We all have our guilty pleasures (if you don’t, I recommend you get some)…and Baadshah is one of mine. Shah Rukh Khan is the first Indian actor that I truly fell head over heels for, and although I have hardly written about any of his movies here it’s not because I haven’t seen them all. I saw this film very early on in my pyaar and what stuck in my head was that although it struck me as incredibly stupid, it was also immensely fun; there was a ridiculous eye-transplant side plot that I found ludicrous at the time which—given what I know now—barely registered on this watch. There is a fair amount of painful hamming and silly slapstick (yes, someone even slips on a banana peel at one point) which puzzled me more than anything (“Does anyone actually find this funny?”), although now of course I realize that it has its roots in a very rich (if mostly unloved by me) CSP tradition.
It is amazing what a mere eight years of devotion to Hindi cinema can teach a person.
What I also did not know back then is how very awesomely full of old-timers the cast is: Raakhee, Viju Khote, SUDHIR (*squee!*), Shashikala, Prem Chopra, and more. I rewatched this with my sister last week, and we still both agree: it is a worthy guilty pleasure. Even Johnny Lever doesn’t annoy me (much), or Twinkle Khanna either (whose stellar lineage I was also clueless about the first few times around). Shah Rukh makes it work on the strength of his charisma, and the songs—especially the choreography—are oodles of fun too. Plus there are many “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” nods to seventies masala cinema, and that is never a Bad Thing.
We begin in Goa, where the Chief Minister Gayatri Bachchan (Raakhee)—daughter of a former Maharajah—is popular with the people for her devotion to their welfare and unselfish willingness to share her inherited wealth.
Not everyone appreciates her public service, though: she has made an enemy in unscrupulous and criminally negligent businessman Thapar (Amrish Puri), whose attempted bribery she scorns.
He sends his scantily-clad henchwomen, Rani (Deepshika), to Bombay to hire an assassin.
In Bombay, we meet private detective Raj aka Badshah (Shah Rukh Khan) and his team as they perform a sting operation on a bad guy named Manikchand (Razak Khan) to recover diamonds he has stolen from their client. I ask you: how can one not love a film where the bad guys dress as Pimped-Out Cowboys?
Badshah’s colleagues include (but are not limited to) Johnny Lever and—to my great and everlasting joy—Sudhir! flashing, as always, his devastating smile.
Raj/Badshah’s widowed mother (Shashikala) doesn’t really care for his chosen profession; she wants her son to be a policeman instead, as did his late father. Raj begs her to give his career a chance to take off. And it is about to take off, indeed. A businessman named Jhunjhunwala (Avtar Gill) hires him to woo his daughter Seema (Twinkle Khanna) away from the man she thinks she loves and get her engaged to the man Jhunjhunwala wants her to marry, Nitin (Nitin Roy).
Raj accomplishes at least the first part of his assignment somehow by pretending to be blind after Seema slaps him for making advances at her. Seema is about as dumb as it gets, and Twinkle is masked in so much makeup that even if she does vary her facial expression you can’t tell. I am never really clear on why Raj embarks on such an elaborate eye-transplant hoax, but I am clear that it’s my least favorite part of the film.
To accomplish part two of his assignment from Jhunjhunwala (convince Seema to marry Nitin), Raj now has to break her heart. He does it, but nobody at the Badshah Detective Agency feels particularly triumphant in their success.
We now find out that Jhunjhunwala himself is not who he had said he was: he is not Seema’s father at all, but Nitin’s; he is guilty of bank fraud and is banking on his son Nitin’s marriage to Seema to save himself from prosecution. And in fact, he is now arrested by CBI Agent Deepak Malhotra (Deepak Tijori).
At the same time, the contract killer whom Thapar’s henchwoman Rani had hired to assassinate Gayatri Devi is killed in a car accident and the CBI figure out from evidence he leaves behind that he was hired to kill her.
The head of CBI (Prem Chopra) is sending a man whose identity is unknown to everyone but him (and us: CBI Agent Malhotra) to Goa to protect Gayatri Bachchan and to solve the mystery of who wants her dead. Malhotra’s code name is…Badshah, and the CBI chief instructs his people to reserve tickets under his code name for a flight to Goa the next day.
Raj gets a call from his diamond merchant former client named Mahindra (Anant Mahadevan) whose 7-year-old daughter has been kidnapped from her boarding school in Goa. The kidnappers are demanding diamonds worth 50 crore for her safe return and Mahindra wants Badshah and his men to negotiate with them on his behalf—he has reserved tickets for them under Badshah’s name for a flight to Goa the next day.
Agent Malhotra for his part has a woman working with him whom he trusts implictly. He tells her also to meet him in Goa.
As you can imagine, two (well, actually, three) Badshahs are quickly mixed up and our bumbling Raj and his band of merry men soon find themselves involved in something far more complicated and dangerous than they know. Thinking he is negotiating a little girl’s release from her kidnappers, Raj becomes trapped in Thapar’s assassination plot. He also meets Seema again, who now wants nothing to do with him.
Can Raj figure out how to get out of killing Gayatri Devi without jeopardizing his life and those of his friends? Will he and Seema fall in love? Who is she, anyway? What is her connection to Agent Malhotra? Can they save Mahindra’s daughter from her kidnappers and defeat the men (Thapar is not alone) who want Gayatri dead?
Watch Baadshah to find out! Once past the eye-transplant stupidity (and the lukewarm SRK-Twinkle chemistry notwithstanding), the film is a lot of action-packed fun. Shah Rukh’s comic timing shines in the smaller moments when he doesn’t go over-the-top; and I truly do love the song picturizations, especially “Main To Hoon Pagal” with its hip-hop moves and little hommage to Amitabh Bachchan and “My Name is Anthony Gonsalves”.
Poor Twinkle is stuck in a lot of trashy sequinned and shiny outfits (and as mentioned over-painted: they should have just let her do her own dress and makeup, she is very good at it in real life!) but Deepshika as the villainess Rani gets to channel Parveen Babi with hers:
(On a side note, I love Sharat Saxena as Moti complete with menacing unibrow):
And most of all, it is just such fun to see some of my favorite actors of yore still going strong.
I can’t say that I recommend Baadshah exactly, but I do pretty much love it.