Sunday, March 1, 2015

An evening spent watching MSG : The Messenger

MSG : The Messenger

Cast : 

Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan - Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan
Pitbull (Or maybe it was Vin Diesel) - Michael
Chick who looks vaguely like Bipasha Basu : Muskaan
Chick who looks like (and apparently is) a TV actress : Kasam
Random Eastern-European chick : Alice
The whole of Dera Sacha Sauda : Massive crowds

Last week was a tough week for me. Lots to do at work. Managing the household with my wife being away for a few days. Backache acting up. It was all rather overwhelming.

So I did what any rational person would do in my circumstances. I went and saw MSG : The Messenger in the cinema.

Turns out it was a great idea.

The film starts out on a positive note - by showing the trailer for MSG 2, the doubtlessly much awaited sequel to the classic that you're just settling down to watch. I haven't been so hyped for a sequel since CD Projekt Red announced The Witcher 3.

Having thus reassured viewers that the continuity of the MSG Cinematic Universe™ (MSGCU) is not in jeopardy, the film begins its 3 hours and 19 minutes of ultimate kvlt.

Not even ten minutes in to the movie, you're already seeing burning Barbie dolls that talk and warn Guruji of impending doom, Guruji weaponizing and flinging burning tricycles at bad guys, a cameo from Doraemon, some pole-vault-fu, a flying lion, a villain named Chillum Khurana and Guruji using his powers to turn paper swords into rice and a hail of bullets into a pretty tiara. I exaggerate not even a little.

MSG is 3 hours and 19 minutes of the craziest spiritual guru fashion show ever.
I have no idea why that caption is on the screen.

The movie slows down a notch after the frenetic start, and for the next three hours or so, we are treated to Guruji (with a little help from his friends - about ten million of them) going about the noble tasks of rehabilitating sex workers and transgenders, battling the drug mafia, organizing blood donation camps, cleaning up the roads and being a 'youth icon" - all while dressed in impossibly flamboyant outfits.

Because of all his good work (or maybe because of his fashion sense, which makes Bappi Lahiri seem like Arvind Kejriwal), some people want to assassinate Guruji.

To get this job done, they send out :

1. Pitbull
2. A female assassin whose identity is so mysterious, even THEY don't know who she is.

Since Pitbull is even more incompetent as a hit-man than he is as a musician, his efforts are easily negated by Guruji, who beats the snot out of him as a side-show during a game of Guli-stick before a packed house. (What is Guli-stick you ask? A sport invented by Guruji himself (take that, JK Rowling) which is a mix of cricket, Gulli-Danda and fancy-dress. Sheesh. This film requires its own internal Wikipedia).

Guruji playing Gulistick. More people in the crowd than in a typical England - Sri Lanka ODI.

This leaves only "The Girl" to get the job done. Since we have whittled down the suspects to one of three possibilities (as there are only three major female characters in the film), the audience is left to guess which of Guruji's three devoted adopted "daughters" is plotting to kill him. Not just the audience, even the courier who is supposed to deliver the "bomb" to the killer has no clue as to who she is - leading to a mildly comedic sequence where he wanders around a wedding scene trying to give the bomb to any mildly suspicious looking woman who happens to pass by.

The police cannot help, of course, as there are no cops in the MSG Cinematic Universe™. This is the only logical explanation for why, despite repeated attempts on Guruji's life in fronts of hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of witnesses, nobody bothers going to the cops with so much as a complaint.

Guruji adjusts his cooling glasses before using his exploding bicycle to dig a well to save a village.

Lots of stuff happens. Guruji saves a man who is trying to commit suicide because his village has no water by solving the water scarcity problem by nonchalantly using an exploding bicycle to dig a well. People enjoy donating blood so much that they spontaneously break into Bhangra. A group of terrorists is levelled by a single blast from Guruji's harmonica. Guruji foils the final assassination attempt (the world's first failed assassination attempt at a "Rubaru night", no less) by flying a Harley-Davidson into the sky and disposing off the bomb by blowing up a hot-air balloon miles above, then stage-diving back into the stadium against the backdrop of a flaming explosion.

MSG possibly holds the world record for the maximum number of extras in a film. #nocg

At various points during the film, we are reminded that the Dera Sacha Sauda has five crore followers. Judging by the film’s crowd scenes, I have little difficulty believing that. Protest marches, rock concerts, sports events - MSG is full of scenes that feature a truckload of people, and it pulls them off remarkably. While Peter Jackson would probably resort to special effects to populate his crowd scenes, Guruji packs them with actual followers. There are probably more people in this movie than there are in the cinema halls watching it.

Of course, no review of MSG would be complete without a few words on the fashions, and the vehicles. So here goes.

It's widely known that Sant Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh Insaan does not dress conservatively. In MSG, he wears some outfits that even Lady Gaga might politely refuse on the grounds of them being a bit too outlandish.

I totally want to see this in the next Mario Kart

This is a GREAT helicopter. Possibly the GREATEST helicopter.

Patriotic Segway-riding on par with #gzhand in Dashavataram.

His stable of vehicles is even more spectacular. Gurujji uses all manner of transportation - scooters, bicycles, segways, buggies, cars and helicopters. All of them look like something that may have been designed by a three year old Dilip Chhabria, experimenting with Play-Doh for the first time. It's like Mario Kart, but with lips.

But for me, what stood out was his reasoning why. When a reporter asks him why a supposed Fakir dresses like a rock-star, his simple response boils down to  "My name has Insaan in it. I am just a human being, with likes and dislikes and tastes just like everyone else. I like these clothes, so I wear them". It was a disarmingly honest response that took me by surprise.

Actually, there were many things in the film that I found surprisingly well-framed. It has one of the most positive depictions of transgenders I've seen in an Indian movie - in tune with the film's recurring theme that all God's creations are equal. At every turn, the film resists the temptation to villify any single group of people - indeed, by the end, everyone, including Chillum Khurana, Pitbull and the rest of the bad guys are forgiven, and there is redemption for all. In his monologues, Guruji repeatedly raises the pertinent question of why the media always questions the motives of anyone who is trying to do a little good, without ever bothering to question the folks who let things get so bad in the first place.

In fact, apart from one slightly creepy scene with a throwaway reference to some "miracle cure" type thing, and the (probably well-intentioned but debatable nevertheless) idea that the only way to rehabilitate sex workers is by getting them married, I found absolutely nothing wrong with the film's central idea - equality of religions, love, forgiveness and work for the benefit of society. It's a fairly noble goal, and Sant Ram Rahim Singh Insaan delivers it with an impossible combination of flamboyance, sincerity and badassery. I wonder why the censor board wanted it banned. Perhaps they were objecting to the costume designs? Of course, the film is a barely disguised advertisement for the Dera Sacha Sauda. But the last time I checked, that wasn't illegal. And no more offensive than a film with Vijaykanth depicting Lord Shiva.

Of course, I’m aware that there are all sorts of allegations against the DSS chief. And those will be resolved in a court of law. If Sunjay Dutt is still allowed to make movies, I see no reason why Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan should not be.

In the end, in spite of some well-intentioned messaging, MSG is a spectacular train wreck of a movie. But it’s the only one of its kind. And it features a lead actor who, in one stroke, knocks Rajinikanth, Sunny Deol and Bappi Lahiri off their respective perches.

And for that alone, it’s worth a watch.


Postscript : 

I saw the movie in the following company :

1. Naren Banad
2. Some random young folks who came to troll Guruji
3. About 30 sincere Dera Sacha Sauda faithful of all ages

It was actually a surreal experience. We quickly realized that the people we were sitting next to were totally into the film, and would not take kindly to us sniggering and joking. So we swiftly moved to some empty seats (which were surprisingly few in number) farther away. Wise move.

The DSS folks enjoyed the film in exactly the same way that Rajinikanth fans enjoy a Superstar starrer - clapping and cheering Guruji's "punch" dialogues and "stunts", singing along and dancing to the songs, and generally investing in the belief that the man on the screen is some sort of god.

Towards the end, they were a bit annoyed (quite justifiably) at the younger group behind us, and asked them, very respectfully but sternly, to stop mocking and let them enjoy the film. Fair enough - many of us would not take kindly to a bunch of people mocking and trolling when we were trying to watch some serious Oscar awards type film. To each his own.