Whenever someone names a predictable title like Plan 9 from Outer Space or Robot Monster or Yor, the Hunter from the Future as one of the worst movies of all time, my inevitable response is that if they think that’s one of the worst movies of all time, then they obviously haven’t seen enough movies. Certainly not enough to be making such bold proclamations such as naming it one of the worst of all time.
Now as you can imagine — I’ve seen some bad films in my time. Not just, “so bad it’s good” bad, or “guilty pleasure” bad; no, I mean “gnaw your own paw off to escape the trap” bad. I mean “I’d rather gut myself and strangle myself with my own innards than watch another second of this film” bad. More than all that — I mean “boring” bad. As I’ve said before, there is no greater sin in cinema, in my opinion, than being boring and tedious. I can take pretty much anything else. Hit me with your worst shot. But boring? That takes me out of the game almost instantly.
The 2003 mega-budget disaster Boom has a reputation as one of the worst movies in Bollywood history. That’s one hell of a claim, I tell ya what. And Boom is certainly an utter and complete fiasco of a movie. There isn’t a single competent second in the entire overlong running time. Despite a bloated budget, international locations, the glam and glitz of the fashion world, and ample displays of writhing female flesh, the movie still manages to look ugly and grubby. The cinematography is mishandled, the direction never attains any sense of pacing, and the script seems to have been assembled in cut-up Burroughs style using the scripts of the complete filmography of Andy Sidaris as the source material. And the acting? Man, there’s no word to even describe it. No adjective has yet been invented that satisfactorily expresses just how phenomenally atrocious the acting is. It’s somewhere below the worst acting in micro-budget horror films — and not the relatively competent (by comparison) modern micro-budget horror film. I’m talking, these people may one day achieve the level of acting we saw in Splatter Farm.
You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Everything in this movie is so inexpressibly, mind-blowlingly awful that Boom becomes one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. When I reviewed Asambhav, I said that as bad as the film was, I still thought fans of bad action films should see it because it was so absurd. In the case of Boom, however, let me state straight-out: absolutely, under no circumstances, should you take my advice regarding Boom. Do not listen to me. No matter what you hear, no matter how much I scream and beg, you must not listen to me, because I’m going to say, “Dude, you haven’t seen Boom? You have to see Boom. It’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It’s awesome.” It’s the equivalent of, “Oh man, this milk has gone sour. It’s awful. You have to smell it.” Boom is that foul yet enticing carton of spoiled milk that gets shoved to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten until one day, you notice it there behind the half-finished jar of BBQ sauce and the half-dozen Coronas, can’t help but open it and take a whiff, and then realize with horror that the rotting, curdled stench overpowers all else in the house and demands, as if possessed by some otherworldly power of mind control, than you immediately rush out and find others to share in the putrid rot. Boom is the cursed video from Ring. Once you’ve seen it, you will feel the overwhelming urge to make someone else see it, lest your head explode, the last image in your mind being a buff guy in giant nylon raver pants doing the pelvic thrust and shouting, “come on, baby, yeah!”
What really pushes Boom into the realm of the sublime and makes Krishna himself weep sweet, sweet tears of humiliation, is the fact that the film is stuffed with brand name talent. Eternal king of Bollywood cinema and de facto Prime Minister of India, Amitabh Bachchan, is on hand looking resplendent in his white suits. Queen of Bollywood and the unchallenged queen of 70s Hindi cinema, Zeenat Aman, came out of retirement to appear in this film. Jackie Shroff took time out to appear in the film as well. These are actual actors — which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast. Seeing these proven, seasoned veterans showing up in this film, some after a fifteen plus year retirement, only to have the film be so jaw-droppingly horrendous is, honestly, as sweet as magic gumdrops.
The goofiness begins right at the concept: during a flashy fashion show, two models get into a cat fight, resulting in a pile of stolen antique diamonds falling out of the hair of one of the models. You might think that if you were smuggling stolen diamonds, you wouldn’t stick them in your hair and bring them to your fashion show, but really, that’ll be the least of your concerns once this film gets rolling. The smuggler-model flees and goes into hiding, which means the gangsters who stole the diamonds have only one lead to finding them: the other model.
The other model, Anu (beauty pageant veteran Madhu Sapre) lives with her two model friends, Sheila (model turned Salman Rushdie wife and spice food spokeswoman, Padma Lakshmi) and Rina (Katrina Kaif). There is, however, absolutely no reason to remember their names. Just remember that there’s the tough one, the smart one, and the dumb one. Of these three characteristics assigned to each of the women, only one of them is communicated onscreen with any hint of believability. I will not be handing out any prizes for correctly guessing which one it is. The brainy one communicates her braininess by continuously yammering out figures to the tenth decimal place, though they stopped short of having her constantly pushing up a pair of big-rimmed glasses (she does wear glasses in one scene, though). The tough one communicates toughness by emoting as little as possible. And the dumb one effectively communicates her idiocy by, it seems, just being herself. All three of these women are models. None of them are actresses. It shows.
The gangsters (middle man Jackie Shroff, whose character consists of “he snorts coke,” and big cheese Amitabh, whose character consists of “he reads comic books”) send goofball muscleman Boom Shankar (Javed Jaffrey, the only legitimately entertaining part of the whole movie) to kidnap the models and give them a choice: either they perform fashion shows until the cost of the diamonds is paid off, or they become whores until the price of the diamonds is paid off. The girls, of course, decide for a third option which consists of using their incredible talents to beat the most dangerous criminal in the entire world at his own game. Keep in mind that the last plan they hatched was to keep anyone from finding out about the fashion show debacle by sending their maid out to try and purchase every single issue of the India Times in Mumbai before anyone else saw it. Another of their plans will involve robbing a bank while wearing masks of their own faces, which I have to say, is absolutely fucking brilliant.
A lot of the criticism that was leveled at Boom in the Indian press at the time of its release dealt with how foul-mouthed and crude the movie was, and I guess by Bollywood standards, it is foul-mouthed and crude. But I’m an American, damnit, and I say to the people who though the worst thing about this movie was that it was a tad dirty that there are plenty of other things that make this movie worth ripping to shreds. So many, in fact, that I’m almost overwhelmed, like a kid in a candy store, if the candy store didn’t stock Now and Laters and Laffy Taffy but did have shelves stuffed with giggling killers in raver pants and Amitabh Bachchan in a little novelty kiddie car.
I’ll start with the writing, assuming any of this movie was actually written down at any point. Back in the late 1990s, there was a trend in Hong Kong action films of filming the movie, or at least a large chunk of it, in English. Ostensibly, this was done to give it a hip, international edge. Practically, speaking, however, it resulted in films packed with some of the worst acting and most nonsensical dialogue ever as actors who often had limited English-language skills read English-language lines written by scripters with limited English-language skills. The result, perhaps best epitomized by Gen-Y Cops and China Strike Force, was the creation of an entirely new language, one comprising of English words but not English sentences. Everyone was stilted in their delivery (often because they were unsure of their language skills, but just as often because, although the actor was a native English speaker, they were just really bad, or didn’t give a damn), which only augmented the fact that the dialogue completely failed to reflect any semblance of actual spoken English. No one talks like that, or says those things. And English speakers listening to the English dialogue actually have a better chance of deciphering the meaning of the Chinese language dialogue. It was even better when these lines were read by people you know speak English fluently. Michael Wong (the world’s most dedicated bad actor), Daniel Wu, Mark Dacascos, Coolio — these people speak English. But I guess they just weren’t that interested in reading the lines and changing them on the fly to something more akin to real English. And so a new and baffling mutant language has been born, with roots that can be traced back to bad English subtitles in old Hong Kong films and the similarly baffling mangling of English that happened when Italian films got dubbed.
At no point is the lack of understanding of the nuances of the English language more evident that when the characters start cursing or talking in slang. Back in the day, I worked at a college bookstore that served as the headquarters for the university’s “English as a second language” courses, so everyone had to buy their books from us. One of the titles required for an advanced English class one year was something like, “Speaking Real English,” and it was meant to teach students who had learned formalized “language class” English how to speak and understand the real thing as used by real people. And I felt so, so sorry for any poor kid from China or Ghana who picked up this book and went to a party a week later spouting off hip, 1990s slang like, “Hey my jive turkey brother, what’s rad with you, Holmes,” (actual sentence from the book). It was like some horrible joke a bunch of racists played. “If we publish a fucked up book of slang, then Chinese kids will get their asses kicked at parties.”
Anyway, whenever one of these movies starts to have their characters curse in English, it sounds like something out of that book (and I’m sure my “How to Speak Saucy Japanese” book is just as bad in the other direction). Effectively cursing requires an intimate knowledge of the language. I know people who are offended by cussin’ fall back on the tired old, “it’s a sign of a limited vocabulary, my jive Holmes street brother,” chestnut, but I disagree. Being an effective curser is a sign that you have truly mastered the nuances of a language. I don’t mean just blunt “screw you” stuff; I mean the really complex, foul-mouthed poetry. Listen to a cranky old Chinese woman curse out another cranky old Chinese woman who snaked her seat on the subway. That’s a stream of misanthropic beauty that rages with the poetic grace, unbridled rage, and stinky pollution of the Yangtse River itself. I could never do that. At best, I can muster a feeble, “Hwai dan” or “ma bi,” but that’s mostly going to amuse people rather than infuriate them. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m saying it right. I don’t speak Chinese fluently, and as a result, I can’t curse in Chinese. It’s no different for English.
But that never stops these movies from trying. And Boom really tries hard, peppering the dialogue with a steady stream of inappropriately used inappropriate words. throwing English words and sentences into the mix has been common in Hindi cinema for decades, but this is the rare instance where English is the primary language of the film. It’s like a bunch of little kids who have just learned some bad words but haven’t mastered their proper application, but that doesn’t stop them from using them non-stop in the most comically unsuitable fashion. It’s also kind of desperate, like when a comic book proves it is mature and adult by having superheroes who say “fuck.” Rather than being cool or tough, it just sounds pathetic, like a meek whimper for attention. Look at me! I’m tough! I am! Far from setting the film apart as edgy or international, the foul-mouthed English-heavy dialogue in Boom is the spoken word equivalent of a greasy kid with a bowl haircut showing off his bo staff skills at a comic book convention.
I know some of the people in this movie probably know some English (actually, I assume that Amitabh knows everything about everything) but none of them show any skill with it in their acting. Which brings us to the acting. Our three female leads are dreadful. It’s almost inconceivable that stars in a major, professional film could be this bad. I mean, I know you people think Tom Cruise is bad, or Paul Walker, or even Paris Hilton. Forget it. This is a whole different level of game. Watching these three idiots try to act is going to make you realize how good those other supposedly bad actors really are.
But these gals have an excuse, right? They’re models. They were cast for their looks, not their talent. Even this baffles me, though. Because, as I said to a friend, only in Bollywood could you eschew your usual pool of actresses, cast three supermodels in your movie, and still come up with women who are less attractive that your average Bollywood actress. Come on, man. Bollywood actresses are hot. I don’t think there’s any other film industry in the world that can boast so many gorgeous, and often genuinely talented, actresses as Bollywood has at its disposal. Bollywood has so many beautiful actresses from which to chose that it almost becomes humdrum. Yes, we know Aishwarya Rai is the most beautiful woman on the planet. We get it. Let’s move on.
Given that, why would a casting director even think to look to the throng of wannabe supermodels for their leads? I mean, nothing against these three women, but why go for second-rate looks and acting talent when you have so many better prospects? Maybe every name actress in Bollywood read this script and turned it down. Well, every one of them except Zeenat Aman. Zeenat ruled the 70s, and a good portion of the 80s, starring as a kungfu ass-kicker alongside Amitabh in movies like Don and The Great Gambler, along with being an industry-challenging pioneer who fought for substantial, strong female roles, and even starred in some of the first non-arty Bollywood productions to not feature musical numbers. She was a risk-taker and an ass-kicker, and she looked better than anyone else while she was doing it. In 1989, she retired from filmmaking (though she is credited with an appearance in the 1999 film Bhopal Express, but I have no idea how substantial her role in that film was). Whatever the case, that’s more or less a decade and a half of virtual absence from movie screens.
And then, in 2003, someone — or something — convinced her that she should make a glorious comeback, and that this movie would be the one. It’s sort of like if Hank Aaron came out of retirement in 1982 but did it by playing for the Toledo Mudhens in a game against the Norfolk Tides. Seriously, what the hell? What was it about this movie that suckered Zeenie Baby in? I can only assume that her old buddy Amitabh approached her with piles of cash, keys to a new Aston Martin, and a gun to the head of her firstborn. Nothing less than that could explain her agreeing to appear in this movie. I mean, Amitabh may be the emperor of the universe (a throne vacated upon the death of Testuro Tanba earlier this year), but he’s also got a case of the Michael Caines (or the Tetsuro Tanbas). He’ll appear in any damn movie. They probably could have gotten him to be in Splatter Farm if they’d asked. Amitabh, especially Amitabh from the late 1990s on, is a seemingly permanent fixture in awful movies, the go-to guy when you want to trick people into thinking there might be some redeeming factor to your movie. So seeing him in Boom was embarrassing, but it certainly wasn’t unexpected or out of the ordinary. But Zeenat? She got out of bed for this?
Notably, however, in her one brief musical scene (she slinks around a posh office to the tune of Hare Krishna Hare Rama, from the movie of the same name, which also happens to be the one that made her a cinema icon), she manages to be sexier than all three of the vapid young leads combined. Zeenie Baby, you’re still tops in my book.
As for Amitabh, the former coolest man in Hindi cinema still looks cool, with his white hair and white suits, but he was apparently bitten at some point by a radioactive Robert DiNiro, giving him the proportional strength and speed for destroying prior respectability as the actual Robert DiNiro. Boom is Amitabh’s Bullwinkle. Watching the scenes where he tools around a toy store in one of those novelty kiddie cars, or when he frolics down the beach shouting “Bo!” as an imaginary Bo Derek emerges from the water (played by the actual Bo Derek, in a pointless five-second cameo), and you’ll start to wonder why anyone thought this guy was cool. Trust me, he is, and one need only return to the Fertile Crescent that is Don to be reminded of how cool Amitabh is when he’s not in a movie as wretched as Boom.
Jackie Shroff just sort of mumbles his way through his lines. The only guy really putting any oomph into his role is Javed Jaffrey as Boom Shankar (is that a Young Ones joke?), the shiny-shirt wearing professional hitman who is easily the least professional professional hitman I’ve ever seen. He bugs out his eyes, barks nonsensical lines, and generally seems to at least be enjoying the time he gets to spend in the company of three supermodels, one of whom (Madhu Sapre) looks sort of like a tired, past-his/her-prime transvestite in many scenes (shallow insult, but frankly, if you are going to try and get by on your looks, then I get to criticize you based on those looks).
Shankar’s not even that likable, but he’s still the most likable character in the movie. The three leads are nightmares. I can’t imagine anyone having the slightest bit of sympathy for them. They’re annoying, shallow bitches when the movie begins, and when it ends, they’re still annoying, shallow bitches. Every time they open their mouths, the results are shrill and grating. I spent the whole movie wishing that Boom Shankar would just kill all three shrieking harpies, and we could move on to some other movie that was merely “incredibly bad,” instead of “nightmarishly atrocious.” And the scene where the three girls get in their post-robbery tiff — that’s got to be one of the single worst scenes ever filmed.
Oh man. You know, I thought I was going to end up telling you that this movie is so awful, you really should see it. I was wrong. This movie just irritates me. It’s sloppy and boring, and nothing makes any sense. The cinematography is ugly and awkward — scenes that should be well-framed are always a bit off, so that everything looks like it was shot by a first time camera operator with a permanent crick in his neck. The lighting makes everything look grubby. And what’s the deal wit the sound recording? Not that I really want to hear it, but come on! If you’re going to have dialogue, even idiotic and nonsensical dialogue, at least mix it in a way that it can be heard. All the dialogue sounds like it was recorded with the actors standing across the room from the microphone.
This movie cost a ton and ended up being one of the most expensive films in Bollywood history. I have no idea where that money went. It’s certainly not on the screen. The costumes are boring. There’s nothing lavish about the production. The sets are dull and plain. I assume that a vast amount of the cash went to convincing Zeenat, Jackie, and Amitabh to show up for it. Otherwise, I have no idea where all that money went.
Oh, it’s just awful. Everything is awful. The bank robbery? It’s the worst. Somehow, we’re supposed to be convinced that these girls have been transformed into bad-ass robbers by Boom Shankar, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the movie. And come on, this movie was made in 2003 — there is absolutely no excuse for having your characters hold their guns sideways. That’s so 1999. The bank robbery is also the moment in which the film indulges in its one full musical number, and it’s as sloppy and poorly staged as everything else in the movie.
I’m starting to lose myself in just how bad this movie really is. Let’s come back to the major criticism leveled at this film by many members of the public in India and the Indian film industry: it’s dirty. And yes, it does feature the rare on-the-mouth kiss. And yes, there are a lot of poorly-used English curse words. And yes, Boom Shankar makes dick jokes. But the girls aren’t as hot as the average Bollywood actress, and there’s not nearly as much sexual suggestiveness or skin on display as you can get from the average Bollywood masala. If you are going into the film looking for cheap titillation and skin and all that lewd perversion some people seemed to see, you’re actually going to be pretty disappointed.
Likewise if you are looking for action. The only action scene is the bank robbery, and the action there consist of nothing but three models wobbling in on high heels and yelling “Everybody get the fuck down!” over and over until they finally make a clean getaway via a slow-moving RV. The rest of the movie is just a bunch of people sitting around in an office or a living room, having conversations that don’t make any sense. At no point is there a pay-off to any of the tedium. Even the finale is a total bore.
Boom — it’s really just incredibly awful. I like to always try to think up something positive to say about any movie, and with Boom, about the best I can come up with is, “It’s only an hour and forty minutes long.” That’s practically non-existent by Bollywood standards, and even at that brief running time, you’re going to be checking the watch and hitting the fast-forward button. I thought, when I began writing this review, that I was going to tell people this movie was so awful that you should see it, but now, you know what? Fuck Boom. See this movie if you need a solid example of how bad a movie can be. I alluded earlier to this being sort of the Bollywood equivalent of an Andy Sidaris movie without actual nudity, but that’s not being fair to Andy Sidaris. Boom wishes it could be as bad as an Andy Sidaris film, but it’s so much worse.
Someone watched Boom at some point and must have realized how awful it was, because the movie was quickly retooled to be marketed as a “comedy.” This smacks of a preemptive attempt to derail inevitable criticism by hiding behind the aegis of “parody.” But it’s not parody. It’s just a really, really horrible failure of an action film that was ret-conned into being a comedy. But just as it’s not a successful action movie, it’s also not a funny comedy. It’s not anything but a dreadful, boring mess. I can hardly even believe a professionally made movie can be this bad.
Release Year: 2003 | Country: India | Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Jackie Shroff, Gulshan Grover, Padma Lakshmi, Madhu Sapre, Katrina Kaif, Javed Jaffrey, Zeenat Aman, Seema Biswas, Bo Derek | Writer: Kaizad Gustad | Director: Kaizad Gustad | Cinematographer: Himman Dhamija | Music: Sandeep Chowta, Talvin Singh | Producer: Ayesha Shroff