Indian TV has never shied away from breaking the mould and exploring different genres, such as mythology, mythology for kids and mythology featuring steroid shipments masquerading as actors. But the one thing that it has been missing – apart from creativity, bearable performances and production design that doesn’t cause epilepsy – is a solid action-espionage thriller. That may just have changed with the launch of Anil Kapoor’s 24, described by the Hollywood press as, “Why aren’t they dancing to Jai Ho yet?”
I watched the pilot this weekend because I’m lonely and I have no friends and was appalled at the treatment. For example, Jai Singh Rathore (Kapoor) did not once use the words ‘parampara’ or ‘dahej’ and his wife (Tisca Chopra) had the audacity to look directly at his face, without using a sieve in the moonlight. Ridiculous. The script for a truly Indian show looks like this:
EXT. STREET – DAY
Jai Singh Rathore grimaces, jumps into his car and speeds off.
Jai gets stuck at Juhu Circle. “Aye Sonu Hendsum”, says a eunuch. Jai grimaces.
Jai walks into office, carrying his spine which popped out thanks to a pothole in Jogeshwari. He snaps it back into place and grimaces.
Jai: There’s a threat to our young PM candidate’s life.
Shots of everyone in office reacting to the news – Jai’s partner, his assistant, his boss, the peon, the coffee machine, the toilet, Chotu from the tapri downstairs – everyone.
We come back to Jai’s face.
Jai: Never mind. They shot him during our 47-minute reaction sequence.
24 also showcases a young, single, handsome Prime Ministerial candidate with a political veteran for a mother and a brother-in-law who is a family embarrassment. (The similarity ends there though, because this character does not look like he’s losing ground to Captain Genocide.)
A lot of thought goes into naming characters in this genre. The protagonist has to exude manliness to the point where he belches propane, hence the name Jai Singh, which literally means Victory Lion, followed by Rathore, which translates to ‘Leonidas was a pussy’. The young PM’s family is rich and powerful, so they’re called Singhania, because it reeks of influence, as opposed to say, Nair, which reeks of chartered accountant. This is a slight departure from the classic Bollywood portrayal of Singhania, defined as “A cigar-puffing tycoon in a silken robe, whose daughter calls him ‘Deddy’.” I was just glad that Jai’s daughter wasn’t called Sonya. That’s his way of ensuring that she doesn’t grow up to be a socialite.
We haven’t contributed much to espionage literature either. The west regularly churns out bestsellers with names like The Iron Curtain Conspiracy Apocalypse: Operation LuftwaffeValkyrieErdingerSchweinsteigerDasAuto, centred around a combat-hardened veteran with a troubled past, i.e. Major Jake ‘Alliterations Are Awesome’ Johnson, who is brought in for one last mission because if he doesn’t do it, the Nazis/Russians/Arabs/Ajit Agarkar fans will turn the planet into a giant ashtray. In the middle of killing tanks with daggers fashioned from drinking straws, he comes across Rita Rack, a blonde code-breaker ninja with Hawking’s IQ and Scarlett Johannson’s bottom, who provides valuable assistance by sleeping with him and then wondering what trauma hides behind his default steel-grey eyes. At some point, they need to hack into something, so a maladjusted computer genius writes a complex worm that makes the NSA look like a Rediffmail user, and then goes back to exchanging fluids with his Japanese body pillow girlfriend. In a thoroughly gripping climax, the super soldier saves the world from total annihilation by killing Osama Bin Hitler Communistovsky at the last second. Then he grimaces. For those of you who think this is predictable, I hope you enjoy your book by a Bengali about Bengalis who’re wondering what it means to be Bengali.
The problem has been that Indians don’t have the coolth to pull off espionage. We say things like, “The name’s Bond. Ab pyaar ki pungi bajaa de.” We’re also odd when it comes to gear:
Q: Here’s an invisible Aston Martin with a new force-field that can deflect RPGs.
Indian Agent: Pliss to install nimbu-mirchi also.
Our beaches don’t support the classic Bond-girl-emerging-from-the-sea sequence either. What you do get is Shailesh, Sachin and Pakya, fingers intertwined, showing off Dollar under-viyar and basically being an uglier One Direction. But everything said and done, hopefully 24 will create a new genre on Indian TV known as ‘Not Horseshit’. Or as Jack Bauer likes to say, “Jai Ho.”
(Note: This is my HT column dated 6th Oct 2013.)