This is what I learned at the movies, a Hollywood one no less: Indian mens are hot. (sic)
For uttering this unforgettable line, Anil Kapoor deserves a Bharat Ratna.
Forget Tom Cruise. Anil Kapoor has single-handedly accomplished Mission Impossible. He has tried to give the middle-aged Indian man a hitherto unheard of sexual swagger in the Western imagination. It comes to a bad end, but no matter. The Kamasutra was not written in a day.
Until now we were doomed to be weird peaceniks in loin cloths (Gandhi) or funny accented corner store owners (Apu) or geeky computer engineers (pretty much every Indian in Silicon Valley). Now we get to wear white tuxedos and be fabulously rich playboys named Brij Nath. (The name itself is a marked improvement on Kabir Bedi’s Gobinda in Octopussy.)
Alas, in every other aspect of the Bollywood-Hollywood courtship dance, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol proves that we are still stuck in cruise control. Nothing much has changed. Indians are exotic. The women are pretty and do slinky Bolly-Bharatanatyam moves in an endless loop. The doormen wear turbans and act obsequious. The soundtrack has some sitar-ish twanging to herald “Arrival in Mumbai.”
Slumdog Millionaire was supposed to have changed all that. A Hollywood movie set in India, it proved you could be a huge hit without resorting to the usual cliche: India as an exotic backdrop for westerners, preferably played by Julia Roberts, to come and get their groove back.
In Mission Impossible 4, the goal is not personal spiritual revolution. Here India holds the key to saving the world from nuclear annihilation but not in the new-superpower-on-the-block way we would like to fantasize. Brij Nath is just the rich fool who has bought a defunct Soviet military satellite that could be used by the bad guys to transmit the order to fire a nuclear missile. And Agent Jane Carter must use her cleavage and her fists of steel to wangle the satellite override code out of him.
By the time Brij Nath arrives on screen, it’s so late we have almost forgotten Anil Kapoor was supposed to be in the movie at all. And a party in Mumbai, however glam, is just no match for scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai when it comes to high octane excitement.
Now the Brothers Kapoor think we are being utterly unfair to Anil. How dare we imply his role was inconsequential? Didn’t he get to fly to Los Angeles to be part of the release frenzy there? Didn’t he get Tom Cruise to India?
“If an acclaimed actor like Tom Wilkinson, who is an Academy Award nominee, can do just one scene where he gets shot at the end of it, surely Anil was much better off?” protests Sanjay Kapoor.
Except Tom Wilkinson isn’t going around town talking up his role in Ghost Protocol as part of his Hollywood red carpet treatment. “More than the role it’s the association, it’s the relationships I have developed,” said Kapoor solemnly in a television interview. Wilkinson isn’t being touted as India’s “premier ambassador” to Hollywood – a sort of “industry lynchpin between Hollywood and Bollywood.” And most importantly, Wilkinson isn’t boasting about 20 minutes of unseen footage that Paramount sent him as some kind of honour. “Yes, I have got a call from the MI4 producers,” Kapoor told the press awhile back. “I haven’t seen the special cut yet. But it is good news.” Look, Paramount even sent me the bits that ended up on the cutting room floor, they must love me, they must really really love me.
“Only Indians are bothered about the length of a role instead of its impact,” complains Sanjay Kapoor. Sadly, this role has neither length, nor impact. Unless you count the thud of Brij Nath falling flat on his back, at his own party, on his own bed, felled by the pretty woman he thought he was going to seduce. That last glimpse of the hapless Brij Nath is tragic. He doesn’t even have the saving grace of blood-curdling villainy like Amrish Puri’s Mola Ram. He just lays there, the deflated dream of the new India. Money, it seems, still can’t buy you respect. It doesn’t even get you the girl.
In the end the hoopla over Anil Kapoor in Ghost Protocol proves only this. We, as Indians, are anxious to be noticed and loved by Hollywood even though we pretend we don’t give a damn. That’s why we are upset that Anil Kapoor was missing in action in the film’s teaser campaign. We write breathless stories about his alleged meaty part that’s being kept a secret. The big secret, of course, is it wasn't meaty at all. We preen when we hear Tom Cruise tweeted about India and thanked Anil Kapoor for teaching him a few Hindi words.
We just need to get over this. Anil Kapoor should go to Hollywood and play whatever he likes – menacing tyrants or hapless playboys. More power to him. But let’s not pretend he is India’s ambassador to Hollywood. Hollywood’s job is to sell movies, not give Bollywood the respect it deserves.
But on a positive note, this is the first Hollywood film in a while that manages to show an India without that mandatory cow crossing the road scene. And we surely have Anil Kapoor to thank for this unprecedented reprieve. “(Cruise) was sensitive that our culture should be represented correctly,” Kapoor said in an interview. For that alone we should be grateful.