Is it an occasion for disquiet or celebration that Netflix is streaming a heavily edited version of Kaizad Gustad’s Boom, easily one of the worst Hindi films around?
Gustad’s damp squib, released in 2003, is notorious for rampant sexism and sleaziness masquerading as gangster cool. The Indian censor board, which was infinitely more tolerant in those years, allowed many sordid moments to survive in the theatrical version. Audiences refused to take the bait and Boom disappeared, surviving through a 100-minute pirated version on YouTube. The version on Netflix clocks 79 minutes. Gone are the egregious bits that pepper a routine hunt for a missing stash of diamonds.
The plot forces a convenient clash between the fashion world and the underworld. Madhu Sapre, Katrina Kaif and Padma Lakshmi play flat-mates and ramp scorchers who unwittingly prevent a stash of jewels from reaching their rightful owners – the Dubai don Bade (Amitabh Bachchan) and his brothers Medium (Gulshan Grover) and Chottey (Jackie Shroff). It falls upon the trinity of underclad models to make amends, which they attempt with some help from Chottey’s henchman Shankar (Jaaved Jaaferi) and Bharti (Seema Biswas), their maid who brews a lot of tea and has her revenge for being ordered about.
Before its release more than a decade ago, Boom was promoted at the Cannes Film Festival’s market section and in American trade magazines, according to an India Today report from those heady days. “It has been made with an international crew, shot in sync sound and boasts a script replete with one-liners in English and Hindi,” the report said.
Gustad had previously created a media splash with Bombay Boys, the 1998 movie that tried to teach Hindi filmmakers to look at their beloved genres and stock characters with fresh eyes. Set in Mumbai and following the fortunes of three Western-educated young men, Bombay Boys combined English and Hinglish dialogue to produce an experience set halfway between mainstream Hindi cinema and independent American cinema. Boom, packed with meta-references, a knowing inversion of Hindi film elements, and an eclectic cast, was a second attempt to create a hybrid production that would appeal to Bollywood fans as well as Westerners.
The Netflix version excises the bits from Boom that have kept it going in public memory, thus ensuring that the would-be satire is more tolerable than it actually is. Some scenes have been edited for length. Most of the sexually loaded gags have been consigned to the trash can. The most outrageous of them involves Chottey, who is forever stoned and sprawled in a chair with his legs spread apart. His table has a pair of breast-shaped objects, and below his table lives a woman identified as Pavitra. She has her own little fan to keep her from choking, and when the models guess what her profession involves, they pretend to be shocked.
Pavitra is missing from the censored Boom. Also erased is the moment when Shankar drops his towel in front of the models. Chottey sticking a finger into Sapre’s cleavage, the women chugging hard on a cannabis pipe, the separation of designer Wendell Rodericks (playing himself) from his finger during a torture scene, and attempts by the characters played by Lakshmi and Kaif to seduce, respectively, Bachchan and Grover, are unavailable in the sanitised version.
It is strange that Netflix should bowdlerise Boom. The streaming platform, like its rival Amazon Prime Video, is free from the censorship that bedevils the average Indian movie. For instance, Netflix is screening Bengali director Q’s sexually explicit Gandu. Some independent Indian productions have opted to skip the cinemas and release their works directly on Netflix to avoid snips by the Central Board of Film Certification. Netflix is also streaming the uncensored version of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), an uninhibited account of the drug-fuelled and sex-laced escapades of broker Jordan Belfort. The version that played in Indian cinemas did not contain some of the more graphic scenes.
Boom is an unlikely poster child for the right to free expression. The movie relentlessly sexualises its female characters and never loses an opportunity to drop a locker room joke into a situation that doesn’t warrant one. The box office failure must have come as a relief for Kaif, whom Gustad introduced to Bollywood, and Bachchan, who turns out to be the best thing about Boom.
Bachchan is hilariously cast as a flamboyant and lecherous gangster with a shock of white hair and an obsession with comic books and Bo Derek. Bachchan’s Bade is a big fan of Derek’s 1979 movie 10. “Bo ko bulana padega. Bulao Bo ko,” he orders his secretary Alice, played by Zeenat Aman (an in-joke that is barely exploited).
Bade is a parody of the 1970s Hindi film gangster, who was always accompanied by scantily clad women. Bade not only has his own posse, but also orders a regular supply of fresh blood from India. He doesn’t always like what he sees: “They have moustaches, I hate moustaches,” he complains.
In the movie’s funniest scene, Derek emerges from the water as she did in 10, this time in a golden sari with a Punjabi ballad in the background. Bade huffs and puffs and stretches out his arms towards her, but he simply cannot keep up – an apt metaphor for Gustad’s inability to get a handle on the material. There is a lot that is missing from Boom, but this pop culture gem from Bachchan’s vast filmography has mercifully survived.