Of course, Mr India is quite unlike anything that a Westerner might recognise as a standard Hollywood superhero film or tv series. For one this is a superhero film that comes with singing/dancing interludes, while there is also a strong element of slapstick comedy and lots of cutsie scenes involving a retinue of kids. If anything, what Mr India resembles is a combination of a 1970s Disney live-action childrens film or a Little Rascals comedy and one of the cheap Italian-made Bud Spencer-Terence Hill slapstick comedies. Mr India should be seen for the completely lunatic entertainment value it provides. There is a great deal of frenetically silly slapstick between hero Anil Kapoor, heroine Sridevi and the kids. Indeed the various slapstick, comedic and singing-dancing happenings between all of them takes up more than an hour of the films running time before we get to the introduction of the invisibility device. All the invisibility sequences are played with slapstick percussive sound effects whistling and clonking noises laid over the top. (Mr India is made on a low budget and there are surprisingly few in the way of invisibility special effects throughout). The climax involves the kids riding into the villains control room on dinner carts and defeating his armed soldiers with thrown metal plates and spray cans. The silliest sequence in the film is the one set in a casino, which for some reason involves the heroine entering dressed as Charlie Chaplin and turns into a Keystone Kops sequence with everybody running around in sped-up motion, falling the length of tables and bars, being invisibly thrown and so forth.
There are several singing and dancing interludes throughout. There are songs set to montages of Anil Kapoor and the kids dancing through the streets and woods, taking a ferry trip and driving in a yellow Jeep, with him playing the flute and violin and everybody waving wildly; or he and the heroine running down the beach whacking each other with cricket bats and she serving him tea as he reads a newspaper on a chair in the middle of a field. There is an immensely entertaining song and dance number about Sridevi refusing to give back the kids soccer ball after it hits her on the head, which comes with much pouting on her part and lots of sung pleas from the houseful of dancing kids, while the song itself is apparently a medley composed from popular songs and given new lyrics. The Miss Hawahawai sequence is a highly energetic number, in good part due to the comic playing of Sridevi, who for wholly surreal reason is surrounded by a chorus in all painted brownface like something out of a Black and White Minstrel Show. The song numbers are undeniably catchy in particular one that takes place on a set surrounded by flowing fountains with the heroine singing about how she loves Mr India, which has Anil Kapoor popping in and out of visibility, before in all the implied sensuality of Bollywood cinema, she rolls around on hay while she chews a stalk in her mouth with absurd suggestiveness. At nearly three hours in length, Mr India is way too long by Hollywood standards and certainly has an exceedingly slim plot for something that is required to fill that length of time but all the banal and manically happy nuttiness makes for an undeniably likeable show.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the film is the performance from Amrish Puri as the villain Mogambo. Amrish Puri is the only cast name likely to be known to English-speaking audiences he played the high priest in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). His lair has been decked out as a B-budget version of a James Bond villains hideout, and he comes across as a serial-styled villain in boots and gilted costume and has a series of henchmen named Dr Fu Manchu, Dr Watson and Captain Zorro. Puri plays to the gallery with thoroughly entertaining regard his leering grins to the camera, Mogambo khush huaa [Mogambo is pleased] are hysterical.
Director Shekhar Kapur also piles on the sentiment. The scenes with the kids starving come in completely over-the-top straight-face the images of hero Anil Kapoor anguishing over being unable to do anything and the roomful of starving children is played with maudlin theatricality. Equally absurd are the manically happy feelgood solutions that the film offers for dealing with the childrens imminent starvation which is for them to surround Anil Kapoor singing songs about hope and how things will be better tomorrow. The score is equally overblown, alternating between overly florid cues copied from Hollywood epics and standard comic effect.
Mr India has an undeniable political element to it as well. Mogambo is seen as a foreign invader (from where he comes is never specified he has blonde hair but Indian features), while one of the secondary villains is said to be British. It is Mogambos stated plan to conquer India by setting the disparate ethnic and religious elements against one another (although in practice Mogambo never seems to be doing much more than running standard racketeering schemes). Mr India is seen to embody an interesting metaphor his name being taken so as to represent the ordinary Indian. In this respect, Mr India has many similarities to some of the American-made Black superhero films The Meteor Man (1993), Blankman (1994) and Pootie Tang in Sine Your Pitty on the Runy Kine (2001) where the superhero becomes a symbol of empowerment for an oppressed minority. Here Mr India pointedly stands up to take issue with moneylenders, Mafia and merchants who cut grain with stones (which one gets the impression is a widespread practice in India). He even makes the hoods trying to steal a gold idol bow down and pay obeisance to it, and in one pointed scene invisibly carries a laden banquet table from where a hood and his girlfriend are dining and gives it to the starving poor outside. Of course, by his very name, Mr India, the character is seen to embody a sense of Indian patriotism is standing up against the ills of society, which are notedly blamed on outside (foreign) malice.
(Review copy provided courtesy of Suresh S).
Trailer here (in Hindi, no English subs):-