In a recent interview about Yashraj Films’ newest production, “Dhoom,” director Sanjay Gadhvi mentioned that originally, the film was to feature top-of-the-line sports-cars as opposed to the motorcycles that made it to the final cut. Gadhvi recounted a conversation with producer Aditya Chopra, in which he explained why he felt motorcycles were a better choice. “Firstly, the hero´s face can be seen clearly,” said Gadhvi. “Secondly, I was crazy about bikes in my youth. When you speed them up, and the wind hits your face, it gives you a rush that you cannot get in a car."
The quotation reads like any another empty press-byte from a director trying to sell his film; it doesn’t say much about either the film or its making, just that some changes were made during conceptual stages. After watching “Dhoom,” however, one realizes the enormous extent to which Mr. Gadhvi’s words have dictated his work; the ingredients the director mentions are the heart and soul of his exhilarating new film. If “Dhoom” is the cinematic equivalent of an unstoppable motorcycle ripping through miles of road in a matter of seconds, the film’s cast and formal momentum are the fuel that keeps its engine racing full-speed ahead.
The film’s foremost asset is its successful amalgamation of aesthetic conventions from Hindi cinema’s own unique action-cinema pedigree with the bells-and-whistles of big-budget Hollywood productions; as a result of which, it stands as a distinct effort that is essentially unlike other action films being produced in the Hindi film industry today. What other film in recent memory evokes both the nostalgia we associate with Bollywood cop dramas of the 70’s and 80’s, and the feel of Hollywood guilty pleasures such as “The Fast and the Furious” and “Torque?”
Mr. Gadhvi’s script, in which a police officer (Abhishek Bachchan) reluctantly teams up with a philandering motorcyclist (Uday Chopra) to take down a gang of thieves, is a tribute of sorts to the kind of pulp that was offered up in spades in those old police potboilers. And like those earlier productions, “Dhoom” features a storyline that places a far heavier emphasis on its characters than its situations. The characters are the primary focus of the film, and their personalities propel the narrative forward.
The protagonist cop aims to take down the robbers, but why does the audience care if he succeeds or fails? In this film, it’s certainly not because of the inherent immorality of the crime in question. Audiences are never given a clue as to the repercussions of the robberies committed or even who exactly the crimes end up hurting. If anything, the exciting, sleek heists presented in the film glorify criminal behavior.
Audience investment is drawn from the characters. Viewers identify with the ambitious police officer and the flippant motorcycle prodigy as much as they admire the debonair leader of the gang of thieves (John Abraham). Consider the reason why comic-book fans often ask the question, “who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?” When charismatic and alluring individuals are forced into an adversarial situation, the outcome is bound to be nothing short of spectacular. Excitement and curiosity are bound to peak.
The film capitalizes on this maxim to excellent effect. The narrative, in its purest form, consists of a series of increasingly heated encounters between the brave policeman and the dashing criminal; and each encounter masterfully sets up the next. As the film races towards its conclusion, the characters’ goals and the consequences of not meeting them are built up more and more; finally, the stakes are as high as they can get, and audiences can’t wait for the rivals to tear into each other one last time, to settle things once and for all.
Clearly, in creating a film so driven by character, Mr. Gadhvi showed great insight in insisting that his heroes’ faces are able to be seen clearly at all times. And fortunately for the young director, his leads perform tremendously well. Abraham delivers one of the most stylish villainous performances in recent films, Bachchan is charged and brimming with conviction, and Chopra’s career-best performance proves he is one of the most endearing comic performers in the industry today. The actors in this ensemble also demonstrate enough good sense not to steal scenes from one another; as in most good films with several principal characters, it is as futile as it is difficult to pick out the best performance in “Dhoom.”
Gadhvi relies on the formal elements of the film to further a sense of intensity and excitement - the “rush” that he spoke of to his producer. Innovative cinematography has been combined with seamless special effects, adroit stunt coordination, remarkably well-staged action, and terrific editing to create some of the most spectacularly kinetic thrills ever witnessed on Bollywood screens. Even the film’s music and choreography are charged with a brand of zest and energy unparalleled; each song in “Dhoom” is the kind that would be considered the “peppy number” in other soundtracks. Not surprisingly, there isn’t a single mildly-paced melody in the entire bunch.
It’s most fitting to mention actresses Esha Deol and Rimi Sen while discussing the music and choreography; they seem to turn up in the film only when the heroes feel like crooning a tune and shaking a leg with a loved one. Both actresses do convincing enough work in their roles, but their real purpose is to provide sex appeal. Of them, Rimi Sen does a better job of it by playing both sweet and sensual; her endearing Bengali delivery is as charming as her appeal in the dance numbers is arresting.
“Dhoom” is an exceptionally enjoyable action film, and the filmmakers’ creative charge, sincerity, and ingenuity are apparent throughout its duration. In the same interview I mentioned earlier, Gadhvi expressed his optimism that his new film would be appreciated. "I believe that if you do your work sincerely and with integrity, it will never go wrong,” he remarked. Finally, he added, “People will love ‘Dhoom.’” What an interview, I must say. Once again, what seemed like shallow self-promotion turned out to be honest acumen.