Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sunny Goes to Bollywood: What was that Title Again?

Yes, it means “body” in Hindi, but c’mon.  It’s not like they don’t understand the possible English meanings in Bollywood.  Factor in the “mainstream” Bollywood debut of western porn star Sunny Leone and you’ve got the perfect storm of exploitation.  However, nothing is perfect in Pooja Bhatt’s utterly tame J2 (as we shall call it) that nevertheless should not be allowed to ignominiously slink out of theaters unremarked upon (disappointingly safe for work trailer here).

Dear me, where to start.  Perhaps with the plot that can be rather easily dispatched with.  Sunny Leone plays Izna, a porn star (shockingly), who is recruited by a double secret counter-terror agency to lure the dreaded assassin Kabir into a trap.  She had a steamy relationship with Kabir back when he was a crusading cop, but he threw her over when he defected to the dark side.  Needless to say, their feelings for each other remain unresolved.  Simultaneously, Izna’s handler, the tightly wound Aayan Thakur, falls for her hard.  Thus begins a love triangle that endlessly repeats itself, like a turntable needle skipping on a scratch.

Even though she is playing a porn star, Leone is not very convincing as Izna.  Perhaps she was confused by how early all the love scenes ended.  It is not like she isn’t trying.  When called on to act scared, she shivers like she has hypothermia.  Maybe Bhatt had her stand in a walk-in freezer before filming big dramatic sequences.  Okay, so she’s not great, but she knows how to jut.

Frankly, the real embarrassment in J2 is Arunoday Singh’s ridiculously over the top turn as Thakur.  It may well be the most overwrought, awkward screen performance of the post-Ed Wood era.  While he torpedoes his dignity, somehow Randeep Hooda manages to keep his intact as Kabir.  It helps to have that piercing psychopathic stare to fall back on.  It means he can shut the heck up for a while.

J2 commits many cinematic sins, but over economizing is not one of them.  At one hundred thirty minutes, it will tax the indulgence of those who ordinarily dig on bad movies.  Clearly no expense was spared on lush sets, exotic locations, and curve hugging costumes.  However, about twelve cents were spent on script development, relying instead on some of the most shopworn clichés.  The pacing is rather poky, but cinematographer Nigam Bomzan seems hell-bent on recreating the vibe of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” video.

The dirty little secret of J2 is that it is not that dirty at all.  Keep in mind, India has a strict censorship board.  Had it been submitted for a rating here, it might have earned an R, but would have had a puncher’s chance at a PG-13.  That is all well and good for us, but it is profoundly unsatisfying for the film’s target market.  Sorry dudes.

It is not like there is much to miss out on here.  Yet, like a clumsy child, it is hard to judge J2 harshly.  The plain truth is it was just made by people who have no business being on either side of a (mainstream) camera.  Those who know their Bollywood will not be surprised.  The J franchise was written by Bhatt’s father Mahesh, who has a rather sensationalistic rep he has apparently passed along to his daughter.  In case you were worried about not having seen the first installment (wisely re-titled Body for its American DVD release) the films are only thematically related and stand alone, such as they are.  Evidently, the Bhatts figured why let deceptively racy title go to waste.  Not really recommended, but for those who want the weird bragging rights of seeing it in a real honest to gosh theater, J2 plays through Thursday (8/9) at the AMC Empire in New York, after which time they will presumably bounce it out of there, post-haste.