Rahul Bose’s hit-and-miss fantasy about a mind-reading hairdresser is set largely in an upper-class Bombay salon where the clientele have been so effectively Americanized that they speak English exclusively (except to their servants) and even use words like “dude” and phrases like “don’t go there.” It’s a setting that seems all the more exotic for being somehow familiar, with its pop-art candy-colored decor and raga-rap videos playing on the salon’s television.
It’s also an old-fashioned film, with a premise that can be traced from Grand Hotel through to The Iceman Cometh and beyond, where a group of people who frequent the same establishment each have some shameful secret or other, which will eventually be revealed or resolved or both. In this instance the main unfortunates are Tanya, who struggles to maintain appearances even though her rich husband has kicked her out of their house; the straight-laced businessman Mr. Mittal who’s involved in a mysterious but decidedly unhealthy sexual relationship; and Rage, a flamboyant actor who pretends to be a great success while his career is going nowhere.
The hairdresser, Xan, is privy to his customers’ inner thoughts because he can hear them when he cuts their hair (a full explanation of this gift is best left for the viewer to discover). Since he cares about his customers, he does what he can to help them and he’s generally effective, whether he’s thwarting a potentially embarrassing situation for Tanya or playing matchmaker for a young couple who are having trouble hooking up. But the one person he can’t help is himself, and he’s forced to face the extent of his isolation after the appearance of the beautiful Nikita, a troubled young woman whose thoughts he can’t read.
Bose’s film works on the level that it does — as old-fashioned unsophisticated entertainment — because he apparently still believes in the power of the old clichés, in the pleasure one derives from watching the worm that turns or the evil man who gets his comeuppance. And so the film is totally non-ironic, with no winks or nudges to assist its cornier aspects. This works well during the more conventionally dramatic sequences but when things suddenly turn extremely grim — one of the stories’ denouements involves a graphic revelation of incest and a vicious on-screen murder — it’s such an abrupt tonal shift that it’s as if we’ve stumbled into a different movie. But up to the point that Bose (who, incidentally, plays the actor Rage, and is a world-class ham) loses control of his material, this is an odd and interesting film.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday, Nov. 17. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].