Made Overseas: Dhoom 3 (2013)

First off: apologies to everyone for skipping this last week.  Easter might actually be a more stressful weekend than Christmas.  You still have a big meal, you still have friends and family over, you still have a party that lasts eight hours doing karaoke… but you also don’t get time off.  And karaoke… that’s a hardcore weekend activity. I usually write a preliminary draft of these reviews on Saturday, and I plum ran out of time.  I might run into the same lack of time next week when it’s time for Spring Break.

My first experience with Dhoom 3 was the soundtrack. Having loved the one from the previous movie (reviewed here), I downloaded the music of the other two movies. The music for one album, after all, is hardly enough to last an hourlong commute. I discovered that music was more somber, less upbeat and generally tinged with a sense of sadness. The one that opens the movie, “Bande Hain Hum Uske”, sounds like a funeral dirge.

As predictors go, it wasn’t bad.  Dhoom 2 opened with a master of disguise conducting a heist while dressed up as Queen Elizabeth II.  Dhoom 3 opens with a suicide. I credit the tonal shift to the new director: Vijay Krishna Acharya, who’s taking over for Sanjay Gadhvi. Acharya was writer on the previous two Dhoom movies but had only one other director’s credit (Tashan).

It was at this point my wife wondered if this was India’s version of The Greatest Showman. My eyes rolled so hard.

Dhoom 3 Opens with a child named Sahir. We see him pawning items in the chilly winter streets of Chicago. Homeless people stand around burning barrels to warm themselves.  My theory: this is India’s revenge for all those Western movies that feature poor kids panhandling in the streets of Mumbai. Take that, Americans! You guys have poor people too!

Now, I get that the camera crew probably only had a limited window in the summer to shoot in Chicago, and the snow effects were added in post. However, it’s somewhat distracting when swirling snow is in front of some fairly obvious leafy green trees. There’s also a random passerby who jogs by wearing shorts. Way to brave that snowy weather, guy!

Just another snowy Chicago day in mid-July.

Sahir grew up in a circus, and he learned all sorts of magic tricks while working as a performer for his immigrant dad.  One day, sinister bankers come by to repossess everything.  But how? argues the dad.  This is the Greatest Show on Earth!  (As a side note, Ringling Brothers would close four years later.) In despair, Sahir’s father kills himself.

Many years later, adult Sahir — played by Aamir Khan (Lagaan) — thirsts for revenge.  He puts on a sweet bowler hat and uses his magician skills to rob and punish the bankers who had driven his father to take his life. He works that bowler hat, by the way. He works it hard.

This should rest any fears that the Dhoom series was going to eschew antagonists with Batman villain origin stories. Sahir even leaves a lovely metal calling card at every crime scene with the face of a clown. (That and the location shoots similar to the ones The Dark Knight used can’t help but put you in a Batman mood.). Incidentally, I kinda love Sahir’s calling card.  Apparently someone made a shirt out of it.  I’m not saying y’all need to get me a birthday present or anything… but if you feel the spirit move you…

Hello, Batsy!

Aamir Khan’s unique physical features work to sell his menace, too. When he scowls, his strong ears, arched eyebrows, and bulging eyes resemble that of a devil. As with the previous movie, the “villain” overshadows the “heroes”. Khan gets a majority of the screen time.

The movie asks you to sympathize with Sahir’s plight, even having Andrew Bicknell play a slimy, one-dimensional sneering banker who constantly talks about how the cops are wasting his time and time is money. But, really, are they wrong about wanting to take back their investment in a failing business? Especially when when the business in question is a freaking circus? Heck, even Sahir seems to come to the same conclusion. His circus is closer to Cirque du Soleil than Barnum & Bailey, which means that he’s aware that doing it the old way just wasn’t going to cut it.

It could even be argued that it’s not much of a circus, either. What we see looks more like a Broadway stage production. Circuses aren’t about elaborate stagecraft! They’re about whimsy and wonder and amazing feats! This doesn’t even account for the fact that the money that’s stored up in those banks are sorta put there by people with bank accounts. I guess Sahir is banking on the idea that the FDIC was going to bail out the little old lady who was taking out a home loan?

Returning for the third installment of Dhoom are Jai Dixit (Ahbishek Bachchan) and Ali (Uday Chopra), who are introduced by fighting off a gang on the crowded Indian streets armed with nothing but a steel pipe and a highly resilient auto rickshaw. It’s a fun scene full of slow motion wire work where attackers go flying through the air.  The two are called to Chicago… for some reason.  This isn’t an international crime, after all.  I think that calling in a super cop from another country reflects quite poorly on the effectivity of the Chicago PD.  Even worse, Jai’s insights really aren’t all that impressive. Like… we really didn’t need to bring in a freaking motorcycle cop just to tell everyone to beef up security.

Sensing that he’s got a worthy rival, Sahir approaches Jai under the guise of friendship.  He claims he knows who the criminal is.  It’s a clown named “Closemouthed Charlie” who used to work for him at the circus.  Fortunately, he knows all the same tricks he does, and he offers up his services to bring him in, such as the date of the next heist.  He insists that his imaginary clown is going to pull of a heist on April 1st… which he refers to as “Clown’s Day.”  I like that term so much that I told no less than seven people that we should make “Clown’s Day” an American thing. Also, for some reason they dramatically film Sahir caught in a breeze blowing around dry autumn leaves.

That’s not how April works.

Another point for Aamir’s unique acting talent: when he needs to fool the police into believing he’s a concern citizen, his body language softens and his eyes brighten to where he’s like a different person altogether. He’s equally believable as a Batman level threat and a harmless entertain who gets applause from Chicago PD when performing his magic tricks.

Eventually, Jai and Ali go undercover to try to suss out Sahir’s secrets. Sadly, this is where the movie drags. This is a long movie — a three hour runtime — and the last hour is a lot of people just talking to each other. There’s a lot of people trying to out-think each other. Flashbacks that fill in gaps of scenes we saw earlier. And people straight up riding rollercoasters. A lot of it ends up going nowhere. When you get to the final motorcycle chase sequence, it feels like 45 minutes could have been cut.

Am I the only one getting Dark Knight flashbacks? Probably.

The movie sticks almost all of its focus on Sahir and Jai, the former in particular, and generally ignores all other characters. It’s to the point where the two female actors, Katrina Kaif and Tabrett Bethell, basically have nothing to do but dance and look pretty. A striptease for the first, and modeling in bikinis for the second.  That’s not something you could say of Aishwarya Rai or even Bipasha Basu from the previous movie.  I mean, Bipasha played twins, for Pete’s sake.  You were getting double your value on Bipasha!

Even Ali is sidelined. The first two movies at least had an Ali-centric comedy musical revue. No exist here, which may be a relief to some viewers. After the initial action sequence in India, you could basically cut Ali out of the movie and most of it would be exactly the same. Dhoom 3 seems to be ditching a lot of the campier elements. Jai’s wife, Sweety, seems to have disappeared entirely. (While they didn’t ask her back, Rimi Sen mentioned that she was unhappy with her role in the previous film and she wouldn’t return anyway.)

As a result, the final action sequence feels weirdly empty. Much of it is staged in an abandoned alley way. Sahir and Jai engaged in modern-day joust, riding on motorcycles to stay on brand and trying to knock off another guy with a metal pipe. I wondered this was due to necessity: Chicago is a very crowded city, and it probably was hard for them to get permits to close enough streets for a decent chase sequence. Thus, you take a playbook out of the CW superhero shows and film in the dead of night at a location you can easily rope off.

If I sound like I’m being negative on this, I should also point out there was a lot of stuff I did like.  The dance sequences, for example. The movie opens with a tap dance sequence set in a foundry. I’m pretty sure I’d never seen tap dancing on the movie screen since Eleanor Powell retired. Aamir puts on a mean mug face, and he taps the angriest tap you have ever seen in your life. It was also interesting to see that this number, along with a majority of the dance sequences, were being performed by mainly non-Indian dancers. It’s a reflection of Chicago’s real population and a bold declaration that big movie dance sequences aren’t just for people half a world away.

In general, the inevitable musical segues feel more natural and part of the movie rather than a jarring diversion. Two of them are directly tied to the circus show (one being a tryout and the second being the show itself). Another is a whirling tour or fun Chicago locations that’s fairly analogous to Giselle’s tour of Central Park in Enchanted.

Dhoom 3 did incredibly well at the box office, and is currently the eighth highest grossing Indian film of all time. (It’s also the oldest movie in the top ten, showing it’s resilience against newcomers.) It’s propelled the Dhoom franchise to be the third biggest Indian series behind Baahubali and Tiger, and inspired Indian youths everywhere to take up street racing. It’s a safe bet that we’ll get Dhoom movies to the day that Ahbishek Bachchan gets too old to ride a motorcycle… and even then you’ve got to gear up for Dhoom: The Next Generation.

Chicago, by the way, looks absolutely fantastic in this film. It’s clean, green, and chock full of modern skyscrapers, public art installations, and amusement parks. “Where did they film this?” my wife marveled. She guess somewhere in Europe, not realizing it was an American city we’d visited several times before.  The attempt at trying to ugly up Chicago with random shots of homeless people is ultimately a weak one.  My guess why she didn’t recognize it: we’re there in the winter, generally, and the shrubbery isn’t typically quite so lush.

Dhoom 3 is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

NEXT: Jet Li wears an old man wig and mustache and Fan Bingbing goes ultra-glam in the very colorful live action anime League of Gods.