[Film Review] Chashme Baddoor and Rise of the Zombie

The dear departed Roger Ebert will be remembered not as someone who was necessarily the foremost authority on cinema in the world (four stars to Slumdog Millionnaire, really?), but as someone who cared deeply about the movies and through his reviews, communicated that passion to his readers. For me, reading his reviews meant not indoctrination into what makes good cinema, but an education in how to look at films. His review would be the first thing I would read after watching a film; his rapier wit often made the reading much more fun than the watching.
As I watched David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor, hours after hearing of Ebert’s death, I remembered a quote I had come across while reading an old interview with him. Remakes are inevitable, he had said, because “(audiences) fear the new. They fear taking a chance. They fear informing themselves about new films. They remember a good movie experience and desire to repeat it. It will grow harder to make a great original film, and impossible to avoid remaking it time and again.” However producers seek to provide audiences what they want, though it is hard to make a case that anyone who watched Sai Paranjpye’s 1981 classic would want that masterpiece of subtlety to be remade as a bawdy, illiterate, lowest-common-denominator mess.
From the beatific face of Ponty Chadha in the opening credits to the witless parody of the Airtel jingle in the closing, I, to borrow from Ebert, hated, hated, hated this film. Not only does it bastardise one of my favourite films of all time, it also reaches into the deep, deep bucket of Goan stereotypes that Bollywood always keeps within easy reach, thus bastardising one of my favourite places in all the world. The talents of Rishi Kapoor and Anupam Kher are wasted in atrociously written roles, though Kapoor’s romance with Lilette Dubey does somewhat salvage the latter half of the film. Of the three leads, the less said the better, but again, that says more about the quality of Dhawan’s storytelling than their individual abilities. Even Dhawan’s use of cheesy ’90s music in the flashback scenes, which are fun to begin with, grow old after a while.
Oh, and Miss Chamko. Why, David, why?!
The first thing that strikes one about the title of India’s first ever zombie movie is its titular use of the singular. Aren’t zombie movies supposed to be apocalyptic affairs with thousands of brain-eating undead beings that the heroes have to slay in order to save the rest of us? No, that will come in the next film in the trilogy (yes, it’s a trilogy), titled Land of the Zombie, though the trailer clearly shows more than one. Rise of the Zombie, however, deals with how wildlife photographer Neil Parker (Kenny) gradually becomes one after being bit by an insect while camping in Uttarakhand.
The problem with this origin myth, however, is that nothing in particular happens. The film rapidly degenerates into a sequence of Kenny doing a Bear Grylls impression and eating whatever he sees (I cringed at some of the more gory scenes, though my sister, who I had snuck into the A-rated film, kept complaining that she was hungry) followed by a shot of him lying in some ditch, mumbling “What’s happening to me?” and so on. It is well shot, though, and depending on how the rest of the trilogy goes, Kenny could end up being the scariest being in the Garhwal mountains since the man-eater of Rudraprayag. Or not. Watch this space.