Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.
In today’s installment, Mark Pursell takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #95, 2010′s Tees Maar Khan.
(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen on July 17th.)
The Gist: A loveable master criminal and his bumbling assistants pose as filmmakers in order to trick an entire village of people into helping them rob a train.
Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Directed by Farah Khan, from a story by Shirish Kunder and a screenplay by Shirish Kunder and Ashmith Kunder.
IMDB Stats: #95, 2.5 rating
The Straight Dirt:
Picture it: A feisty and very pregnant Indian matriarch reclines and gorges herself on a cinematic smorgasbord of heist, crime, and action flicks. Her husband expresses concern that such viewing material is going to negatively affect the baby and cause him to mature into a violent criminal. The woman waves away his concern; foolishly, for as we see in the next frame, her husband is right. The baby, in utero, absorbs every second of the deviant behavior in his mother’s movie choices, essentially cooking him into a larcenous but kindhearted mastermind.
As this revelation rolls into the opening credits sequence — which plays out over hook-laden Indian electropop that is less “earworm” than it is “ear-parasite” — our embryonic protagonist revels in his impending criminal destiny by engaging in some amniotic choreography worthy of Esther Williams. Two inexplicably adult women in equally inexplicable devil costumes dive and swirl around him; occasionally, the camera cuts to a contrasting motif of 50-foot beauties prancing among the skyline of a nameless Indian metropolis.
So begins the buffet of buffoonery that is Tees Maar Khan.
Some of this movie’s WTF moments aren’t really as WTF as they might seem to a lay person unacquainted with Bollywood’s particular palette. The use of highly-choreographed musical set pieces to portray moments of high emotion — a filmmaking strategy akin to Western musical theater and yet so unlike it one almost experiences an “uncanny valley” feeling watching the bombastic song-and-dance numbers — is Bollywood-standard, as is the over-the-top acting and the melodramatic plot. But this plot exceeds the acceptable threshold of melodrama with a disregard bordering on mania. As an official remake of the 1966 Peter Sellers vehicle After the Fox, Tees Maar Khan mashes up two different tropes: “Let’s pull a heist” and “Let’s put on a show”, and the resulting movie is as jarringly schizophrenic as you might expect.
In a nutshell: Tees Maar Khan, now an adult and a beloved/loveable criminal who is a “half Robin Hood” (i.e. he steals from the rich…and keeps it), is hired by a pair of smugglers to pull a heist. The loot? A bevy of priceless Indian antiques. The catch? The valuables will only be vulnerable while being transported by train.
Oh, yeah. Not only is this a heist movie, it’s a train heist movie.
BUT WAIT, IT GETS BETTER. Tees Maar Khan’s “brilliant” plan for robbing the train is to…wait for it…pose as a director and film a fake movie in one of the rural villages through which the treasure-bearing train will pass. His theory is that he will trick the villagers, cast as extras in his movie, into robbing the train as a choreographed part of the production, giving him an unwitting army of 300 thieves. It’s like Argo, but on wheels and, um, for the sake of a bunch of vases.
Of course, this two-hour-plus extravaganza throws plenty of nominal obstacles in Tees Maar Khan’s path: an intractable girlfriend, a desperately pretentious lead actor, not to mention two prim policemen hot on his trail who spend more time flirting with each other than they do worrying about their quarry. These policemen are later married to each other in the final credits; this movie’s loopiness is exceeded only by its inclusivity, it seems.
Everything proceeds apace and accordingly. If you’re familiar with screwball or hijinx-based comedy from any country or era, the jokes and reversals will be as familiar and unsurprising as the progression of a garden-variety Looney Tunes short. The thing is, it’s kind of hard, as a non-Indian and someone whose knowledge of and investment in Bollywood is purely academic, to say where exactly this should fall in the Bottom 100 of IMDB, if at all. The movie-within-the-movie — an overweening period piece about throwing off the last vestiges of British colonial rule — recalls countless actual movies from the history of American camp that were filmed with utmost seriousness and lofty goals, only to come out the other side of the editing process as shrill, unintentionally hilarious messes (think of Valley of the Dolls or Mommie Dearest).
The jokes at the expense of M. Night Shyamalan, Danny Boyle, and Slumdog Millionaire are sly (though almost unnoticeable, surrounded as they are by the movie’s louder, more mind-numbing elements). In the end, though, it’s hard to even enjoy this movie as a glorious mess. The fun factor of watching it wanes as it winds into its second hour, and with each new musical number about Tees Maar Khan and how fucking baller he is, I was getting more and more ready to throw my lot in with the villagers and make a misguided suicide charge against a train protected by armed guards.
Consensus: Part of the mission statement of “Scraping the Barrel” is to catalogue and categorize these unpopular movies so that you don’t have to sit through them; in the case of Tees Maar Khan, you owe me your thanks.
Should-Be IMDB Score: 2.0
~ The smugglers who hire Tees Maar Khan to acquire the trainload of priceless antiques are Siamese twins. Who speak in tandem. Because apparently Siamese twins suffer from a constant Vulcan mindmeld as well as awkward physical adjoinment.
~ Tees Maar Khan’s alter-ego as a director is a fictional brother of M. Night Shyamalan. His name? M. DAY Shyamalan.
~ In the aftermath of the villagers’ discovery of Tees Maar Khan’s true identity and goals, they chase him into the forest…where he encounters a local phantom, the Headless Ghost…whom he defeats…and who turns out to actually be the ringleader of a secret marijuana farm in the forest that is staffed with children kidnapped from the village and surrounding region. The Headless Ghost was just a ruse to keep people away from their operation. No, really. It’s like Scooby Doo, but the drug use is overt.
And, just for fun, the trailer: