The English-speaking world has traditionally recognised Edward Wood Jr as the worst filmmaker of all time. In particular, his 1956 sci-fi film Plan 9 From Outer Space usually finds a prominent spot in most 'Worst Films' lists. With Indian cinema's growing worldwide influence, it may be time for our own Kings of Camp - from Joginder Shelly to Kanti Shah - to be recognised in the same breath.
If and when this happens, we can add the director duo of Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh 'Insan' and Jeetu Arora 'Insan' to this list. The controversial MSG: Messenger Of God, which finally releases in theatres today, is a hilariously terrible film which unfortunately falls just short of so-bad-it's-good perfection on account of being bad at being bad (I am aware that this might be the weirdest sentence ever written in a film review).
But the good news is that it gets close enough. Right from its first scene, featuring the Guruji in a P-Diddy-style rap number called 'Never Ever', the movie is an orgy of bad taste. However, to be completely fair, for about two-thirds of its length, its campiness is almost endearing. The press show I attended saw generous applause and hooting, which is unusual behaviour for Indian critics outside of film festivals. Of course, the point to note here is that most of us, this reviewer included, were laughing at the movie, not with it.
Look, let's be real about this. As I mentioned before in my report of the film's surreal press conference, this is a facile propaganda piece for the Dera Sacha Sauda, a controversial 'social service' organisation headed by Gurmeet Singh. Often fondly referred to as 'Rockstar Baba' or 'Guruji', Singh is better known for the numerous cases slapped against him for murder, rape, as well as the relatively milder charge of encouraging his followers to castrate themselves. After generating more than a month's worth of headlines, there have emerged three kinds of potential viewers for this film: one, the Dera Sacha Sauda follower, for whom his/her multi-talented Guruji can do no wrong; two, the gleeful urban sophisticate, for whom this is the kind of unintentionally hilarious 'stoner film' that will one day (hopefully) be reviewed by the Pretentious Movie Reviews guys; and three, the outrager, who is curious to see just how much of a cultural and intellectual low we've hit as a nation by actually having allowed this worthless garbage a release in theatres.
All categories are likely be satisfied with the end product, if only to a certain extent (barring the first, who is a lost cause). Featuring a threadbare 'plot' wherein a motley crew of assorted drug-lords plan to assassinate Guruji for hampering their profits, the movie is an excuse for its larger-than-life star to showcase the myriad ways in which he is changing the nation through blood-donation camps, sapling-plantation and cleanliness drives, de-addiction clinics etc. A corrupt politician named Chillum Khurana (just...go with it) conspires with a dunderheaded Caucasian (for lack of a better descriptor) hit-man named Mike (accidental Breaking Bad reference win) to eliminate the Guruji. They try, and they try, and they try again - and fail each time. On a pure story level, this film is Tom & Jerry, if Jerry were a bearded god-man from Rajasthan with enough body hair to give Anil Kapoor a complex.
Every scene follows the exact same pattern: Some conflict occurs → Guruji enters dramatically in laughably blingy costume complete with tacky headgear → Guruji solves conflict through words/violence/magic (seriously)→ People causing conflict realise Guruji is da man and start chanting 'Dhan dhan satguru tera hi aasra' (an actual DSS chant) → Guruji smiles beatifically, unwittingly looking like a man who has just smoked some of the best weed of his life.
MSG: Messenger Of God features some of the worst acting, special effects, music, editing, and direction you will ever see. It is supremely preachy and wears its regressive biases on its sleeve by being cheerfully sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic enough to make even Sajid Khan blush. For heaven's sake, it is barely even a film - for the most part, it simply comes across as a Bollywoodised PR statement that glorifies the colourful life of its 47-year-old protagonist.
How do you take any of this seriously? More importantly, why should you? The only way for any intelligent, self-respecting individual to engage with this movie, if they absolutely must, is to be viewer #2 i.e. get high and watch the movie with friends to make fun of it, just as you probably did with Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahaani about a decade ago. Even then, its back-breaking 3 hours and 15 minutes run-time will prove to be a daunting challenge for even the most hardened lovers of schlock. Be prepared especially for a nearly 40-minute-long flashback involving a young woman named Kasam (TV actress Jayshree Soni) that will want to make you rip your own hair out.
Or, you know, don't watch the damn thing and continue to be an intelligent person who makes good choices. There's always that.