They say one must watch the bad movies in order to truly appreciate the (rare) good ones. What they didn’t tell you is that you must watch the unwatchable, C-grade, shady, elusive, deluded, murky, insignificant, incompetent B-movie disasters in order to truly appreciate even the so-bad-it’s-good ones. And as the young, eager and disturbingly committed film critic, I’ve watched a few over the years.
Somewhere along the line, I’ve begun to treat these screenings as spiritual exercises – where the body, mind and soul endure great duress for hours only to come out cleansed and transcendent on the other side.
If you’ve heard of any of these titles, I’ll buy you a beer. If not, trust me – they exist. The receding hairline and four strands of grey in my beard are testament to their amoebic existence.
A gang of old friends – which in Hindi films means a group of carefully picked regional caricatures – is terrorized at a reunion party by a psychopath they had once bullied in college. Ravi Kissen is this mad man, whose blurred crotch (the makers blur all the ‘saucy’ stuff themselves) is the centerpiece of this horribly acted nightmare. The plot: he decides to humiliate them by making them do things (a woman is made to simulate oral sex on a popsicle, a Sardar’s beard is shaved off, a politician is forced to enact an orgasm – you don’t want to know more).
The gang: a horny Sikh man with principles and a housewife, a brash Gujarati businessman with a wife that resembles Sasha Grey, a Muslim minister who was a pervert back in the day, a conniving South Indian computer genius with a Russian wife who loves threesomes, a chain-smoking extremist Bengali alcoholic…and it goes on. And the tagline of this film: Shades of Grey. E.L. James, better lawyer up.
GANDHI TO HITLER (2011)
Presented humbly as a “masterpiece on World Peace” on posters, this historically inaccurate debacle sympathizes with Adolf Hitler and his wife during their last days in a Berlin bunker. That Gandhi once wrote him letters to dissuade him from war is a known fact, though it is put in here as a token angle simply because this is – believe it or not – an Indian film. It stars Raghubir Yadav as the Nazi leader barking orders in chaste Hindi, and Neha Dhupia as a frazzled and vamp-like Eva Braun.
The forgotten Aman Verma also appears as a pensive soldier with tanned desi troops parading as German, French and Swiss soldiers in desi jungles passed off as German, French and Swiss landscapes. All signs point to it being more inspired by the famous Hitler parody videos than the actual film, Der Untergang (The Downfall). The best part of this film was the immensely starlit late-night premiere at a suburban hall – it remains the only place where I’ve seen both icons, Kamaal R Khan (KRK) and Rakhi Sawant, hobnob as celebrity attractions in the same frame.
The disclaimer before the film reads: Do not watch this as a documentary. There are songs and dances, as well as entertainment and comedy. If you understand it as a film, you will enjoy it. It took me a while to process that a director with a television background (obviously) had made a ‘masala’ film about honour killings – and “both sides of it”.
How are there two sides to the existence of a Khap Panchayat? What exactly is the good side? (Don’t) watch this to find out. This is not only an inanely crafted and utterly insensitive movie, but also infuriating for sensationalizing serious issues under the guise of ‘crimes of passion,’ item songs and sleazy commercial cinema. Easily the worst kind of Indian “social-message” storytelling.
I AM SINGH (2011)
“We live for Turban, We die for turban, it’s all about Turban! Victory Victory!” – the lyrics of the song that concludes this kindergarten-level NRI movie. If you combine the worst possible elements and total budget of semi-B-grade gems like Jo Bole So Nihaal, I-Proud to be Indian, Singh is King, Namaste London, Khap, Yun hota toh kya hota and to a large extent My Name Is Khan, fill them with half a dozen turban-wearing ‘debutants’ who have obviously never been abroad in their lives, fill it with disillusioned Americans intent on doing disservice to their own nation, sprinkle a generous dose of school-level Sikh history, stir it in a lethal cocktail of redundancy and repetition, discover a filmmaking course during this extended family vacation (and duly flunk it), find new ways to embarrass your proud community with good intentions, and finally top it all up with probably the single worst acting performance in the history of bad debut acts (Gulzar Inder Chahal as the sixth robot in the second row of the speech sequence of I, Robot) – one might still not reach the stratospheric levels of insanity needed to produce the extravaganza called ‘I Am Singh’.
RABBA MAIN KYA KAROON (2011)
A ‘rangeen’ older brother (Arshad Warsi; his darkest day) encourages his virginal sibling to philander on the eve of his wedding. His motto – to live a happily married life, one must cheat on his wife – is put forth by their bunch of crass uncles played by none other than Shakti Kapoor, Tinu Anand and Paresh Rawal. This is true. This “contemporary romantic comedy” happened.
RAJDHANI EXPRESS (2013)
Tennis superstar Leander Paes made his dangerously constipated acting debut as a deranged terrorist on a Delhi-Mumbai train stuck in a compartment full of rejected Madhur Bhandarkar caricatures – a high-class escort trying to seduce a gay fashion designer in the toilet and a Bengali Bollywood writer who spouts Marx. Paes promptly went back to his original career and won a few more Grand Slams – unlike Vinod Kambli and Ajay Jadeja’s fleeting B-town stints.
SORRY DADDY (2015)
A granddaddy of C-grade cult cinema, this film – which looks like it was made by a Mahim gangster to educate children – is about an honest cop who busts 1970s-style trafficking lairs when not grieving the death of the wife that once declared her pregnancy by telling him, “Aapke wajood ka ansh jo mere wajood se judd gaya hai…” He threatens baddies by bellowing, “Sharaab ke saath tum sab ka kabaab bana dunga!” and captures kingpins who worship a life-sized portrait of yesteryear villain Jeevan. The name is Ravi Sharma (Shameem Khan), and he wears the best poker face in the world, accompanied by tragic peons sung by an all-male choir.
CHAL BHAAG (2014)
One of the worst screwball crime capers of all time, this has three characters by the names of Munna Supari, Bunty Chor and Daler Singh on the run from corrupt cops, ministers, dated dons, logic and Tom-and-Jerry sound effects. Deepak Dobriyal hams his way into the record books as Supari, stuck in a film whose best moments comprise of eager hawkers and tourists staring into the camera during the shots.
LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (2014)
The lead actor of this awful exhibition of a Canada-tourist-video-meets-Kites-meets-The-Proposal storyline is also credited as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, background musician and costume designer. The screensaver-level CGI scenery and Prem-Aggan-level dialogue delivery don’t quite lend adequate honour to Manoj Amarnani’s proud all-round claims.
MEINU EK LADKI CHAAHIYE (2014)
By far the most obscenely wrong film (?) of all time, this abomination stars Raghubir Yadav again – in a role that makes it very difficult to feel sorry for him. He plays a bumbling, married lawyer named Govind, who spends the first half deliberately stalking and sexually harassing random women to justify the concept of the kind of rape his client is accused of. To watch Yadav spend large amounts of time trying to behave like a lecherous man, mouthing the perverse title in various repulsive tones over the phone and in person, is perhaps the most tragic B-movie experience this side of the late Rajesh Khanna in Wafaa.
BALWINDER SINGH FAMOUS HO GAYA (2014)
Forget the harebrained plot; the final half hour involves Mika Singh, Shaan and Vindoo Dara Singh tiptoeing around a hospital dressed as drag queens. Shaan actually passes off as an attractive woman, but the sight of other two in tight skirts stuffing ubiquitous oranges and dark lipsticks cannot be unseen. I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming for mercy. There are also songs titled ‘Mohabbat ka bhopu lagne laga’ and ‘Kenny G paaji tusi Sax baja le’.
MUMBAI 125 KM (2014)
Pakistani actress Veena Malik plays a skimpily clad ghost haunting a highway while looking to bump off a bunch of trendy youngsters one by one in a car that keeps abandoning its own occupants to accommodate the confused demon. Backstories involve frustrated housewives, party songs, couples that make out by violently rubbing cheeks and, of course, dead babies. This is supposed to be a gimmicky 3D horror movie, as a result of which the clueless makers light up every frame with a blindingly bright source that can often be seen.
TITOO MBA (2014)
‘Get Surprise’ is the tagline. The plot revolves around a Punjabi boy who decides to become a gigolo (imagine the client stereotypes) to pay off debts from a failed wine-shop business. MBA, incidentally, stands for ‘Married but Available’. Titoo has a wife, but he is the victim. The most implausible aspect: how can a wine shop fail in Chandigarh?
Vivek Agnihotri’s smutty Madh-Island-meets-Cape-Fear thriller stars Priyanka Chopra’s other cousin, Mannara, who debuts as a crazy-eyed, puppy-killing, cleavage-showing psychopath with a pet crocodile and an eye for zero aesthetic. I remember walking out wondering what kind of diseased mind would conceive of an exploitative semi-porn drama worse than the Hate Story series.
This thing was positively offensive in a million ways. Somehow, Swara Bhaskar and Sumit Vyas found their ways into this lewd mess. Nine celebrities spend a ‘debauched’ night at a farmhouse – and the director finds different ways to make us vomit.
Condoms are eaten, erectile dysfunction is compared to snakes, balloons and broken rocket launchers, stupid cheating stories are exchanged, and homosexuality is equated to love for mothers. Moral of the story: everyone in showbiz is a perverse, incestuous and wife-swapping monster.
This ill-fated fashion parade of a rom-com seemed like ex-VJ Shenaz Treasurywala’s final throw of the dice. She plays a Bollywood casting director, who hangs out with upscale friends at swanky restaurants, fancy picnics, rich parties and posh baby showers.
The plot revolves around her coupling with a struggling actor and ‘Bhai’ fan (Barun Sobti), who she must polish into a civilized man so that she can inevitably eat humble pie for being a snobbish South Mumbai caricature.
JAI JAWAAN JAI KISAAN (2015)
The famous Lal Bahadur Shastri slogan is turned into a biopic so deformed, so stark and poor-looking that desi extras with powdered cheeks are made to portray British soldiers, while mole sizes on the actors’ playing Shastri at different stages of life keep varying mysteriously. History has never looked so redundant.
Coyote Ugly has nothing on this bar-girl tale that insists on erotically educating viewers about the difference between virginal bar girls and trash-talking sex workers, has Puneet Issar as a respectable lawyer, and ends with an item song that goes, “Come come, I’m naughty number one! Hotter than hottie!”
The title might fool you into expecting a fluffy dance-competition kiddie flick. But no, this is another bar-girl disaster. Shakti Kapoor plays a gay tights-wearing fashion designer who speaks in a British-Ghatkopar accent. Rakhi Sawant appears as Julie, a Dubai-based mentor to aspiring bar dancers, who yells, “You Jhopadpatti!” when angry, accompanied by cries of a wildcat in heat as a background score. Drinking game, anyone?
DIRTY POLITICS (2015)
Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, Jackie Shroff, Rajpal Yadav, Atul Kulkarni, Ashutosh Rana – how could anyone not hear about this classic multi-starrer? The icing on the cake: an incredibly unwatchable sex scene between Om Puri (as a dirty minister) and Mallika Sherawat (as a dancer), invoking the Bhanvari Devi sex scandal.
HUM BAAJA BAJA DENGE (2015)
The maker, Chandra Barot, remains Bollywood’s greatest one-hit wonder. He directed the original Don, only to see a day where his comeback revolves around a gem-studded-glares-wearing romeo from a rock band kidnapping a minister’s daughter to prove to his older brother (Jackie Shroff, doing things he never wanted you to know about) that he can make newspaper headlines.
PAISA HO PAISA (2015)
College students become invisible (more like Mr. X than Mr. India) after a chemistry lab accident, steal gold and lead bungling cops and an idiotic detective on a wild goose chase from Chennai to Mumbai. This tacky movie is so unnecessary that the makers simply dubbed the Tamil version in Hindi and called it a remake.
Oh, the title. The tagline: Nothing can stop a desperate woman. It precedes an assembly-line of “girl power” scenes that contain saxophones playing over cold sex, light-eyed Indians playing Londoners, dark-eyed Indians playing gay Italians, haircuts portraying 18-year jumps, while cigarettes and English-speaking suggest loose morals.
NH8 ROAD TO NIDHIVAN (2015)
NH10’s homeless cousin? Not quite. This is a motion-sickness-causing found-footage thriller – with destined-to-die characters that overuse the term ‘yaar’ to denote constant young bonding – that makes you wish The Blair Witch Project was never made.
ISHQ KE PARINDEY (2015)
A dated India-Pakistan love story based in Lucknow that uses pigeons, kite flying and blank calls as modes of romantic communication. Sometimes, I feel like it’s such films that cause cross-border tension, instead of the other way around.
JEENA ISI KA NAAM HAI (2017)
A 170-minute death knell for the once-promising Manjari Fadnis’s stuttering acting career: she plays a social activist and writer in this sprawling fictitious biopic about a Rajasthani Catholic girl who makes it big in life by winning two Pulitzer prizes and an Arbaaz Khan in America.
This movie is so cheek-pulling poor and indulgent that it has a scene where she is breaking up with her childhood sweetheart at a lake that has Udaipur on one side and a snowy Prague cathedral on the other.
Shekhar Suman’s directorial debut where he plays his son Adhyayan Suman’s (scheming) best friend and famous heart surgeon. A song “Thanks brother, for being there” plays over a montage of their brotherhood.