The Lost City of Truly Bad Actors

Pop Culture

The Lost City of Truly Bad Actors

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

Last month, my daughter was reading Subhadra Sen Gupta’s excellent Let’s Go Time Travelling. After reading about the Mohenjo-daro civilisation, she wanted to see what the ruins looked like. I knew what was coming, but tried to evade it by looking up Google Images. We saw the standard pictures from the 5,000-year-old city – the Great Bath, the dancing girl statuette, the bearded priest/king, and the Pasupati seal. But when a dhoti-clad Hrithik Roshan came up in our expedition, my fate was sealed.

Mohenjo Daro the film, also known as “three hours of my life that are never coming back”, is based on the novel concept of killing off anyone who displays anything near decent skill in acting (or any department of cinema). The tone is set early when Hrithik Roshan, or Sarman, kills a method-acting CG crocodile in the first sequence. As the corpse is carried back to the village, the actors speak a weird gibberish that grates on your nerves, shredding them like cheese. That is until the language transforms into a hideous lovechild of Bhojpuri and Hindi, and you yearn for the gibberish with acute longing.

Hrithik is given a good run for his money in the bad acting stakes by Nitish Bhardhwaj. Bhardwaj has long been trying to do worse than his portrayal of an ever-smiling, permanently-stoned Krishna in the late eighties. As indigo farmer Durjan in this film he comes close. But Bhardwaj is far from being the clear winner. There is such fierce competition for the title of worst actor in this film that Bhardwaj only managed a consolation prize.

Just like Rahul Gandhi, it comes off as a film that is wholly unsure of itself (for good reason!), petrified that people will discover that it actually has very little substance behind all that hype.

Hrithik’s sidekick Hojo, who tries to channel Samwise Gamgee, stands a good chance. Hojo is what Yash Birla would look like if he laid off the gym for a couple of years. As Sarman and Hojo travel to Mohenjo-daro, they meet a few more truly bad actors, and the competition gets fierce.

Lothar, a city guard, takes wooden acting to California Redwood heights and Chaani, portrayed by Pooja Hegde, gives up acting fairly early in the game since her ensemble, which includes a pheasant nesting in her hair, occupies most of her headspace. Mooja (Arunuday Singh), snared in a similar fate, snarls menacingly in an effort to draw attention away from the towel on his head. But believe me, both the pheasant and the towel are more compelling than either of the actors.

In Mohenjo Daro, the Bad Acting category, feeling rather weighed down by bearing the burden of carrying the film alone, is joined by Tepid Storytelling, and Ridiculous Characterisation, which includes two of the film’s most complex characters – man-eating White-trash Rastafarians from the Tajik hills dressed in traditional jhinga-la-la-hum chic. Sadly, Hrithik dispatches them before they are allowed to fully express themselves.

The greatest threat to Sarman winning the award for bad acting is provided by Kabir Bedi, who plays a geographically-challenged Viking called Maham. Maham has killed anyone who has acted moderately well by the time Sarman gets to Mohenjo-daro. Sarman, meanwhile, joins every dance with the practiced ease of a “Jhalak Dikhlaja” contestant while leading a communist revolution 5,000 years before Karl Marx hit the scene.

The conflict between Maham and Sarman is presented as a competition between two PWD engineers. One builds a dam and the other builds a bridge. In what may be a fitting metaphor for the film, none of the structures survive. The population of Mohenjo-daro moves to the banks of the Ganges and establishes the civilisation that will eventually appoint Gajendra Chauhan as FTII chief. Pahlaj Nihalani khush huya!

I sat through the movie trying to view it as a subversive attempt to portray the entirety of the Indus Valley civilisation as a gigantic acid trip (after all, Hrithik does keep seeing a unicorn and at one point even becomes one) but even that failed. Mohenjo Daro, with its big budget, big stars, and big weekend release, failed spectacularly to seize the day. Just like Rahul Gandhi, it comes off as a film that is wholly unsure of itself (for good reason), petrified that people will discover that it actually has very little substance behind all that hype.

At the end of the movie, my daughter learned that ancient civilisations are full of people who wear an unhealthy amount of bronzer and love bizarre headgear, and I learned that such a profusion of bad acting makes it abundantly difficult to pick a winner and that one has no choice but to turn the award around and pass it on the one did the least damage.

That would have to be the CG method-acting crocodile.