and-you-miss-it joke! I even genuinely liked much of the set design, interiors sloshed in rich colors and draped in miles of sheer, billowing fabric. Jodhaa Akbar this ain't, but it had some pretty moments. There were plenty of other things I laughed at that probably weren't intended to be funny, like the constantly reappearing brooch (token masala token!); the fashions circa 1900 that somehow involved jeans, the fur-trimmed vests from Khoon Pasina, and a raid on Justin Timberlake's hat collection*; the varied and strange accents of the British and their evil leader dressed in such metallic frippery that Mogambo himself was envious; Veer's impromptu "Indian dance" at the British school's cultural event; Mithun macking on Neena "Why Am I in This Movie?" Gupta; the recurring growling that I first assumed was a caged tiger somewhere off-screen but turned out to be Salman...the list goes on. It goes on past the final flash forward scene, past alllll the credits, right up until the very last frame that literally says JAI HIND as the film closes.
My list of Veer's unintentional humor does not, however, include Sohail Khan getting a pineapple stuck to his butt.
What else can I tell you? I did not think it was a good film in any way, nor did I enjoy much of it for any reason, even for howl-arity or "so bad/insane it's good," which can hardly even save films like Mard that benefit from much better writers, directors, etc. It wasn't silly enough, light-hearted enough, to be bad in a way that was fun. I think the best way to see Veer will be in a few months, when you can get the DVD, invite a bunch of friends over, and create your own drinking game. Or you could do what I did and enjoy the waves of inspiration for puns and other wordplay.
- Veering Off Course
- Oh, Veer, what could the matter be?
- Oh Veery Veery me
- Veer Eye for the Stereoid Guy
- Veers of a Clown
- Veer and Present Danger
- We having nothing to fear but Veer itself.
- Or, from clever comments on my friend Steven Baker's facebook page, "Bhai one, get one free!" (in reference to the presence of Salman and Sohail) and Sneer
* Costume designer Anna Singh deserves to be singled out for a job exuberantly but ultimately poorly done. In a piece in the Hindustan Times, she says "The late 1890’s is the inspiration here. It’s fiction; so we couldn’t focus on one particular style." Um...what? Who says fiction is not allowed to have historically accurate clothing? She goes on to say "Veer is set in the time when the British ruled India. It was a very pronounced period, so there was very little liberty that we could take. Here we are not showing a particular prince or a princess of a particular era." Again, what? The film jumps around in time a lot but in discrete chunks, so you could very easily focus on clothing of the time of the first big battle, the time of Veer's adulthood, and the original starting point from which the story flows backwards (1920). Someone in Veer seemed to think that gigantic hoop skirts should accompany jazz music. Yes. Clearly no liberty taken there. I'd love to turn a nineteenth-century costume expert loose on this thing.