Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mumbai Express: Sheer Genius: Pushpak All over Again

Note: This movie has been released in Hindi simultaneously with a complete different cast. This blog only reviews the Tamil version. Btw it is recommended that the Chandramukhi review found here be read first

Mumbai Express

" Are you saying, you are giving this money to me for free!!??" asks Ahalya ( Manisha Koirala). Avinashi ( Kamal Hassan), who is completely deaf, listens through his ear machine, understands the question and enthusiastically replies "yes! I am saying, I am giving this money to you for free". Manisha, a bar club dancer, mother of an illegitimate child and one who is looking to make a fast buck to build a nest, pauses and considers, for a moment, what Kamal had just said, and seems to wonder to herself "is this guy for real?" Then her mind begins to work tick tock tick tock. She draws from knowledge gained through the Machiavelli 101 course that every child is taught as soon as it is born, and acts in a way that further expands her knowledge base on this subject.

This is a movie - where when two people are talking to each other, both have no clue as to how incorrectly he/she has understood the entire situation and the identity of the other person. While one tries to outwit another person, he infact is outwitting and eliminating himself. The beauty of it is, we the audience are gods. In what can be called as the supreme form of voyuerism, we know exactly who is who and whats going on. We are thrilled at the way the situation has developed itself into this mix. Only Kamal can do this. And thank God ( this time its capital G) for giving us KamalHassan.

Mumbai Express Kamal Hassan's Mumbai Express deserves to be released in Hollywood. Watching a Kamal hassan movie immediately after a Rajinikanth movie is like adjusting the sensitivity dial from Angstorm units to Light Years. A completely different set of standards need to be applied to Kamal Hassan. This movie is slick and is the definition of cool. If I dare say so - not many in India are good enough for this kind of a movie. Just to throw away 90% of the pop-corn sundry audience, I can tell you, there are no songs in this movie (well... there were 2 half-songs -- one of which was the highlight of the movie). I loved this movie just for this fact. Many will dismiss this as a half-"comedy" movie ( after comparing it with MMKR) and most will not appreciate the movie for what it is. This is a work of sheer genius and like many other Kamal movies, will only be appreciated by serious movie watchers. If Guy Ritchie had thought he was a master in the art of robbery-kidnapping-money-mystery-confusion movies and assumed that he had this genre Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Madonna must have sneered and told him to go Snatch a Screenplay 101 from Mr. Kamal Hassan. Story, Screen Play and Dialog is by Kamal Hassan and the direction is by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao ( the Pushpak combo). Siddarth's Camerawork is clear. Has that dusty foggy feel to it. The color contrasts in the movie are low, like it was in Kaakha Kaakha. The sets, the dresses all converge to the same color and give out that dusty grey look. This I believe are attributes and reflection of the "look and feel" aspect that better movie makers like Kamal and Manirathnam decide in their drawing board. They pre-decide certain stylizations that will give a specific look to a movie. Thiruda Thiruda and Kaakha Kaakha are good examples of this.

There is nothing to the story really. You can write the following on the back of a PTC bus ticket " 3 people try and kidnap a child of a wealthy Mumbai business man and things go wrong ". From the way the movie begins, until the very end, Kamal Hassan's script jumps, dances and talks all by itself. I have to say even though this was the second movie I was watching in the same evening, I couldn't help jumping with joy and thinking "He has done a good movie.. finally". I hated, and pretty passionately too, most of his movies from Devar Magan till Vasool raja ( barring the odd Mahanadhi, Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam and Sathi Leelavathi). I Hated Panchatathiram, Avvai Shanmugi, Thenali, PKS.. everything. But this movie is a classic and easily among the Top 10 Kamal movies.

The reason why Kamal is one of the best ( if not THE best) minds in the Indian movie industry is purely because of the casual way in which he starts the story. It flows like a single stream which grows and becomes a river and then becomes a big ocean. Like a relay race where one passes the baton to another, there is only one single thread in the script. Do you recollect those games where cards are all arranged in order and when you knock of the first card its knocks the second one and starts a cascading effect. This whole movie is one such big movement of one thing leading to another. There are only 8 or 9 people in the movie. Thats it! totally about 9 actors. And about 7 people exchange dialogs between themselves. Who speaks what and to whom is extremely important in this movie. Its is an Integrated Chip design logic kind of a thing. The script has been so carefully constructed that the events or dialogs must work like clockwork for the script to come a full circle. It sets up identities of people and how each person perceives the identity of the other person. All required for the grand finale. I will not talk about the last half-hour of the movie. Its just pure brilliance! "Amazing" - actually was the word I was searching for.

Mumbai Express Three people start the movie. They are engaged in a serious conversation. No time is wasted. No multiple stories and disconnected introduction scenes that warm up a movie. The first 4 lines of dialog as soon as the movie starts, tell you the story. 3 goons want to kidnap Businessman Chettiyar's (Santhana Bharathi) son. They seems to be rehearsing on and on, every step of their kidnap plan. In a casual way the movie shows how each guy meets with some mishap or the other and gets injured neccesitating a replacement.

The pace of the movie is deliberately slow( in a very cool way) to begin with but picks up pace as the movie progresses. The three people are called A, B and C ( that is what they are called in the movie). Each holding stake to "33.33%" of ransom. C falls sick after drinking necessitating a new C. The new C should not distrub the old C's 33.33%. So new C is a relative who does it as a favor. New C is Kamal Hassan. NewC sometimes calls himself newC. And NewC allows A to narrate the entire plan without telling A that he is completely deaf. New C moonlights in A's job because A's hand is bitten by a horse and A "falls asleep" while kidnapping the boy. newC also gets B injured and adds a D to the team in a small accident. While newC does the kidnapping and quadraples the ransom money (because he really doesn't know how much to ask for), collects it, poses himself as a police officer. He is a good guy. Believe me! he is the only good guy among the 7 people. When he does most of the things he actually does, he really doesn't intend to do all those things :-) get it ? The other 6 people are very bad people who fend for themselves. And this is just the beginning of the story!

I can go on and try and narrate the entire movie but it would neither be fair nor possible. This is a movie of mistaken identities, confusion, tricksters taken in a very slick way. The movie has "ironies". Tons of them. The last half-an-hour is a laugh riot with the title of the movie providing the final and the biggest of all ironies. As I struggle to explain this story with any sort of coherence, I realize more the genius of the script. The way the Vande Mataram song has been shot speaks volumes of the minds behind this movie. It is absolutely hilarious and should be spoken about for a long time.

Kamal hassan, the actor, Kamal hassan the script writer and Kamal the dialog writer compete against each other for the honors. The use of analogies (" Fan in an A/C hall to signify a concubine") is brilliant. Here is a virtuoso movie maker at the peak of his talent. The dialogs and situations concerning the child are excellent. Pasupathy, Vaiyapuri, Nasser, Ramesh Arvind( I couldn't believe he was the insurance agent), Santhana Bharathi and Manisha all do an excellent job. I recommend even the most hard core Rajinikanth fans to watch this movie. For the "ladies" crowd who love to hate Kamal Hassan -- this movie has no vulgar scenes, no rain dances and nothing offensive about it. Its a very good family entertainer.

I was asked about a hundred times on which of the 2 movies are better. It is easy to say "both are equally good". But I won't do that. Maybe I am from the old school but not giving out a personal opinion because of political correctness theory - that to me sounds like fear. In a good world people would and should like decisiveness. Even if such a decisive opinion does not really endorse their personal beliefs. Chandramukhi is a very good movie. But Mumbai Express falls into a completely different strata. It would not do justice to this movie if its clubbed with Chandramukhi, no matter how good Chandramukhi is ( at its level). Movies like Mumbai Express is really what makes Tamil cinema a cut above the rest and it is certainly the better of the two movies.

Disclaimer: I thought Guna was a better movie than Thalapthi inspite of Manirathnam directing Thalapthi.
Dislaimer 2: I am not a Kamal fan :-)
Disclaimer3: I don't think Mumbai Express will run well in the BO.
DIsclaimer4: I dont think Chandramukhi will run either
Disclaimer5: I dont care about Disclaimers 3 & 4


Anonymous said...

happened to come across your review. One among the so many glowing reviews that Mumbai Express has got. watched this movie first day in the expectation that a Kamal movie will not disappoint. And boy, disappointing? thats an understatement. the movie sucks. maybe i am not as discerning a viewer as you are, but on the face of it there was nothing good about the movie. The so called jokes were hackneyed, the supposedly comic situations failed to evoke even a smile, and story was stretched too far. the biggest minus in the story was Kamal himself. That guy is just obsessed with himself that he does not let others steal the show. He fills every frame of the movie (remember hey ram? the same self indulgence repeated) and in the process robs others (like pasupathy in MX) of a chance to reveal their comic timing. the three kidnappers simply vanished after the first 45 mins or so. I am still waiting for a movie in which Kamal is just another character contributing to the development of a plot. at times i found him irritating!

i believe that a movie should be analyzed on the basis what is apparent. on what can be seen and perceived. it's a visual medium. Serious movie wathcers are people who strive hard to find a plus or minus point in a movie that does not have any(the needle in the haystack). So confused plots written by a confused writer are praised as a stroke of genius! while Pushpak was a trendsetter, mumbai express signals the ingnominous end of an era of wonderful, funny films that Kamal made. what a shameful end!

Anupadmaja said...

Yeah right, James Bond's movie is all about the plot - Bond is just another character in the movie :) More so, the bond girls ;) You cant actually demand for lesser Kamal in this movie - there isnt really so much of him on screen (Bharath's blog talks about his offscreen abilities at length).

To be frank, I can visualize how much Kamal has come down on his ladder to make the movie simple, understandable and acceptable. He has talked about god to satisfy the religious. He has played a low key in the lover boy concept to make the women feel at home (Bharath quoted this point). His jokes, have been well thought about and made so simple that if you dont get it, you probably are retarded :) (Albeit this, there are comedians in the movie, not jokers). He did not have to do all this. But why did he do? He mentions this in every interview of his - I want the main theme of the movie to be perceived, not these picky details. Esp. in Kamal's movies the unacceptable stuff are hyped so much (as if all other movies are made by buddha ... and dont get me started on Manmadha raasa) that the movie and more so, its theme itself lose focus ... or is merely lost. This movie is a milestone in that direction ... i am willing to adjust so that the theme of the movie retains its focus.

Hawkeye said...


so we disagree :-) i dont think thats the end of the world

/* i believe that a movie should be analyzed on the basis what is apparent. on what can be seen and perceived. it's a visual medium. Serious movie wathcers are people who strive hard to find a plus or minus point in a movie that does not have any(the needle in the haystack)*/

while it is one thing to say that you did not like the movie. it is a completely different thing to say "the other person liked the movie for ulterior motives". It brings out a sense of insecurity you could have well avoided.

I did not like American Beauty while many liked it. I just thought I did not have the knowledge to appreaciate whatever it was that they appreciated in that movie. Why assign motives to people who disagree with you?

You will not be viewed as a bad person if you say that others saw something in a movie which you did not. it is not a crime in any country to ne a non-serious movie watcher. just remember this - sometimes other people see what you don't. and sometimes you do miss the point. it is natural. accept that possibility and you will be fine.

Thanks for your comments anyway. they are as valuable as any other comment.

Anonymous said...

/*For the "ladies" crowd who love to hate Kamal Hassan -- this movie has no vulgar scenes, no rain dances and nothing offensive about it. Its a very good family entertainer.*/

when did kamalk have rain dances. He is the only clean-slate guy here in that case coz even Mani has had quite a number of "rain dances" in his movies (remember sept maadham in alai payuthey, Humma Humma in Bombay?).

Talk about love scenes. Its a whole different issue.

Hawkeye said...


hmm... come to think of it there arent Kamal- heroine-rain scenes. I am surprised :-)

There are many things in Kamalhassan that offends me ( some that i pointe dout in the vasool raja review) but I dont get offended by the loves scenes :-)

Anupadmaja said...

Just for the records, Nayagan has a holi rain song :)

Anonymous said...


u know what Bharath meant by a "rain song". "andhi mazhai maegam" doesn't qualify as one such. All the more, Nayagan was Mani's film, just to be be politically correct. Mani didn't treat the song like a "rain song"... c'mon. Though, we had "nila adhu vaanathu maelae" :P

Harish said...

Every single review I read seems to say a different thing.

It's about time I watch the movie and write my own! :D

Very well written, Bharath. :)

Anupadmaja said...

Hey Zero,
I am sorry if i gave the wrong impression. I am not at all trying to make a point here. I just like to talk about [Kamal] movies. Talking about rain songs in Kamal movies is yet another new topic for me ... seriously :)

Andhi Mazhai Megam was not a "heroine rain song" ... but it was Mani's rain song concept put in to suit the movie better. The more important to story romance song in that movie was nee oru kadhal. The movie did not really need this song. Coincidentally, Nayagan is a Kamal movie too. Thats why i chose to point out this song as opposed to New year song in Old kamal movie (dont remember song name).

I should actually have chosen Punnagai Mannan (oh ho megam vandhadho i think) but i failed to think about it earlier.

Anupadmaja said...

My bad :)

I guess i need to clarify:

I am talking about rain songs ... that show the wild side of people ... it tickles the audience that people hate when it occurs in a Kamal movie. These are completely unnecessary extra songs too.

It seems like others are talking about only those rain songs that "add" "value" to the movies by improving its "face-value" (i guess everyone gets what i say. In other words, these are songs that need a leading female role).

I seem to be off-track :)

Anonymous said...


I knew you were not meaning "Andhi Mazhai Maegam" song as a rain song "that" way, and was just trying to point out a rain song in a kamal movie like a true trivamonger!
So, just wanted to tell what "rain songs" we were talking about; and also wanted to add Nayagan did have a "rain song" which actually was not a rain song. Cheers! :D

Harish said...

Dont you think the "Disclaimers" you have mentioned are actually "Claims"???

Hawkeye said...


/* Dont you think the "Disclaimers" you have mentioned are actually "Claims"??? */

actually i think of disclaimers as claims which set the context for all the previous claims. if you read the statement and you start thinking " who are you ? what are my assumptions here?".. then you go and see the disclaimer :-)

culnanmaga said...

Word for word... i endorse your review... this ain't a movie for the junta.... its a class apart and deserves mention for its witful comedy... no mean achievement this considering all the Woods (KOlly, Bolly , Tolly and Sandal) are all filled with slapstick... Now that we all know that it ain't done all that well at the BO, have to say this... who cares... t'was a gr8 movie nevertheless though anti-Kamal syndrome is as expected abundant...

Do visit my blog for my review...

I'm impressed by your choice of words... Blogging ki Jai!

Ram said...

For most part, I agree with your comments. I cannot call it among the top 10 Kamal movies of all time.

It is difficult for the average audience to appreciate this movie and the various twists it goes through.

Also, I disagree with the disclaimer abt Guna being better than Thalapathi.

I missed Crazy Mohan's dialogue in this albeit his flagging performances of late.

The last scene was pretty dumb though. They could have avoided it.

Sridhar visvanath said...

It is totally comical to comment about a blog entry after 4 years...but why not...

I loved watching Mumbai express...
But I also loved Avvai...Panchathanthiram...I hate PKS and not really a kamal fan :-)...

only thing i hate about Mumbai the romantic scenes between Kamal and manisha...they might have a good offscreen camaraderie....but story should not have had their my opinion...

My favorite: Pasupathi..."Chedikku...patta thevayaa...:-)"