Broad gags cover a multitude of sins in the rambunctious Indian heist comedy “Tees Maar Khan.” Director Farah Khan delivers a rougher-than-usual package compared with her collaborations with Hindi superstar Shah Rukh Khan, but the flaws here become virtues as the helmer pushes her leads, Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, to send up their own thesping limitations, while Ashmith Kunder and Shirish Kunder’s satirical script yields generous laughs. Pic drew 180 million rupees ($4 million) internationally on its opening day and should continue to appeal to domestic and offshore auds. “Slumdog Millionaire” jokes may provide some slight crossover potential.
When criminal mastermind Tees Maar Khan (Kumar) is captured in Paris and escorted back to New Delhi by two security agents (Murli Sharma, Aman Verma), his henchmen await his arrival and are surprised to see their boss step freely from the plane. A flashback introduces a magnificent comic setpiece that reveals how the charming thief managed to orchestrate his release.
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Briefly reunited with his wannabe actress g.f., Anya (former model Kaif), Khan is approached by smugglers and conjoined twins the Johri Brothers (tube stars Raghu Ram and Rajiv Laxman) to help them rob a heavily guarded train loaded with priceless antiques. Pic’s audacious, taboo-tweaking approach becomes more evident as the crime is plotted with all the men wearing burkas. Appropriating Peter Seller’s plan in Vittorio De Sica’s 1966 comedy “After the Fox,” Khan proposes to trick a small town into performing the heist for him under the pretext of shooting a film.
Preying on the jealousy and ambition of actor Aatish Kapoor (Akshaye Khanna), who lost out on the role in “Dumbdog Millionaire” that enabled Anil Kapoor to win an Oscar, Khan is easily able to manipulate the fame-hungry thesp to serve his plan. Khan also casts the talentless Anya as the phony film’s love interest.
Rapid-fire jokes range from dumb to occasionally offensive (gags about an albino bumpkin and off-color references to M. Night Shyamalan) and snide (pointed references to the prima donna-ish foibles of Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan), but the wicked script is still undeniably funny.
In the title role, Kumar is allowed to mug shamelessly without detracting from the film’s comedic impact. Kumar can be irritating with lesser material like “Khatta Meetha,” but here, his every knowing glance and flamboyant mannerism radiates boyish charm. Likewise, Kaif is unfettered by her limited range as she flounces around repeating lines like “You dirty dog!” with even less conviction than usual. In her first dance number, Kaif puts over the rocking eroticism of “My Name Is Sheila” with a sexually provocative quality that her previous good-girl roles have denied her.
Elsewhere, Khanna is a delight in a merciless caricature of a Hindi superstar, seemingly partially based on Shah Rukh Khan (who actually did turn down Anil Kapoor’s role in “Slumdog Millionaire”).
Onetime choreographer Farah Khan is at her best with the dance numbers (co-choreographed by Geeta Kapoor), and while the pic overall has a rushed, less polished feel than her previous directorial outings, such as “Main Hoon Na” and “Om shanti om,” it’s helmed with a strong, restless energy.
Lensing by P.S. Vinod is variable but serviceable. Energetic score, with its frequent “Tees Maar Khan” musical theme, helps propel things.