By Manik Sharma Sep. 03, 2021
I’ve never been comfortable admitting that I despise driving and lack the enthusiasm most share around automobiles in general. It has made witnessing and understanding the fandom behind the Fast and Furious franchise all the more fascinating.
About a decade ago I was in Hyderabad, part of a large training batch in my first job as a techie. Because we were such a large contingent, acquaintances were as easy to make as faces and personalities were easy to forget. The first meagre pay checks we received demanded a celebration – not ecstatically cultured or elitist, but anything that shouted collective joy and abandon. Everyone suggested watching the new Fast and Furious film (I don’t remember which one but really who can anymore). I’d never been into automobiles – still ain’t- in general and had neither been a fan of the franchise except for its music and late Paul Walker’s t-shirts. I assumed a single screen theatre in the Hyderabad suburbs would invite scant crowds for a franchise consistently pushing the boundaries of adolescent gullibility. A group of 23 people, we barely managed to get our tickets as people paid to stand and watch. I’ve never seen anything like it since.
It’s kind of contradictory too, the fact that India neither has supercars, nor roads to drive them on and yet there is this wondrousness about a film franchise overflowing with testosterone to the point you’d think it’s not the fuel that’s driving these machines.
I hate driving, specifically the many stress points that come with owning a car. Worse, I have over the years detested the fact that masculinity has attached itself to the notional wisdoms of speed, driving and getting away to the extent that it has become embarrassing to even admit I don’t like doing it. I’d rather be the guy next to the driver soaking in the view or cursing the traffic. All of this has always made it difficult to understand the cult of the Fast and Furious franchise. It exists, it definitely does, and despite the white-vest-lean artistic sensibility of these films their exaggerations have become a thing of folklore in itself. It’s kind of contradictory too, the fact that India neither has supercars, nor roads to drive them on and yet there is this wondrousness about a film franchise overflowing with testosterone to the point you’d think it’s not the fuel that’s driving these machines.
F9- The Fast Saga, as they are calling it after having run out suffixes that can be used, is the latest in a line of Fast and Furious films that invents a storyline where there exists none. For some reason Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew disband at the end of every film and regroup, again for the next – has someone not tried and rent the whole group a villa or something where they can ‘hang’ and obnoxiously, talk cars like politics, all day. In this new film, Dom’s estranged brother, a wasted John Cena appears out of nowhere – with not a text message, a missed call or a facebook request in between – to foil Torreto’s plans. Because these films have always been built around the tenets of ‘family’ and the prehistoric idea of fighting as one, it wouldn’t be giving anything away by telling you, everyone just shakes hands at the end at the expense of a rudimentary third villain. To its credit, this film is perhaps the most mature in the franchise, but that’s not saying much given the bar the predecessors have set.
Most of us can’t afford cars until we are old enough to not even look good driving them. But that is what dreams and aspirations are made of in this country, to salivate at the probabilities and not the possibilities.
The new film even finds humour in the near-invincibility of Toretto’s group of badass drivers. I’m not sure if it’s a self-reflective joke or something targeted at the audience with the idiomatic stubbornness of “you’ll buy just about anything we sell”. Most of these characters have never been bruised or even hurt, flinging cars off of cliffs or in this case flying them in outer space (yes, that’s right). The ridiculous obsession with cars amounts to doing absolutely nothing without them. Even the concept of athletic mobility seems alien to a franchise hedging its bets on the masculinity of the viewing audience. Then there is the NOS, the button everyone presses as a typicality now, when something outrageous is about to happen. I can’t help but wish I had one, not for driving, but driving past the absurdities of everyday life. A more philosophical NOS, if you will.
As a prickly hater of automobiles and driving, I might find the exaggerations of the series hilarious, but I do get its allure. To a slow-moving country Fast and Furious is an intimate, almost erotic perspective of speed. To a people perpetually stuck in traffic jams and middling accomplishments it is like a virtual escape, rewarding. Also cars, might be the only proof of success you get to flaunt while earning them. It’s like a homestay for your mind that can neither escape the office chair nor the family duty. Most of us can’t afford cars until we are old enough to not even look good driving them. But that is what dreams and aspirations are made of in this country, to salivate at the probabilities and not the possibilities. Which is why despite its ‘Ludacris’, bald-headed narratives and near teenage kicks, Fast and the Furious manages to tug at the kid in us, the one who believes he’ll still someday drive like he is flying.