Last Friday, I dragged myself to a press screening of Umesh Ghadge’s “porn-com” Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3 — starring Tusshar Kapoor, Mandana Karimi, and Aftab Shivdasani — at a multiplex in Juhu. It was a morning show and there happened to be a few college students (i.e. not members of the press) at the show as well. They were part of the minority that was chuckling, almost out of politeness, at some of the “jokes”. As the “movie” progressed, however, the chuckles reduced in frequency and eventually fell silent. It all became one relentless audio-visual assault: a puke-inducing soufflé of female objectification, juvenile wordplay, and appalling misogyny.
On Thursday, against better judgement, I showed up for the press screening of Milap Zaveri’s Mastizaade, starring Sunny Leone, Kapoor again, and comedian Vir Das. Roughly two hours later, having bolted for the exit as soon as the “movie” ended, I was dry heaving, physically sick from having endured what felt like an even worse assault on my entire being.
Perhaps I’m being ridiculously dramatic and over-sensitive, but surely I cannot be the only one who felt this way. I heard the college students at the first screening — part of the purported target audience for both these crimes against cinema — grumbling as we all shuffled out of the theatre. At another regular show of the same “movie”, a critic friend informs me that a guy used the interval to berate his friends — again, all members of the target demographic — loudly for not having heeded his suggestion to watch Airlift instead.
There is very little to choose between Mastizaade and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, as they come largely from the same two pre-pubescent minds: those belonging to Mushtaq Sheikh and Zaveri. Both are seasoned Bollywood writers. The former has written films such as Om Shanti Om (2007) and Ra.One (2011); the latter has written dialogues and screenplays for several films since the early ‘00s, most notably Kaante (2002), Masti (2006), Housefull (2010), Grand Masti (2013), and Ek Villain (2014).
A file photo of Mushtaq Sheikh
A file photo of Milap Zaveri
It’s almost as though they’re the same “film” (and from what I hear, they actually were). In Kyaa Kool…, Kapoor and Shivdasani play two young men who become porn stars in Thailand. In Mastizaade, Kapoor and Das play sex addicts. The former features Iranian model and recent Bigg Boss participant Mandana Karimi, making her objectification debut, while the latter offers current social media darling Sunny Leone in a double role. In both movies, the plots have nearly the same set-up: two horny young men have lots of sex with several unnamed, often Caucasian women (because foreigners have no sanskaar, duh) before they meet “the one” (because she looks like a foreigner but speaks Hindi and isn’t that the dream?) and want to settle down.
There are no words to accurately describe the inanity that Zaveri and Sheikh have tried to pass off as comedy here. In Kyaa Kool…, they find humour in a grandmother dying of a heart attack at the age of 69 and a horse letting loose an exothermic fart on Karimi’s face, which chars it black. In Mastizaade, a gay character (played by comedian Suresh Menon) is portrayed as an unbelievably over-the-top predator who all but molests Tusshar Kapoor in a fit of horniness (this is fiction, after all) and this is supposed to be hilarious because, in Milapverse, homosexuality is a punch line, as opposed to an experience that can be a grim reality for many gay people. In another scene, Das bites a disabled guy’s crotch whilst punching him on his testicles because, well, I don’t know; perhaps one of the writers won a coin toss or something.
Women in these films aren’t even treated as flesh-and-blood characters — they’re vehicles of tits-and-ass whose sole purpose is to provide titillation and amusement for the audience and motivation for the male characters. In Kya Kool…, Claudia Ciesla and Gizelle Thakral play two porn stars in permanent states of arousal. They cannot, it seems, utter a line without touching some part of their bodies, heaving their bosoms, and moaning in the most ridiculous manner possible. Either a) the writers have no idea what female orgasms looks like or b) they think the audience doesn’t — I’m leaning towards a), frankly. In Mastizaade, Leone plays twin sisters Laila and Lily Lele: one, a saucy seductress, and the other apparently demure and geeky (never mind that her necklines are just as low as her sister’s; it’s just that she’s draped either a pallu or a dupatta over herself).
A screen-grab from the 'Mastizaade' trailer featuring Sunny Leone
Sheikh and Zaveri are presumably adults, but their understanding of the female anatomy seems to be decidedly juvenile. In Mastizaade, a woman, subtly named Titli Bubna (Thakral again — how did they even keep track of which set they were on?), appears as a bank manager who seems to have no idea that she has breasts on her person. Thankfully, Das and Kapoor are there to helpfully inform her that the fries she ordered along with her burger are hidden from view under her ample bosom — a part of her own goddamn body. She giggles and thanks them profusely: “Oh my god, I’m so silly!” They nod their heads in agreement and giggle modestly, all the while still staring at her silicone-enhanced cleavage. The soundtrack dutifully adds honking sounds every time we see Thakral’s assets, reminding young men everywhere that women’s bodies are but playthings for their enjoyment. Phew, good thing there’s none of this ‘patriarchy’ and ‘rape culture’ nonsense in India otherwise these annoying feminist-types might have begun their caterwauling again.
What is particularly surreal about these pieces of trash masquerading as films is the way they’ve been promoted as daring, paradigm-shifting mainstream releases. In an interview to Scroll.in, Mastizaade producer Rangita Pritish Nandy insisted that they had not objectified Leone. She said, “Strip a man, nobody notices. Put a willing woman in a bikini and everybody screams murder,” implying that the problem lies in our perception. Zaveri has frequently cited the example of Marathi film producer Dada Kondke’s raunchy brand of cinema in the ‘70s and ‘80s as justification. In all likelihood, the criticism of these films will be dismissed by them and their ilk as language-based elitism and hypocrisy, especially when compared to the raunchiness of American comedies such as American Pie (1999), The Hangover (2009), and 21 Jump Street (2012).
However, juxtapose these films against the aforementioned examples and one realises that there’s a massive difference in what Zaveri and co. are doing as opposed to what they think they’re doing. It’s incorrect to assume that what Hollywood and even Kondke have done in the past would or should be kosher by today’s standards. We do, after all, live in a world that is a lot more sensitive to such things than ever before, thanks to the Internet. The drubbing that films like Entourage (2015) received recently is proof of that.
There is nothing wrong, per se, with the idea of depicting sexuality and nudity on screen. There never has been. Take Kolkata-based filmmaker Q, who has shocked audiences with his daring, explicit Bengali film Gandu (2010) and is currently in Sundance with the sex comedy Brahman Naman — he pushes boundaries, yes, but with visual panache, sophistication, and an acknowledgement of real-world sexual politics. Take Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s Hunterrr (2015), which took the trouble to create relatable female characters and derive its humour from situations, not crude wordplay. This is also “our cinema” and it is doing the same thing, only better.
Herein lies the key difference: in good sex comedies, the jokes can get uncomfortably raunchy but are frequently smarter and usually punch up (i.e. humour is not derived at the expense of groups or communities that have a lower amount of power, such as women, homosexuals, the differently-abled etc.). That aside, many films considered to be good are also inventive with craft and often benefit from good acting. The latter was true, to a certain extent, of Kondke’s films as well.
Kyaa Kool… and Mastizaade go out of their way to shock and offend, but never in a good way. All the jokes are stale and terrible, the kind you may have laughed at if you were 12 years old, enveloped in regressive ideas that ultimately strengthen the status quo: boys will be boys and everyone will just have to deal with that. It’s called adult humour for a reason, for heaven’s sake. And let’s not even talk about craft or acting. Yeesh, is anyone even expecting good acting from the likes of Kapoor, Shivdasani, Karimi, Das, and Leone?
At the end of the day, after all the excuses have been made and the hype-dust has settled, it’s quite apparent that these films have been made for one and one reason only: money. It’s obvious that the extreme lack of nuance and subtlety that these films possess serve only one purpose: to appeal to what the makers think the lowest common denominator’s sensibilities are and emulate or better the success of predecessors such as Grand Masti (2013), a similarly awful “sex comedy” that raked in Rs 100 crore two years ago.
In other words, dear potential audience members (if any of you are reading this), you’re being played. You’re being played by the makers of these films — many of whom are well-educated, well-traveled, English-speaking sophisticates; some of whom would probably never watch such films for leisure (I’m looking at you, Vir Das) — into parting with your hard-earned money to watch this tripe so that they get richer.
There has never been a better time to call ‘bullshit’ on this whole charade. Do it. Do it now.
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