When I saw the first trailer of Vipul Shah’s new movie, “Action Replayy“, I knew two things and had one question. The two things I gathered was that the film was a barely-disguised copy of “Back to the Future” and it was going to be very bad. The question I had was, why the extra “y”. The obvious answer is numerology (to think that in the enlightened, rational, twenty-first century, that’s a widely-known and accepted fact) but I’m trying to go beyond the obvious here. So Shah has one of the biggest movie stars of Bollywood (Akshay Kumar) in the lead. The heroine is one of the most prominent faces of Bollywood (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). It’s a love story. And yet Shah turned to the numerologist. Ergo, we come back to deduction no. 2: “Action Replayy” must be very, very bad. And it was. In fact, that extra “y” ended up being quite the portent. Minutes into the film, you ask “Why?” and then continue to groan that question louder and louder with the kind of regularity that would make the seconds’ hand of the Big Ben seem slack.
Absolutely nothing made sense in “Action Replayy”: not the premise, not the individual scenes, not the internal logic, nothing. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s idea of growing old is wearing a wig whose greys I could barely spot on big screen. The film begins with a 30-year-old man deciding to go back to the future and turn his parents arranged marriage into a “love marriage” because he thinks that‘s going to improve the chances of his own marriage surviving. Why try for things like counselling? Let’s not even consider the weird idea that some people who had arranged marriages did fall in love with their spouse. The grand prank of the film involves Rannvijay Singh getting Akshay Kumar to lose his shirt. Ok, so the inner vest, or ganjee, may not be the sharpest of fashion statements but surely as attempts at humiliation go, forcing a man to go shirtless is weak. Especially when the man in question is Akshay Kumar. Now if Rannvijay Singh had managed to get the pants to pool around Kumar’s ankles, maybe. But no, over decades, Rannvijay Singh has established himself as the triumphant alpha male by taking off Akshay Kumar’s shirt. Great.
Then there’s poor Aditya Roy Kapoor, who plays Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Akshay Kumar’s son. Inexplicably, once he lands up in the ’70s, no one asks him who he is or where he’s from and we don’t find out where he’s staying or how he becomes friends with everyone. He, like God, just is. I teetered between feeling bad for Kapoor and puzzled by his character. This is supposed to be his big, breakout movie and all the script has him do is holler on occasion (“MOM!” “DAD!” “YAY!” “WHOA!”), fix Akshay Kumar’s buck teeth by punching him, and smile a lot. Oh, and he has to be Kumar’s Dolby Surround Sound soundtrack. In the stupidest possible rip-off of the lip sync idea from “Padosan“, Kapoor sings songs that Kumar can lip sync to. Except people standing next to Kumar can’t tell that the voice is coming from a distance of about 10 feet. Kapoor’s real moment of shame though is when he’s trying to find out if his father is gay and comes up with this phrase as a euphemism for sex and/or carnal canoodling: “gullu gullu”. I don’t care how cute Kapoor is, a grown man who thinks “foreplay” and says “gullu gullu” shouldn’t be getting anything other than a teddy bear and the phone number of a good psychiatrist. If ever there was a reason to not get married, then “gullu gullu” would be it.
But the most depressing thing about “Action Replayy” isn’t how idiotic the script is, which is extremely idiotic and really not worth even discussing. The only thing that makes “Action Replayy” almost bearable is that the male actors are trying to have fun with the story. They’ve dressed up in ridiculous clothes, worn wigs and moustaches, and generally done what they could to create the caricature of the 70s that the director asked of them. Akshay Kumar shows up in one song with a touch of white powder on the tip of his nose. He delivers a few decent one-liners and wears the terrible clothes and wigs given to him. Rannvijay Singh spends the entire movie with a handlebar moustache and under an immovable wig. Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, Aditya Roy Kapoor‘s Afro is for real. Contrast this with the women. Aside from Neha Dhupia (whose presence in the film is one of the many “why”s), the female actors are steadfastly committed to sticking to their contemporary glam doll image. Kirron Kher looks like she always does. She could be walking up to do a tv interview, instead of being a humble chorus singer from the 70s. Her saris are the same as the ones she wears now, her make-up is the same, her hair is the same, even her hair pin is the same. The same goes for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, whose only concession to the seventies is wearing some weird colours. Rai Bachchan wouldn’t even do the eyeliner in the 70s style. When she has to play her character’s older avatar, you have to squint and stare to spot signs of age. For an industry whose actresses have over the years complained about how the scripts don’t allow them to be anything but glam dolls for the heroes, this is distressing. “Action Replayy” may not be an intellectual odyssey but the script demanded that the actors leave aside their contemporary cool and take on a different look. Nothing as extreme as Charlize Theron in “Monster“. Just a little wig-wearing, eyeliner-stretching, and a different wardrobe. The men go with it. The women don’t. For them, it’s imperative that they stick to the visual image that they’ve cultivated and cemented over the years. They’re doing precisely what actresses generally accuse others of doing to them: refusing to go beyond stereotype.