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12.31.13

‘Dhoom 3’ Review: Bollywood’s Baffling Blockbuster

India’s version of ‘Fast and Furious’ is doing huge business in the States. But you’d never know from watching it that Bollywood is capable of making good movies. Warning: spoilers.

It’s been called the biggest blockbuster in Indian film history, and the first with real crossover potential. And why wouldn’t it appeal to Americans? It has car chases, bank heists, naked women, and a number in the title.

Unfortunately, Dhoom 3 doesn’t make any sense. Not even a little. Ostensibly about bank robbers and magicians, there’s not a single bank robbery or magic trick in this three-hour movie. It’s like a classic David Copperfield illusion—but instead of making the Statue of Liberty disappear, he pulls a dead rabbit out of a hat.

What’s more confounding is that the film has managed to bust box-office records anyway, cracking the U.S. top ten in its opening weekend there and raking in close to $58 million worldwide in just 10 days. The only sensible explanation is that Bollywood films are unfairly held to a lower standard.

For those new to the franchise, Dhoom is basically the Fast and the Furious, with each film showcasing a different superstar as the bad guy. Here, it’s Sahir the clown thief, played by a seemingly constipated Aamir Khan. (Khan, a self-described perfectionist and India’s finest actor, wore a bowler hat for two years for the role.) The plot is straightforward: Sahir wants to destroy the evil bankers who shut down his father’s circus years ago.

It’s like a classic David Copperfield illusion—but instead of making the Statue of Liberty disappear, he pulls a dead rabbit out of a hat.

The idea of a “clown thief” and the chase scenes are familiar: they’re taken from The Dark Knight. But there’s a twist! Sahir has an autistic twin brother named Samar who no one knows about. Then again, the twist is also borrowed, this time from Christopher Nolan’s chilling masterpiece The Prestige. The rest of the movie is essentially chase scene after chase scene, with a little Rain Man for flavor.

Many writers, like Anu Chopra in the Hindustan Times, have correctly criticized the movie for its “lack of logic.” But Dhoom 3 has also been praised as a classic Bollywood “entertainer.” This moniker, historically, has been a flimsy way of saying that it’s OK for an Indian movie to be awful as long as audiences get the usual masala mix: explosions, hot bodies, and tons of melodrama.

Video screenshot

In that vein, the Chicago Sun Times writes that Dhoom 3 is “crowd-pleasing populist fare,” while the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips says “Bollywood films are appealing because they’re such valiant recyclers of previously used materials.”

These aren’t compliments. It’s terribly reductive to give crappy Bollywood movies a pass just because they’re made in India. India has made intelligent movies for decades. Dhoom 3 is not one of them. It just happens that the biggest movie in Bollywood history is completely illogical.

Here are a few examples:

The Bank Robberies

The first time we see the clown thief, he’s running down a wall, with some weird black cord coming out of his backpack. (That piece of rope conveniently shoots out and pulls him to safety whenever he needs it.) Money rains down on the people below. He just robbed the bank! How? Don’t ask. Where’s the money he’s taken? Don’t ask.

The Magical Motorcycle

Sahir’s motorcycle launches off a bridge and towards the water. Dhoom! It morphs into a jet ski, which is then dives under water, then shoots out of the water and turns back into a motorcycle.

Indian’s Top Hot Cops

The Chicago police hire two fools from India to crack the case. In one scene, the officer hangs onto a ladder from a helicopter as he chases the thief. He shoots the thief with a pistol. Because that's fine to do.

Momentum Doesn’t Exist

Motorcycles go from 60 to 0 mph in a second, without hurling the driver off. In another stunt, the clown thief straddles a rope while driving between buildings.

‘Strong’ Female Characters

The head Chicago cop is blonde and wears lipstick. Which explains why she’s in the movie, because her investigation skills seem to peak with figuring out that a “thief” has robbed the bank. Katrina Kaif, the Bollywood bombshell in the movie, enters the film as a bespectacled Frances Ha-type girl who bumbles her way into a circus audition. Within five minutes she strips down to her underwear while pole dancing.

The Climax

After cornering the villains on a boat in Chicago at night, the twins’ bikes rocket them onto land and they drive away. Instead of chasing after the thieves, our hero cop says he’ll catch them in the morning. Dhoom! In the next scene we’re on a dam (the Contra Damn, which is in Switzerland), where a police chopper hovers over the escaping thieves. I mean, at least try to explain what happened.

In Hindi, dhoom means blast, and this movie may indeed be a blast. Unless you actually think about it.