Directed by: Tarun Mansukhani
Cast: Jacqueline Fernandez, Sushant Singh Rajput, Boman Irani, Pankaj Tripathi
Streaming on: Netflix
A certain obvious thing needs to be gotten out of the way.
Drive isn’t designed to be a good film. It is designed to be an entertaining film. So the binaries of good versus bad, cinema versus trash, must be discarded at the very outset. This is made amply clear when, at the very beginning, we see Jacqueline Fernandez walk out of her racing car post victory in a Delhi midnight street race, high slit dress, tall heels, thick hair, resting against the bonnet, looking around and about, hair blowing, like an actress wearing Versace at the airport, ambling for pap-shots. Fernandez wears this artifice effortlessly on her sleeve, with absolutely no qualms.
If this isn’t the kind of bad cinema you enjoy, then Mansukhani, the director, gives you an out within the first ten minutes.
The story is simple: The corrupt head of the Monetary Restrictions Authority along with her trusted aide (played by Pankaj Tripathi… sigh) stash their black money inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan. High profile thieves are trying to steal it, and store it by converting it into diamonds in London. So it is pretty clear that there are no good characters in this film, no saviours. Only stupid bad people, and smart bad people.
The thing about bad films is that they make you aware that you are watching a reality that is performed; you are never able to surrender to the universe of the movie. In this film, every time Jacqueline is shocked or awed by a proposed heist plan, you are very much aware that she is trying to act out the scene written in a script, shot in a studio, under the gaze of makeup artists and the lighting crew.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s earnestness is horribly miscast in this film that couldn’t care less about craft. He is trying too hard to be a character that is trying too little.
Now here is the interesting thing about the movie for me. I couldn’t think of any actress who could have pulled off this character in this film. It required a certain comfort with artifice, or a genuine inability to emote on demand. Something akin to Aishwarya Rai, the Golden Girl in Dhoom 2. As a result, Sushant Singh Rajput’s earnestness is horribly miscast in this film that couldn’t care less about craft. He is trying too hard to be a character that is trying too little. It is about the banalities of entertainment, glitzy songs, foreign locations, blitzy blondes, lamborghinis and porsches, revving engines, the silver equivalent of Priyanka Chopra’s Desi Girl sari, abs, glitter, glamour, and beats framed by go-pros. At one point in the song “Makhna”, he is playing drunk. You can see his eyes wither, head bobbing slowly and his lips purse like those in photos taken of drunken travails. Even Jacqueline spills her drink on him as he is holding her and is being apologetic about it. It all feels so natural, mesmerizing and too un-performed to fit here. The song sticks out like a sore thumb.
Drive is a bad film. There is nothing in it that pretends to be more than it is- bad.
But it is a bad film you will either be thoroughly entertained (so-bad-it-is-good) or deeply frustrated by. For me, it was the former. It takes the Abbas Mustan template of he-knows-that-she-knows-that-he-knows, and jazzes it with outfits, a background score, and a production design that is massively mounted, but eventually frays resembling a video game. In the climactic chase sequence there is a moment when suddenly all the revving engines and tyres screeching against hot concrete stop, and there is complete silence. A bright red lamborghini is stranded on top of an unfinished bridge in the countryside, surrounded by sepia tinted fields. One of the characters has been betrayed. You aren’t shocked, merely amused. You look at how much more of the film is remaining, 14 minutes. There is enough time for another twist- you are sure the betrayer will become the betrayee, it is only a matter of a second and a contrived backstory. You don’t care. You are not meant to care. How refreshing and how humiliating.