From my personal observation, we are entering the Bollywood equivalent of the summer blockbuster period, where the Deepavali / Diwali holiday season marks the start of a number of much anticipated releases by renowned filmmakers and recognizable stars, amongst those in my radar include Guzaarish starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Ashutosh Gowariker's historical epic Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey.
The film by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, based on the 1994 Gujarati play Action Replay, reminds you of Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future, only that the narrative isn't as tightly woven, and the time travel element and danger kept to a bare minimum, other than being a plot device to bring Bunty (Aditiya Roy Kapoor) back to March 1975 before his parents Kishen aka Kitchen Kumar the hotel restaurateur (Akshay Kumar) and Mala (Ash) got married. They had spent the last 33 years in a never-ending bicker, putting up false pretences at times, while at other times just let it rip in public or in front of their restaurant employees. This culminates in their wedding anniversary celebrations, where a decision is made to go their separate ways. Not wanting that to happen, Bunty conveniently hijacks a time machine belonging to his girlfriend's uncle, who just so happens to be a scientist, believing that if his parent's arranged marriage was instead a love marriage, things will turn out a lot better.
The main gist centers on the virtues of a love marriage, which is still something of a taboo back in those days, where arranged marriages were the norm. Some will argue of course that you'll grow to love someone when things get arranged, but in this case, it reflects on what if the marriage turned out to be sour from the start? And as Bunty soon finds out, the characters of his parents cannot be at more odds with each other, his dad being the cowardly bucktoothed teenager who gets frequently bullied by his Dad (Om Puri) and peers, including that of Mala, who's a headstrong, bold tomboy lacking feminine graces, exuding a steely exterior and up to her fair share of shenanigans with her gang that includes Kundan (Rannvijay Singh) whose affections for her will be one of the major obstacles Bunty and Kishen have to overcome.
It is manipulation of the first order, where the first half deals with how Bunty creates desire between the two enemies, trying to turn them into lovebirds. But here's where the story fails big time, tackling this in rather choppy instances with large plot gaps forgotten to be filled out, especially how Bunty becomes major chums with both his dad and mum (and his grandparents for that matter as well) despite literally appearing out of nowhere. While I understand a song and dance had taken care of this, I still felt it was rather hastily done just to get that cumbersome development out of the way. And hasty is probably the word most apt in putting aside logistics such as clothing and money, in how a boy from the 21st century doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, and conveniently too goes back to the future in what turned out to be yet a hasty wrap up of the film that does the emotional core of Bunty great disservice in his about turn and attitudes toward marriage.
Thankfully things start to pick up in the second half where the Kishen undergoes a major exterior makeover to woo the girl of his manipulated dreams, and becomes that suave lady killer, although always shaking on the inside once his game is over, which lead to numerous opportunities for mirth which does get tired after a while, despite great comedic timing by Akshay Kumar, spouting what I suspect would probably be a popular catch phrase amongst the younger crowd when they emerge from the theatres. The plot after the interval will probably irk feminists out there, as it suggests that girls get easily taken over by those with the bad boy image, and who will fall for the many manipulative games the guys play on them. There never was a real threat experienced in a way despite competition from Kundan who can sing in two voices, because the time travel paradox doesn't seem to kick in on Bunty each time Kishen and Mala seem to drift emotionally further apart which would have threatened his existence.
Action Replayy marks the reigning Queen of Bollywood's third release (out of four) this year with the likes of Raavan starring opposite her real life husband and Endhiran with Superstar Rajnikanth, and her role here is quite unlike those that I've seen before, since her Mala is mostly displaying negative traits at least for the beginning of the film, before succumbing back to a vulnerable, wistful lass who thinks Kishen does not like her for her meanness displayed earlier. I thought she had lighten up the film thanks to a refreshing portrayal of a spoilt and bratty teenager who doesn't tolerate nonsense from her peers, but dishes some of her own on unsuspecting, weaker folks like Kishen.
As with most Indian films, the song and dance numbers are perhaps what saved the film from becoming a bore. Retro is in, as seen from the success of Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, and this factor cannot be ignored as the filmmakers here have recreated costumes and sets reminisce of the time, aided by special effects to recreate the landscapes from the past. But if you were to treat this as a time travel film, then the paradoxes here are just tremendous to be ignored. So the best bet to enjoy this is to accept the plot device for what it is, and to marvel at the performances of the stars and the beautiful retro look and feel instead. I wished the story could have been more coherently delivered though, and the English subtitles should have been more in sync for the first 20 minutes.