River Of Grass
Cozy and Lee go on the lam after an accidental shooting in Kelly Reichardt's debut feature
On Film4: 4 Sep 1:00AM
An arrogant Bombay businessman finds it harder to stop smoking than he thought in this Indian comedy thriller
"Nobody tells me what to do!" declares lady-killer K (Abraham) as he lights his umpteenth cigarette of the day. All that soon changes, though, when - under pressure from wife-cum-secretary Anjali (Takia) - he signs up for an unconventional rehabilitation programme to wean him off the evil weed.
Guru Baba Bengali (Rawal) puts no stock on gentle persuasion, opting instead for a harsh regime of threats, intimidation and round the clock surveillance. Smoke just one fag and K's asthmatic brother will spend five minutes breathing fumes; inhale another and K will sacrifice two fingers. No wonder this cocksure Bombay businessman is soon reduced to a quivering wreck, prone to terrifying hallucinations and bone-chilling paranoia.
Those whose concept of Bollywood involves elephants, saris and dance numbers might be pleasantly surprised by Anurag Kashyap's film, a slick thriller that combines a screwball sensibility with a nightmarish twist. Rarely seen with a shirt or without his sunglasses, Dhoom star Abraham brings a brooding machismo to his self-absorbed hero, while Takia offers fresh-faced support as his long-suffering partner.
If there's a problem with No Smoking it's one of tone, Kashyap constantly undercutting his menacing plotline with oafish comedy and musical interludes (including one set in a 'Bob Fosse Club' populated by hoofers in fishnets). Having the characters think in visible thought balloons or remember in sepia-tinged flashback also detracts from a movie that would have been far leaner and meaner without such fantastical embellishments.
At its best, however - K's hellish descent into Baba Bengali's underground HQ, for example, or a recurring dream sequence which finds him fleeing Russian soldiers in snowy Siberia - Kashyap fashions a genuinely unsettling mix of melodrama and dark humour whose baffling Eastern mysticism only adds to the prevailing mood of tension and unease. If you are eager to stop smoking yourself, however, this probably isn't the film to see: Abraham puffs so many death sticks in the first half hour it's practically a commercial.
A cut above the usual Bollywood fare, though ultimately too slight to justify its rather exorbitant running time.
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