DUM MAARO DUM. Director: Rohan Sippy. Players: Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu, Rana Daggubati, Prateik Babbar, Aditya Panscholi, Govind Namdeo. Music: Pritam. Theatrical release (Fox International). MPAA Rating: R (for violence).

The tourist enclave of Goa is geographically and mentally perched at the enigmatic crossroads of a drugs, sex, party, Indian Ocean beachfront playground where both Indian and international jetsetters escape for sub-continental—wink, wink—“lost weekends.” This Euro-friendly (in all respects) let-and-let-live attitude towards life is a highly apt setting for Dum Maaro Dum, the Ramesh (Sholay) Shippy-produced thriller that is at once an homage to a retro musical rite of passage transfixed on a certain song from the 1970s and a stylishly hectic big screen page-turner that can chum up with the most entertaining Mumbai entries from this genre.

Bachchan, setting aside any lasting bad juju from Game, his under-performing other release this month, steps into the minefield of a meaty role as Vishnu Kamath, a vice cop placed in charge of cleaning up the streets after a crime wave sweeps Goa. Kamath’s mission—one to which he immediately takes a scorched-earth approach—is to finger one Michael Barbossa, the mysterious kingpin at the head of the local underworld food chain. Like a sly apparition, Barbossa keeps slipping out of Kamath’s hands at a moment’s notice—frustrating Kamath but also gradually extending his reach and his reputation with the crime syndicate. Complicating Kamath’s goal—and there are complications galore, mind you—is not only the fact that there is a deluge of official corruption that stymies every effort to move forward but also a couple of bystanders, whose lives hang in a precarious tightrope awaiting Kamath’s next trap for the wily Barbossa.

The bystanders that get embroiled in a conspiracy way beyond their meager stations are Lorry (Babbar), a U.S.-bound college student who reluctantly agrees to pigeon heroin only to get caught leaving India, and his well-wisher Joki (Daggubati), who also intends to rescue his girlfriend Zoe (Basu) from the clutches of Biscutta (Panscholi), a crime lord who becomes the known face of the dark side. Basu does an enticing catwalk as the reluctant arm-candy for Biscutta, Babbar aces the innocent youth holed up in jail, and Telugu star Daggubati provides great support as an interested party to just about everything.

It is Bachchan, however, who acts as Super Glue for this terrific vehicle. Underneath Kamath’s aloof and undisciplined exterior, there burns a raging inferno fueled by twin inner demons he is trying to outlive—a personal tragedy and a checkered professional past. Kamath is an anti-hero who intentionally challenges fate by putting himself in harm’s way on a quest to undo so much wrong that he once so readily left unabated before being virtually reborn to vanquish the evil serpent Barbossa. Bachchan has not appeared this focused on a role perhaps since Bluffmaster(2005), his last at-bat with Rohan Sippy.

As a milestone film, Dev Anand’s 1971 classic Hare Rama Hare Krishna featured legendary team Asha Bhosle-R.D. Burman’s hit song, “Dum Maaro Dum,”  a four-minute, electrifying, guitar-infused, opium-den anthem that perhaps single-handedly spelled the end of the “Hindi” label in favor of the sometimes-maligned “Bollywood” label for cinema produced in what was then Bombay. Anand’s film and the song forever replaced the somewhat myopic technicolor melodramas of the 1960s with a better balanced one-world pseudo-realism that eventually ushered in Amitabh Bachchan’s on-screen tour of the criminal underworld. The tune also supplanted melody in song and signaled an end to highly prolific runs by several actors named Kumar (Dilip, Rajendra, Raaj, etc)and to the celebrated careers of Shankar-Jaikishen, O.P. Nayyar, and even Mohammed Rafi, while pointing to a hard-hitting, western-influenced style championed by R.D. Burman, Kishore Kumar, Zeenat Aman, and the cinema verite ouevre of Smita Patil.

For his part, Pritam’s re-working of the legendary song—here belted out with gusto by Anushka Manchanda—is appealing for its novelty and as a phenom modern dance tune. There is also an interesting background score by Midival Punditz. Yes, there are other songs on the soundtrack but the title song has captivated everything from the charts to the blogosphere. Fox released 1300 prints of Dum Maaro Dum worldwide, and the gamble paid off, landing the movie the second highest opening of any Hindi film in 2011, behind only Yamla Pagla Deewana. If Abhishek Bachchan promises more roles of this caliber in the future, one is tempted to forgive him forGame.

EQ: A –

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