(Published as 'A Staple from the A-M Stable' in The Sunday Guardian on 8 January 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/staple-from-the-a-m-stable)
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Bobby Deol, Bipasha Basu, Sonam Kapoor, Vinod Khanna, Sikander Kher, Omi Vaidya, Johnny Lever, Aftab Shivdasani (guest appearance)
Rating: 2 stars
In yet another heist film based on The Italian Job, the flamboyance-meets-fetish, seduction-meets-style formula is no surprise. So, we see a mistress showering tantalisingly within minutes of the opening, while Bipasha Basu spends most of her screen time nearly naked, leaving the longer, narrower, flatter Sonam Kapoor itching to give her a run for her money. Sadly, neither the choreographers nor Sonam herself have given up on getting her to gyrate, and so they’ve thrown in a belly dance sequence this time.
A host of shapely women trying to make love to the camera is no bad thing in an action thriller. But it starts going wrong when the baap-beti sentiment tries to sneak into the curves. The malaise of mainstream Indian cinema – its inability to separate genres – is the undoing of Players, whose framework could have lent itself to a slick film along the lines of Johnny Gaddaar. So, we watch a girl crying over the fruits of her incarcerated Papa’s honest mehnat– a bundle of petty cash, tied poignantly with frayed string – one minute, and tearing off her clothes as she drapes herself over Abhishek Bachchan on the beach the next minute.
In this staple from the Abbas-Mustan stable, the oldest tricks in the book are worked into nicely-shot car chases. To its credit, Playersteases the audience by subverting the idea of licence in Hindi films – the logical loopholes one shrugs off as part of the package turn out to be crucial.
The movie isn’t above laughing at its ilk either – there is a spoof sequence where seasoned thief Victor Braganza (Vinod Khanna) gives a group of seemingly senior policemen a lesson in investigation. You crack a smile when Charlie Mascarenhas (Abhishek Bachchan) explains how he deduced that a burglar was a woman. In a nod to the Raj Kapoor brand of filmmaking, a frustrated Russian military man wonders why Indians always mix singing and sex.
However, the film lets itself down, mostly with a bleeding storyline and poor casting. When Bobby Deol plays an illusionist, the only person he’s fooling is himself. Abhishek Bachchan only ever plays Robin Hood in one way, unless he’s being directed by Mani Ratnam, in which case he displays a single shade of grey. Sikander Kher looks convincing enough, but doesn’t do much as Bilal, the (naturally Muslim) bomb expert. The women are props, so they don’t count, which means the only actor who is credible in his role is Neil Nitin Mukesh, whose manic quirks sit easily on his character ‘Spider’. Johnny Lever’s goofiness as the gore-ko-ghulam-banaaya-expat MC and twin brother BC tickles to an extent, but that brand of humour is overdone when Omi Vaidya gets in on the act.
The film would have clicked if it had been half as short. But as the unwieldy narrative begins to rely on one too many plot twists, you wish Bollywood would stop trying to fit maudlin into action – but I suppose that’s as unlikely as the industry learning Goan surnames other than ‘Braganza’ do exist.