Abbas-Mustan’s Race was, among other things, a wonderful tribute to Sir Issac Newton. Few film have remained as committed to Newton’s Third Law of Motion – “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – as Race. For every unexpected plot turn in the movie there was a subsequent twist nullifying its effect; the result, at varying points, was zero: you were back to where you began. Then, just like that, there was a new twist, which was quickly cancelled by another twist, accompanied by characters saying, “Yahi toh mera plan tha (That was my plan).” (Hint: reliable drinking game.) Race was an excellent shoddy film – the kind that keeps you invested in its outcome, because we all want to know, “How bad can bad really get?”
Race 2, by the same filmmakers, was plain insipid, its mediocrity only inspiring boredom. And now we have Race 3, directed by Remo D’Souza (previously responsible for masterpieces such as ABCD and Flying Jatt), which replaces the two brothers, Abbas-Mustan, by one, the original “Bhai”, Salman Khan. There have been a few other additions to the cast. There’s Bobby Deol proving, once again, what he has for the last 23 years, that he still can’t act; there’s Daisy Shah carrying the seediness of the Hate Story franchise; there’s Saqib Saleem – a fairly competent actor – who was perhaps so taken in by the idea of being overpaid and underworked that he forgot that he should at least pretend to act (and no, perpetually scowling and saying “bro” isn’t considered acting – not yet).
The movie opens to the legend, “Al-Shifa island”, where Shamsher Singh (Anil Kapoor) is a powerful arms dealer, who is helped in his business by his twin children – Sanjana (Shah) and Suraj (Saleem) – and his late brother’s son, Sikander (Khan). (Allow this to sink in for a moment. Khan, who in eight years will be considered “senior citizen”, plays a nephew to Kapoor, an actor older than him by nine years.) Most of them are quickly introduced though a voiceover. Sanjana is trained in martial arts; Suraj is “very angry” and “into cars” (basically every dudebro ever); Yash (Bobby Deol), a longtime bodyguard of Shamsher, is “loyal, loveable but extremely lethal”. And bhai? No descriptions for bhai because why tell when you can show? In less than 15 minutes, the film resembles a temple, and bhai a god. Bhai is shown standing on the terrace of a skyscraper from which he jumps; he pulls off stunts in cars; he is wearing a black vest amid snow-capped peaks, doing something that vaguely resembles a dance.
Race 3, like the previous films of the franchise, is centred on sibling rivalry. Sanjana and Suraj want to get rid off Sikander because he’s a stepbrother, unfairly favoured by their father. But that, if you’re familiar with this world, cannot be the story. So there are twists. D’Souza and writer Shiraz Ahmed create elaborate subplots and backstories – and more than once, plot holes – to surprise you. The intention remains the same: to suffocate the film with as many twists as possible, disregarding logic, flow and consistency. In fact the twists here are so out of sync with the story that the film ends on a postscript of sorts with Khan’s Sikander explaining their mechanics. (Imagine being made to explain something – anything – by Khan in a movie; the audacity is admirable.)
Much of Race 3 is shoddy – nothing that you wouldn’t have expected – but it’s garden-variety shoddy. And if you’ve seen enough Bollywood films, you know that there’s no fun in that. The film scores, though, with the help of its dialogues, rooting its mediocrity, making it briefly (and perversely) enjoyable. For some reason, most characters address each other as “bro”. There are lines such as “Chill na bro”, “I feel ya bro”, “I felt it too, bro”, “the ball is in your court – bro”. Then there are other gems such as the rightfully meme-fied, “Our business is our business – none of your business” by Shah or “Kaam over, game over” by Deol, probably a self-referencing line that reminds you of (another Abbas-Mustan film) Soldier.
But the best of them comes quite early when Sanjana is about to open her laptop, showing Yash a video that confirms Sikander’s deceit. Yash doesn’t buy her claim. Suraj tells Sanjana, “Bro, ise dil nahin, Dell khol ke dikhao (Don’t open your heart but laptop).” The clip shows Sikander and Yash’s girlfriend, Jessica (Jacqueline Fernandes), hugging. There’s a moment of silence before Suraj exclaims, “What passion bro, what passion!”
When bad actors run out of bad lines in Race 3, there are plenty of action sequences, where D’Souza relies on familiar old tricks – rapid cuts, freeze frame, sporadic slow motion – fittingly closing the circle. Oh, and Khan also fights bare-chested in the climax. (So does Deol.) The film ends with Khan facing the audience – solo, with a smile on his lips. The joke – 159 minutes long – has already been cracked; you’ve no other option but to laugh.