Written by Erin Elizabeth Fraser
Bollywood is a multi-million dollar industry, with millions of fans around the world, but in North America these movies generally play to a niche audience. As The Pulp’s resident Bollywood expert, which is to say that I have seen marginally more Hindi-language movies than other contributors, I decided to host a group of Pulp writers for an educational experience: a screening of the mega-popular 2013 Bollywood superhero film, Krrish 3.
After the first time I saw Krrish 3, I knew I had to share this weird and wonderful film with others. It’s too charming, too exhilarating, and too strange to keep to oneself. But Bollywood is a hard sell for many, even when it has been so clearly inspired to mimic a popular American genre, as Krrish 3 has. Aside from the subtitles, they have the unfair reputation of not being very good and there is a greater cultural barrier that audience members must acclimatize to. Luckily, I found a willing group of participants to experiment on…I mean, show the film to—also, I promised cocktails.
Currently the seventh highest grossing Bollywood film of all time, Krrish 3 is the third film in the Krrish series, which started in 2003 with Koi… Mil Gaya, an E.T. analogue partially filmed in Drumheller where Elliott is played by an impossibly attractive Bollywood superstar, and 2006’s Krrish, where the son of the first film’s protagonist, also played by the same impossibly attractive Bollywood superstar, becomes a superhero. Despite this, Krrish 3 is as good of an entry point into the series as any. The film gives a recap in its opening minutes to catch up any newcomers and but none of this backstory matters much as the film is largely focused on the story it is currently telling, not harkening back to details from previous instalments—which is a welcome change of pace for a superhero franchise.
Krrish 3’s superhero formula is part Superman, part X-Men, but all Bollywood. The film follows Krishna “Krrish” Mehra (Hrithik Roshan) son of genius scientist Rohit Mera (also Hrithik Roshan) and husband to TV journalist Priya (Priyanka Chopra). Krrish can’t hold down a job in his civilian identity because he is always abandoning work to save the people of Mumbai from whatever small or large catastrophes ail them. Meanwhile, deep in a reclusive mountain lab, Kaal (Vivek Oberoi), a wheelchair-bound evil genius with telekinetic powers, is busy creating himself an army of deadly manimals (yes, man-imals), genetic experiments that combine human and animal DNA, and developing a lethal synthetic virus that he unleashes on unsuspecting populaces only to later sell them an antidote. However, when Kaal infects Mumbai, Rohit is able to make his own antidote from Krishna’s bloodstream and cure the disease before Kaal has the chance to sell his remedy and reap the profits. Enraged, he sends his manimals to attack and, while Krrish is busy taking care of them, they kidnap Priya and Kaya (Kanga Ranaut), a shapeshifting manimal, takes her place.
This is only just the beginning of what seems like a very complicated plot but one that is actually easy to follow. Director Rakesh Roshan packs a lot of story into Krrish 3’s two and a half hour runtime, but the film is never confusing and it never drags. Bollywood movies are made for a mass audience and have to appeal to everyone; as a result, they often times incorporate elements of comedy, action, melodrama, and, of course, musicals in one film. This is a delicate balancing act, but one which the Bollywood film industry has perfected over the years.
All of the elements that one would expect from a superhero blockbuster are present in Krrish 3. A hero with a purpose and a commitment to justice but whose dual identities are often times at odds with one another; villains with nefarious motives and unusual powers; and exciting action scenes that become increasingly greater in scope and destruction. The film marries this to popular and well-worn Bollywood tropes: love triangles, double roles, characters who are disabled both physically and mentally, and a strong theme of populism and social justice.
It is interesting to see your beloved pop culture products through the lens of another culture. The signifiers remain the same, but they are interpreted in unique and sometimes perplexing ways. While Hollywood continues to adapt or reboot the same tired and formulaic stories, Bollywood films like Krrish 3 really push creative boundaries and produce something that feels, dare I say, original.
Cocktail #1: Sparkling Amaretto Sour
¼ cup of simple syrup, ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice, 1/3 cup of amaretto liqueur, 1 bottle of prosecco, sugar to rim glasses, zest of one lemon and lime, lemon wedges.
Combine the simple syrup, lemon juice, amaretto, and prosecco in a pitcher. Mix together sugar and zests, running a lemon wedge along the rims of the glasses then rim the glasses with the sugar-zest mixture. Pour drink mixture into glasses over ice; garnish with a lemon wedge.
The day we all sat down to watch Krrish 3 was the day after I’d gone to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. While I didn’t hate that movie (in fact, I think I liked it more than a lot of critics who are supposedly “burnt out” on superhero films), I will concede that I’ll probably never watch it again. There’s no real reason to, apart from maybe enjoying James Spader’s turn as Ultron. Krrish 3, on the other hand, I can definitely see myself rewatching. Erin and I have been watching a lot of Bollywood films lately as part of a secret project, and Krrish both exemplifies many of the things that are great about the medium as well as some that aren’t so great.
First off, the pacing of the film is wonderful. The next Avengers movie could stand to learn a lot from Krrish 3, seeing as how the American films have similar runtimes to Bollywood yet have always been a little padded by meandering plots and a need to reintroduce concepts from the other Marvel movies to the audience. Krrish, on the other hand, deals with many separate, different and interesting threats to his family and his city over the course of the film, and he has to use techniques that don’t always include violence. Krrish saves an airplane from crashing, a kid from falling off a power line, works with his father to develop a cure for a deadly disease, has his family infiltrated by a treacherous chameleon woman, and finally has to beat the main villain’s final form after using his scientist father’s newest invention. In true Bollywood masala fashion, the narrative incorporates all of these plot twists with ease.
Sadly, I felt that the musical sequences, one of my favourite aspects of Bollywood pictures, fell a little flat in Krrish 3. The song “God Allah Aur Bhagwan” is pretty good, with a nice dance that details how the city celebrates its hero by erecting a huge statue, and I also enjoyed “Dil Tu Hi Bataa”, a number where Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut sing in a beautifully shot desert with innumerable costume changes. There aren’t really any standout songs, though; nothing as awesome as Priyanka Chopra’s burlesque number “Asalaam-e-Ishqum” in Gunday, or the sexy gun-store dance off between Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in 2013’s Ram-leela (“Ishqyaun Dhishqyaun”). It would have been really cool to have Krrish do a dance number in character, or maybe using his powers. It’s a missed opportunity.
I really liked the look of the film, which stayed sharp, bright and clear even as we drank more and more cocktails. There’s an interesting plasticky video game sheen to the Mumbai skyline in the film, which reminded me of Speed Racer of all things. As American comic book films try so very hard to be taken seriously with their “realistic” costumes and blasted cityscapes, it was nice to see this film recognize that a layer of artificiality is beneficial when you’re staging superheroic action.
All in all, I give Krrish 3 four martinis out of five.
Cocktail #2: Moscow Mule
2 oz of vodka, .75 oz fresh lime juice, .5 oz of agave syrup, ginger beer, lemon wedge.
Shake vodka, lime juice, and agave syrup and pour over ice into chilled mule mugs, or glass mugs if you don’t have fancy metal Moscow Mule mugs. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lime wedge.
As North Americans, we’re often spared the spectacle of seeing our own rituals appropriated and bastardized by others. Part of this is explained by the privilege inherent in our vast global cultural reach, but it’s mostly because we can’t be bothered to explore outside of our own sandbox.
When such work does crossover, though, it can often be revelatory. The American western genre was transformed when Italian filmmakers like Sergio Leone reinterpreted it through their own lens, while the French gave us an opportunity to appreciate classic film noir in a way we couldn’t when we were actually creating it.
The same I suspect is true of the work that comes out of Bollywood—an industry aptly named, since it is in its own way even more rigid in its conventions than our own. While Bollywood regularly produces films in most of the popular genres, it does so in a way that transforms them into a singular genre all its own.
It’s like being taken to a world where the Hayes Code never ended and married couples still have to sleep in separate beds and you can’t show a toilet bowl and just when things seem to get serious you have to stop and sing and dance.
And it’s a very fun place to visit.
Aesthetically, spiritually and special effectsually, Krrish 3 is the best ‘90s superhero movie that was made in 2013. It is a vivid, loveable live action cartoon devoid of darkness and grit. Anyone who worships at the altar of Nolan will likely despair at the sight of it. There is no inner torment, no angst, no neurosis or tragedy (well, there’s a bit of tragedy, but not the kind that bums you out for a really long time), just the joy inherent in a superhero doing super things in the battle against a supervillain with a super secret.
The great joyful irony of the film is that by being so blatantly and unapologetically commercial, it achieves a unique artistic authenticity all its own. It has no shame and no other purpose than to celebrate the wonder that is cinema.
At least, I think so. I was pretty drunk when I watched it.
Still, reaching back into the haze that is my memory of our communal viewing, I remember only a sense of gleeful incredulity. We saw every twist coming and laughed when we were supposed to be sad, but it didn’t matter. Time flew by and what should have felt like an eternity passed in a fleeting moment.
This is what great movies do. Even if they’re really not that good.
And more importantly, it has whetted my appetite. I want more. I need more. More sincerity, more humour, more innocence, more singing, more dancing, more, more, more.
Erin, what have you done? Whatever it is, I’m grateful.
It’s time to step out of the sandbox and look into a funhouse mirror that reflects our much more serious and self-conscious world
By Krrish, I’m ready.
Cocktail #3: Pimm’s Cup
Pimm’s #1 (find it in the gin section of any decent liquor store), lemonade, Sprite/7-UP/club soda (anything clear and fizzy), cucumber.
Cut a largish section of the cucumber and throw it into your cocktail shaker. Muddle until it’s all squishy. Add equal parts Pimm’s and lemonade. Shake vigorously for as long as you like. Pour over ice, filling ¾ of cup. Fill the rest of the cup with the clear carbonated liquid of choice for effervescence. Stir, garnish with a slice of cucumber and serve.
What can I say about Bollywood superhero films that you don’t know already?
Well, if you’re like me and generally stick to Hollywood films (with the occasional Asian or European foreign movie), then you’d be new to the world of Bollywood dance numbers, man-cleavage, and ridiculously fast-paced plot lines (seriously, though—they don’t waste any time in Mumbai).
Krrish 3 was my introduction to the genre and, after going in with an open mind and already being three cocktails ahead of the crowd (sorry, guys), I found myself faced with my very first Bollywood superhero film. And I really liked it.
The superhero elements are clear from the get-go: the heart-warming but empowering back-story, the notable villain, the superpowers (of which Krrish sprouts new ones whenever he likes), the conflict, the sacrifice, and the epic fight scene. In comparison to Hollywood superhero films, Krrish’s storyline is fairly formulaic.
What makes this movie so unique is the way they work in cultural nuances—things that would be jarring in a Hollywood superhero film but bring a different level of excitement to a Bollywood movie. The song and dance scenes, for example, are fabulous. I’ve been conditioned by Western pop culture to expect something more traditional from Bollywood, but it was like watching a modern music video within a movie—with plenty of luscious hair blowing in the wind, of course.
The raw sexuality, particularly of the main character, was surprising. While still on our first cocktail, the Sparkling Amaretto Sours, we were treated to our fair share of rippling muscles and man-cleavage. As Erin likes to say, “there’s a shortage of buttons in Mumbai.” Clearly. (Thankfully.)
There are also manimals (which, as a Fullmetal Alchemist fan, I’m inclined to call chimeras)—humans who have had their DNA spliced with an animal. During our Pimm’s Cup cocktails, we spent some time delighting over the sheer beauty of the manimals and their hilarious powers (apparently chameleons can walk through walls).
As we embarked on our final cocktail of the evening, a Spicy Gin Martini, I couldn’t help but have a drunken giggle or two at the sheer exaggeration of everything in the movie—emotions are heightened, fight scenes are epic, and bronzed pecs littered the screen at the very best times. It’s over the top, but you really enjoy that it’s over the top. Too many superhero movies these days take themselves too seriously, whereas Krrish 3 is an action-packed, beautifully filmed bundle of fun.
This movie is interesting enough to capture the attention of a room of drunken viewers for two and a half hours, which should be recommendation enough. If nothing else, watch it for the man-cleavage. You won’t be disappointed.
I give it four rock hard biceps out of five.
Cocktail #4: Spicy Gin Martini
Vermouth, gin, cucumber, a jar of pepperoncinis.
Roll a martini or wine glass with half an ounce of Vermouth. Add two ounces of gin, one ice cube, and stir. Add a splash (or more, if you like it spicy) of the pepperoncini juice and garnish with a pepperoncini and slice of cucumber on the side.
In Krrish 3‘s least zany scene, a young girl dies of a horrible disease in the titular character’s arms. We know how this necessary apocalypse plays out in the modern superhero genre: Our hero, who until now has been a wisecracking goof, is confronted by the darkness of the world and becomes a man, dragging an escapist fantasy into the well-worn rut of brutal reality. It’s a fair bet that a flashback to the dying girl will haunt our hero as he lies obligatorily broken and defeated, or inspire him to show no mercy when finally triumphant. This dead child is a bonanza of clichéd humanizing moments.
And the film simply ignores it. Otherwise unafraid to over-explain every plot development and play every emotional note at maximum volume, the filmmakers resolve it almost in ADR. Krrish, a supermanalogue whose origin, powers and appearance defy summarization, grieves for a moment, cures the plague in the next scene, and never looks back. His goofball omnipotence is entirely undimmed. In both story importance and screen time, the whole plague business is rivalled by the scene in which a frog-tongued manimal repeatedly steals ice cream cones.
There’s enough plot for five movies crammed into Krrish‘s runtime, and it’s all delivered with the madcap irresponsibility of a deadline-pushing 1970s Jimmy Olsen comic. The film treats the necessary downers and message moments of the super-actioneer as perfunctory pauses between the spectacles people came to see—silly-CG fight scenes, lush song sequences and the corniest heroic monologues since Frank Capra got out of the game—and such tired drama as the father sacrificing himself for his son is made inherently comic by the two being played by the same actor against a green screen. The engine of the film is this straight-faced presentation of the patently absurd, the Superfriends in a leather trenchcoat, and the 152-minute (!) runtime passes at a breakneck pace. It feels far more like the hand-me-down comic books you read on vacation than anything Marvel has ever put out, and on that basis alone I’d recommend it. That it’s also great fun for fans of deserts, abs and eyebrow game only adds to that assessment.
Cocktail #5: Rickard’s Radler
A six pack of Rickard’s Radler.
Open bottle and serve.
Krrish 3 is available to rent on iTunes; booze is available at your local liquor store. The Pulp encourages you to host your own Boozy Bollywood party, but please drink responsibly.