Writers: Rakesh Roshan, Robin Bhatt, Honey Irani, Sachin Bhowmick, Akash Khurana
Producer: Rakesh Roshan
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Naseeruddin Shah, Priyanka Chopra
Year of release: 2006
Reviewed from: UK theatrical release
Here’s a trivia question for you: name three epic, effects-filled superhero movies released in British cinemas in the summer of 2006. Well, there’s Superman Returns, obviously, and X-Men III. And, erm...
Not many people noticed him and he certainly didn’t make the cover of Empire or SFX, but inbetween those two Hollywood heroes came this Bollywood hero.
Now, it would be nice to claim that Krrish is the first Indian superhero and I’m sure some of the less well-informed critics will do just that. But as any fule kno there are Indian superhero TV shows like Shaktimaan (sic) and Karma, not to mention creaky old movies like Mr India and a notorious Indian rip-off of Superman.
What marks Krrish out as different is that this is a lavish, big-budget epic with Hollywood quality special effects. That’s ‘big budget’ in terms of the subcontinent of course, where things are slightly better value for money. Krrish is the sequel to Koi... Mil Gaya and, like that film, employs the talents of Australian visual effects supervisors Craig Mumma and Marc Kolbe, who previously worked on the likes of Mystery Men, Dungeons and Dragons and Spy Kids.
Rohit Mehta, the idiot savant from the first film, and his wife Nisha are both dead, leaving their son Krishna in the care of Rohit’s mother Sonia (a powerful performance from the ever-reliable Rekha). When he is five, she finds that he has incredible artistic talent and is helping children two years older than him with their homework. The Christian school which he attends conducts an IQ test from which his grandmother takes him because he is doing so well. (Alas, it seems that none of the film’s five scriptwriters know what an IQ test involves as Krishna is merely answering questions by reciting facts.)
Sonia takes the boy away to a remote mountain village for twenty years where he grows up into a hunky and handsome young man, played by Hrithik Roshan, who played Rohit in the first film. Krishna has inherited his father’s ET-given powers including amazing strength, speed and agility (he can outrun a horse, leap across wide rivers and scale tall mountain) as well as great intelligence and the ability to communicate with animals. But his propensity for accidentally throwing things for miles while playing cricket (for example) renders him friendless, even though his grandmother constantly urges him to hide his superhuman powers. His only confidante is comic relief Bahadur (Hemant Pandey: Bandit Queen) who owns the only telephone in the village and has the catchphrase “Just imagine.” Like his father, Krishna has seven small children as friends but they feature only in one scene, when they spot something which they believe to be a giant kite but which is actually someone paragliding.
Krishna races to catch the ‘kite’, scaling tall trees and then leaping through the forest canopy. When the aircraft crashes into the trees, he is there to rescue its pilot who turns out to be a gorgeous young woman, Priya (Priyanka Chopra, who has been rumoured as a possibility for the title role in the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie). The sequence in which they descend the tree is nicely funny and has a great punchline.
Priya is on a sort of outward bound course with a bunch of twentysomethings from Singapore which also includes her bimbette friend and colleague Honey (Maaninee Mishra). Bahadur is acting as their guide and the group is lead by a military type (Punit Issar who - get this - played the title role in that Indian Superman rip-off which I mentioned!) who looks uncannily like an Indian Windsor Davies. When Priya talks about the boy who rescues her, Bahadur spins a tale about a local legend of a ghost and suggests that Priya is the reincarnation of the spirit’s lost love.
Smitten Krishna appears to her several more times and at one point she runs into Sonia who takes her home - where she sees a photo of Rohit, garlanded with flowers to indicate that he is dead, which seems to be conclusive proof that she is seeing a ‘bhoot’. Eventually Krishna gets to talk to her and explains that he is human and there is a montage of the expedition having fun with Krishna’s strength and speed, as when he single-handedly beats them at tug o’ war.
But a few days later, after Priya and Sonia have been properly introduced, it is time for Priya, Honey and the others to return to Singapore where the two girls work for a TV company run by the fiercesome ‘Boss’ (Archana Puran Singh: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). On the point of being sacked for extending their 15 days of leave to 20, Honey thinks on her feet and promises Boss that she can bring to Singapore “an Indian superboy” whose feats will make great TV. Priya is persuaded to call Krishna and tell him that her mother will marry her off to somebody else if he doesn’t come to Singapore.
He is delighted but Sonia is unhappy and the grandmother/grandson relationship - they are all that each other has - looks set to crumble. Sonia then tells Krishna about his father, starting with a brief flashback montage of shots from Koi... Mil Gaya. After the alien Jadu left (we are shown in newly shot flashback footage, with Roshan recreating his role from the first film), Rohit went to work for the head of the world’s biggest IT corporation, Technotronics, based in Singapore. This is Dr Siddhant Arya, magnificently played by Naseeruddin Shah as a cross between Sir Alan Sugar and Scaramanga. The marvellously charismatic Shah was in Monsoon Wedding, a 2002 British version of Hamlet and allegedly a Hindi version of The Time Machine directed by Shekhar Kapur (though I have my doubts about the reality of that last one). He was also Captain Nemo in The League of Extremely Bad Special Effects, where he was saddled with a godawful Hollywood version of an Indian accent - plus one of the worst scripts ever written and a special effects budget of about $4.50 of course...
When Nisha (Preity Zinta recreating the role as a ‘special appearance’ cameo) goes into hospital to give birth to their child, Sonia phones Rohit and finds him anguished. Soon after, they discover that he died in a fire when the computer he was working on exploded.
A computer which was designed to... foretell the future!
Dr Arya, outwardly charming but secretly blackhearted, sold Rohit on the idea of “combining astrology, astronomy and technology” in order to help mankind by, for example, predicting floods and earthquakes. But what he really wanted, as told to camera in occasional soliloquies by Dr A that all start, “Breaking news...”, was to rule the world, to “be God.”
Having completed these flashbacks, Sonia acquiesces to her son’s travel, realising that she cannot keep him in the village all his life. She gives him his father’s long coat and he sets off for Singapore.
Don’t worry, there is some superhero stuff coming up. But this first half (literally - three-hour Bollywood movies come with a five-minute interval) is more Smallville than Superman.
On arrival in Singapore, Krishna gives Priya a ring but she has to go with Honey so he is left to explore the city alone, allowing for the first of many sequences showcasing the delights on offer to tourists (the Singapore Tourist Board having been closely involved with production). He sees a young man named Kristian Li (Xia Bin) busking a martial arts demonstration to raise money for an operation for his wheelchair-bound little sister; when Kristian falls and hurts himself, Krishna takes over, raising a hatfull of cash and gaining a friend. Kristian works at the nearby Bombay Circus and invites Krishna to come see the show. This leads to a big song and dance number in the circus ring with lots of dancing clowns and acrobats.
Not all Bollywood movies have songs (think of Bhoot for example) but most do and it’s a curious state of affairs. There are only four songs in the 175 minute running time of this film and three of them are simply Priya and Krishna dancing around singing about how much they are in love; only the circus sequence offers a big production number. The problem with the other songs is that (a) two people dancing on a hillside or in a street can be pretty boring, and (b) the songs don’t even make sense because it’s only at the end of the film that the two characters admit their love for each other.
Previously when I have seen Indian films they have been on TV, in festivals or at afternoon screenings in barely populated cinemas. This was the first proper Bollywood screening I have been to (the young guys next to me were amused and amazed at a white guy watching an Indian film) and I discovered something interesting: a lot of Indian people don’t like the songs either. Maybe the mums and dads do - cinema-going in the Indian community is much more of a family thing - but many of the young folks chat to each other or check their mobile phones until the singing and dancing ends. The situation reminded me of Max Geldray and Ray Ellington on The Goon Show: however good the artistes may be, it’s not what you’re there for and you just find yourself impatiently waiting for the plot to restart.
Anyway, in an interesting bit of digesis, during the circus number a fire breather accidentally sets light to some gas canisters which explode (just as the song ends, fortunately), leading to a stampede of audience and performers. As the flames lick across the big top, there are cries of “My daughter!”, “My son!” and “My sister!” People are trapped inside - and Krishna is trapped on the horns of a dilemma. He might be able to save them, but he has promised his grandmother that he will keep his powers hidden. As a solution, he turns his coat inside out - fortunately it has a neat-o black leather interior - and picks up a broken mask discarded by one of the performers.
In quick succession, running through flames and making impossible leaps, he rescues a trapeze artist and two children, then returns for another small girl. Bringing her out, she asks his name and he replies, “Krrish...” before catching himself. He hands the girl to a surprised Priya then, quicker than you can say “Clark Kent”, disappears and reappears sans mask and with his coat flipped.
Naturally, the blaze and the rescue is the talk of Singapore and ‘Krrish’ becomes the idol of children everywhere who makes themselves masks to look like their hero. The little girl has a piece of the actual mask which broke off and a cash reward for bravery is offered to Krrish if he will step forward and prove himself in a sort of Cinderella manner by presenting a broken mask which fits the missing piece.
Prior to this, Honey and Priya tried to shoot footage of Krishna’s amazing feats, believing that he would welcome the chance to become famous, but, mindful of his promise to his Gran, he tricked his way out of each set-up. Now Priya suspects that Krishna might be the mysterious Krrish.
Well, duh. Apart from the fact that he’s six and a half feet tall with rippling pecs, a pointy chin, Kenneth Williams-style flared nostrils and, oh yes, two thumbs on his left hand, who else could have jumped and run like that? (Incidentally, the Williams-esque nostrils etc do not stop Hrithik Roshan from being really good-looking and the double thumb is a real genetic oddity. Interestingly, neither of the actors who played Krishna at two different ages in the prologue were given a prosthetic third thumb. I look out for these things. Anyway...)
Priya stages a fake mugging of the two of them, in the hope that Krishna will reveal his powers but when he spots hidden TV cameras he allows himself to be beaten up by the fake thugs. Except that, predictably, Honey then calls Priya to say that the stuntmen she hired will be a bit late. When Krishna realises that the thugs were real - and that they have stolen Priya’s ring - he goes on the warpath and, two hours in, we get our first great action sequence. Togged up in cool black coat and mask, Krrish tracks the five motorbike-riding street toughs to a deserted warehouse where he royally and entertainingly kicks their arses.
One name which I haven’t yet mentioned is Tony Ching Siu Tung, stunt arranger and fight choreographer whose recent credits include Hero, Shaolin Soccer and House of Flying Daggers. Over the years he has also worked on Witch from Nepal, A Chinese Ghost Story I and III (but not II apparently), A Better Tomorrow II, New Dragon Gate Inn and The Heroic Trio. Because of him, the fights betray a definite Hong Kong influence and incorporate lots of slow-motion shots. You can also see that Roshan performed many of his own stunts although of course there is extensive use of (digitally removed) wires.
I won’t go into too much more detail about the plot - I’m tired writing this and you’re probably tired reading it, plus I want to retain some mystery in case you get the chance to watch this movie. But it should come as no surprise that the film climaxes with Krrish, who is mad as hell and not going to take it any more, facing off against Dr Arya. There is another flashback about what really happened to Rohit, including a clever use of the other side of a phone conversation which we have already seen, and some interesting philosophical questions raised by the idea of a computer which can foretell the future are completely ignored. Mention must also be made of Dr Arya’s Head of Security, Vikram Sinha (played by Sharat Saxena, who was in House Number 13 and Mr India!) who has a surprisingly significant role.
Krrish is a much more adult film than Koi... Mil Gaya, or at least less of a kids’ film (the BBFC passed it 12A). Although it betrays the clear influence of Spider-Man, Superman and especially The Matrix (and possibly even Night Falcon, though I could be reading too much into that), this is more of an original story, whereas the first film was basically clones of two Hollywood films stitched together. It’s a film of two halves, the first a romantic comedy, the second an action film. The fight sequences are well-directed and the special effects are mostly top-notch, with just one brief shot of Krishna climbing a mountain sticking out as a touch below par.
Although there is a predictable happy ending, it’s much more than just Krishna and Priya finally getting together. And it is noticeable that towards the end of the film people do die, and not just anonymous goons working for Dr Arya but sympathetic characters that we have grown to love. This is an emotionally powerful film which has a lot to say about one of the over-riding themes of Indian cinema: the importance of family. That said, the plot does suffer from a few deus ex machina moments, one of which, involving Kristian, is probably the most unsubtly convenient and unexplained coincidence I have seen on the big screen for years.
The cinematography - credited to Piyush Shah (China Gate) and Santosh Thundiiayil (Kaal, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) - is terrific, ably showcasing both the mountains and the city. Production designer Samir Chanda also worked on Dil Se and Makdee: The Web of the Witch. Salim and Suleman Merchant (Darna Zaroori Hai, Kaal, Bhoot) composed the score while Rajesh Roshan, brother of producer Rakesh and uncle to star Hrithik, provided the songs. (The Brothers Merchant also worked on a film called Shock which is apparently a Tamil remake of Bhoot!) All five of the credited writers also worked on Koi... Mil Gaya.
If you’re prepared to sit through - and maybe even enjoy - the romcom fantasy first half, the great second half of this corking superhero epic will repay your patience.
MJS rating: A
review originally posted 27th June 2006