Director Farah Khan will stop at nothing to get a laugh out of you. No disability is too sensitive to make a joke of, and no stereotype too overused to flog one last time. In a scene from her new film Tees Maar Khan, a dark-skinned thief nicknamed Ismail Koyla who only commits robberies in the night, is finally arrested when his shining teeth give away his hiding spot. In another scene in which a movie is being cast, a toothless villager presumably suffering from leucoderma is selected to play a British officer because he has white skin. A pair of conjoined twins only speak in unison and repeatedly hi-five each other. And three effeminate village boys forever dressed in pink assist a heroine with her make-up, and roll their eyes longingly at a hunky filmmaker.
If you’re outraged by such low-brow humor, Tees Maar Khan is going to be a long, hard slog for you.
Adapted from After the Fox, a 1966 comedy starring Peter Sellers, this film stars Akshay Kumar as Tabrez Mirza Khan or Tees Maar Khan, a master criminal who learnt to steal even before he was born, because his mother was addicted to classic Bollywood crime films while she was pregnant with him. When Tees Maar Khan is hired by the notorious Johri Brothers to rob a train stuffed with roughly 5,000 crore rupees worth of antiques, he pretends to be a Hollywood filmmaker named Manoj Day Ramalan, and under the guise of shooting a period film, enlists an entire unsuspecting village to help him with the heist.
Despite several staggeringly silly set pieces – including a sequence in an airplane in which Tees Maar Khan escapes from the clutches of two police officers – the film’s first hour races by briskly thanks to breakneck pacing, and at least two energetically choreographed dance numbers. But by the time you’ve settled into your seat post intermission, the screenplay begins to come apart. There’s a particularly awkward gag involving a headless horseman, and that leads to a supposedly poignant moment in the film that is entirely contrived. Even the train heist sequence isn’t filmed dramatically enough, and the Manoj Kumar tribute at this point seems forced and overstretched.
Tees Maar Khan, surprisingly, doesn’t match up to the standards set by Farah Khan with her previously directed films. Both Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om were smarter, funnier films that benefitted from the writer-director’s irreverent humour. But for this film she hands over the writing responsibilities to Shirish and Ashmit Kunder who appear to have drained the film of any smartness. The dialogues are repetitive, and the jokes in Tees Maar Khan are mostly puerile and not very funny at all. In fact, it’s an arrogantly written script that seems to take the audience for granted.
However, it’s a testament to Farah Khan’s directing skills that she makes even this disappointing film work on at least a few occasions. She draws out a winning performance from Akshaye Khanna as the Oscar-hungry filmstar Aatish Kapoor, who’s still hurting from having lost a role in Slumdog Millionaire on account of his foolish secretary. Despite the incessant hamming, Khanna easily emerges this film’s best joke. Katrina Kaif, in a smaller role, as Tees Maar Khan’s struggling actress girlfriend, submits herself completely to the silliness of her character, and at least succeeds in evoking a smile out of you.
In the choreography department, there are few who can rival Farah Khan. The Sheela ki jawaani number is one of the film’s early highlights, a sight to behold not only for the dance movements but for the complete staging of the production – the music, the costumes, the lighting, and the editing. The Wallah wallah set piece too, featuring Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan, has an infectious energy that is indisputable.
Even if you go in willing to suspend your disbelief, Tees Maar Khan is not an easy film to enjoy. Akshay Kumar works very hard to make the buffoonery look like fun, but he’s saddled with such poor material, it’s no surprise it doesn’t work.
I’m going with two out of five for director Farah Khan’s Tees Maar Khan. Working with Akshay Kumar for the first time, it’s surprising she delivered not the trademark Farah Khan entertainer one expected from her, but a typical harebrained Akshay Kumar comedy instead.