Warning: This being a supernatural thriller, please adequately suspend your disbelief because as Kukunoor reminds us: a picture not just freezes time but also tells us a story of what happened behind the scene.
Sitting at the theatre watching 8X10, I could relate to Akshay Kumar’s psychic ability. Given below is a first-hand account of my psychic journeys that took me me behind the scenes of Tasveer.
Soon after the elaborately staged miniature opening credits, a crane swoops down towards the edge of a cliff to reveal a fat kid standing stunned. He’s staring at a football. His parents come running towards him… More crane swoops follow as: I get sucked in to the location of filming.
On the other side of the camera, there’s Nagesh Kukunoor counting wads and wads of cash. “40 Crores,” chuckles Kukunoor. “Just two words to explain this: Akshay, Kumar. Goes to show that it doesn’t matter if you have a good script or not as long as you have a star.”
SFX: A miniature Nagesh pops up in a bubble above the life size filmmaker who is still counting the cash in disbelief.
“Have you forgotten your underdog days when you had one tenth that amount and made films like Dor and Iqbal and made them hits even without stars,” asks the miniature Kukunoor.
“Oh, it’s my conscience. Yes, yes. A star is not necessarily a bad thing to have. As long as you tone down the theatrics and extract what you want – exactly what the script demands. Not more. Not less,” he replies.
One minute is up and I wake up in time to catch the next scene.
Akshay Kumar seems to underplay quite a bit, though his English seems a little awkward. Apparently, he’s this Environmental (No co-incidence that it contains the word Mental) Protection Services officer who can just smell a bear-hunter from a distance and I get transported to the filming again.
Akshay: Listen Nagesh, I don’t think I am being utilised with this underplaying thing. My fans want more.
Nagesh: I am sorry. But this is your role.
Akshay: I understand but there should be something I can do. Look at that lake.
Nagesh: Yeah, we will take a few shots of it.
Akshay: I want to jump 100 feet into it.
Nagesh: Relax. This is just a simple whodunit.
Akshay: I know. I started my career with a whodunit called Khiladi and being a Khiladi, my films run because of athletics. I do crazy things to get my Thums Up and you think I’ll be twiddling my thumbs here like this is some Night Shyamalan film?
Nagesh: I am not too sure.
Akshay: I am not too sure either if I want to do this, you know.
Nagesh (looking at the wads of notes): Yeah, okay. Let’s do it.
Miniature Kukunoor opens from his forehead like a cuckoo clock.
Nagesh: Go back Conscience, I have always wanted to make an action film.
And suspended by strings, Akshay Kumar “jumps” screaming like a maniac as the same is shot with eight or ten cameras.
Nagesh: Oh well!
A few scenes later.
We learn that his father Benjamin Geelani is dead and the only way he can get to the bottom of the truth is to get into the photograph and visit the scene.
Surreal VFX later, I find myself looking at Nagesh Kukunoor trying to write his script.
Super: Five Years Ago
Kukunoor can’t seem to get an idea.
He looks around and sees a picture. It’s a still from Baywatch.
And he gets sucked into their world.
He can see Pamela Anderson’s in a hot shower… It becomes a little too gross for me to watch what Kukunoor is doing while fantasising about this. So I tune out for a bit and return to the scene after a minute thinking about Borat falling in love with the woman in red water panties saying: “This C.J. was like no Kazakh woman I have ever seen. She had golden hairs, teeth as white as pearls, and the asshole of a seven-year-old.”
By the time I am back from that train of thought, I see Nagesh now staring at Carmen Electra and soon, he’s sucked into her Jacuzzi. But since I have the disturbing image of Kukunoor taking matters in his own hands… I tune out remembering that line from Hyderabad Blues: “Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar… Haath Me Le”.
A minute later, he stares at the other lifeguard… Aw Shucks! Is this ever going to stop?
I leave the guy alone to have his independent motion picture going but I am tempted to say: “Kukunoor dude, you have a script to write and I reckon you aren’t calling it Apna Haath Jagannath.”
Kukunoor finally wakes up, thankfully washes his hands, smiles satisfactorily and types down the title: 8×10
And I wonder, “What, you going to make a porno about a guy fantasizing about people in pictures? Guys do it all the time. What’s so unique about it?”
Suddenly, I feel the sound of the plane from Lost – yes, the sound effect used as a cue between flashbacks and present day. I am back in the theatre.
Akshay Kumar seems to be doing Parkour in most of the scenes, whether the film demands them or not. Maybe he’s looking for that bottle of Thums Up. Or didn’t have time for the gym. Because, no kidding, even when he’s attending a phone call, he’s doing his abs.
And soon, I’m at the set.
Akshay: I want to jump from there.
A few minutes later.
Akshay: Now, I want to jump from here.
A few minutes later… Montage:
Akshay: Now, from here.
Akshay: From there.
Nagesh (muttering): Does this guy never get tired?
A few minutes later.
Nagesh: Mr. Kumar, I think we have overdone the stunts, now we come to the revelation scene where Ayesha Takia has discovered a corpse. And since you are inside the house and on the floor, you can’t jump anywhere. You just need to react naturally.
Akshay (nods understandingly): Ok
He’s on the floor when he hears the screams, the cue for the shot.
Nagesh: And Action.
Akshay crawls from under the table like a commando.
Nagesh throws his hands up in the air.
Swooooosh. I am back in the hall watching Akshay have more of his psychic journeys, his health deteriorating after each departure.
And, I arrive on time to witness the scene behind that scene where Nagesh is arguing with his miniature conscience that’s become smaller than ever.
Mini Kukunoor: But this guy’s taking the film away from you making it look like an ad for Mountain Dew…
Kukunoor: Thums Up.
Mini Kukunoor: Yes, but I got an idea to satisfy you. Why don’t you disable him, make him sit on a wheelchair because you can always attribute it as a side effect of his psychic journeys.
Back in the film, Akshay Kumar seems to be calling 911 every other scene.
The 911 Operator: Oh, Hello Mr. Jai. With you being a regular caller and all, we have installed a special ambulance right outside your house.
The usual happens and I find myself at the set where Akshay is having an argument with Nagesh.
Akshay: I want to do more in this film. You can’t have a Whodunit and let some other actor walk away with the big revelation scene in the end.
Nagesh: But in a Whodunit, a director has to be fair to his audience and reveal all the suspects right at the beginning and we’ve done it through this 8×10 photo. Suddenly, introducing a new character not in the picture may make them feel cheated.
Akshay: Nagesh, you must watch more Hindi films. Nobody cares. Why should there be fixed rules that you should play all your cards at the beginning. The film is only halfway done, you can still introduce a mystery man trying to kill me when I am cycling so that I can do some more stunts… Maybe I can jump…
Nagesh: No more jumping please.
Akshay: Okay, done. I understand. I could just fall off the cycle and roll down the cliff.
At the end of the day’s shoot, Ayesha Takia unable to carry the weight of her top-heavy load, is dragging the cycle along after rolling down a cliff. But Akshay, he carries the cycle on his shoulder.
A few scenes later, Javed Jaffrey playing Habibullah Pasha, Happy with an I, is calling a nurse called Sally as Saali.
At the set, I walk in on Nagesh Kukunoor having a conversation with himself.
Micro Mini Kukunoor: Don’t you think it’s corny?
Kukunoor: Listen, I should have left you home the minute I signed this film. But now that it is anyway becoming a B-movie, maybe I should just play along and make it more campy. B-movie is also a genre, you know.
Micro Mini Kukunoor: I know. You already tried your hand at it with that last bit in Bombay to Bangkok.
Back in the film itself, plenty of things happen which I am afraid cannot be revealed given a request that reads like this:
This is Nagesh. I just want to make a personal, humble and unusual request to you that you not divulge the ending of my film in your reviews.
Given that it is a thriller and a murder mystery, its USP is the finale. I hope to reach as wide an audience as possible and I fear that the revelation of the climax may turn many viewers away.
Thanking you in advance.
I get sucked into the computer screen as I see Kukunoor is sitting at his desk trying to type an email. He’s looking at the screen as Kukunoor’s Conscience, now a mere speck on his desk says: You are doomed. Critics are going to give away the end on Day 1 and once people know the end, they will surely not watch the film. Because they would be like: What?????
Kukunoor: Oh shut up, I remember my Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. All I need to do is name the boat after one of his films that is based on this very premise and keep using it as a cutaway. That should legitimise it with the critics and also work as a clue and tribute.
Soon, the end credits roll up with the signature Akshay-Kumar-film-rap accompanying it (with Bohemia) and Kukunoor finally makes his cameo – as an item boy getting drenched in the water with Akshay.
Back at the set, the actor directs the filmmaker.
Akshay: Trust me Nagesh. I know what I am doing with this. It’s a must-do in all my films… Come on, join me.
And that is how Nagesh Kukunoor learnt the Bollywood dance.
In other words: Tasveer 8×10 is a little under-developed, like all Bollywood films seems to be botched up in a dark room and the picture itself surely didn’t demand to be blown up this big. But then, if you like your poster-boys, forget everything else and be mind-numbingly entertained.