The minute it was announced, “Dhoom 3” had all the elements of a blockbuster.
It was another entry in one of Bollywood’s biggest franchises. By hiring superstar Aamir Khan to play the antagonist, it was guaranteed incessant public curiosity and media scrutiny. With the prime Christmas slot all to itself, there was no danger of a clash or demographic saturation.
Several innovations and industry firsts only solidified the film’s stature as a milestone. “Dhoom 3” is Bollywood’s first IMAX release, and the first to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. In fact, “Krrish 3” (the other big Bollywood franchise) was aiming for a release in IMAX, but Yash Raj Studios (the producers of the “Dhoom” franchise) effectively blocked them out by negotiating a deal with IMAX to be the “first” Bollywood release in the format.
“Dhoom 3” is undoubtedly one of India’s most expensive films ever made; an accurate figure is hard to come by, but $20 million would be a conservative bet. Around $800,000 of the budget went to filming just one song, making it the costliest Bollywood musical number of all time. Such facts resonated to this viewer while entering the theater to watch “Dhoom 3,” but upon leaving it was only clear how close it is to delivering a legitimately fun time.
This installment presents the tale of Sahir Khan, a circus artist, who is out to destroy a bank in Chicago. Sahir has a grudge against this institution for driving his bankrupt father to commit suicide. After two branches of the bank are robbed, they call in two Indian cops to help them solve the case. You are supposed to take this as a logical chain of events. These cops, series regulars Jai Dixit and Ali, land in Chicago and soon a game of cat-and-mouse begins that lasts for 173 minutes.
Yes, 173 minutes.
That running time is one of the film’s major flaws, and easily the only reason stopping me for recommending “Dhoom 3” outright. The installment is much more plot-heavy than the earlier films in the series, and has at least two subplots too many. The first half is marvelous in its own way, so convinced of its awesomeness that one can laugh for only so long before being swept up in the ride as well. Three huge action set pieces toss aside the laws of physics, crush the limits of believability and defiantly avoid all notions of common sense.
The home stretch of this half, in particular, is unabashedly entertaining. It starts with a chase sequence that hinges on a transforming bike straight out of Michael Bay’s creations and is shot with more slo-mo gratuitousness than every Zack Snyder film combined. This segues into a musical number – the aforementioned “costliest ever” one – that is grand and epic enough to give Baz Luhrmann an inferiority complex. Then, the end of the musical number gives way to a plot twist that is straight out of Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige,” and laughably telegraphed from the very outset.
After all this mayhem the film breaks for an intermission, and if the second half had managed to maintain the same level of goofy insanity, “Dhoom 3” would have been one of the year’s most enjoyable experiences. Sadly, the film abandons all its momentum to shed more light on Sahir’s backstory. Not only is this completely unnecessary (given the simplicity of the “twist”), but it is also depicted gracelessly. If such backtracking wasn’t bad enough already, the film soon takes off on another tangent, this time meticulously sketching out one character complete with hobbies, love interest and, of course, song.
By the time “Dhoom 3” revs up its engines for the climactic battle, it has overstayed its welcome and has lost its entertainment value. The mandatory confrontations, negotiations, macho posturing and crescendos flow by. But not one instance in the climax matches up to the jaw-dropping hilarity of a bike jumping off a bridge, transforming into a submarine, evading the police and then reverting into a bike once it’s out of the water.
Of course, these complaints have not hurt “Dhoom 3” where it matters for the industry — namely, the box office. The film broke Bollywood’s opening weekend record, with just its Hindi version grossing $15 million in India. Taking the earnings of dubbed versions and international territories into account, “Dhoom 3” has become the fastest Indian film to cross the Rs. 1 billion landmark.
With a substantial portion of its target audience on vacation right now and no competition in sight, the film will continue to make a killing at the box-office. That it will become Bollywood’s highest grossing film seems fait accompli. What remains to be seen is how high it will go.