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Thai massage movie review: Gajraj Rao’s movie is mildly relaxing, moderately racy, but sadly mediocre

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Probably the most dubious advertisement for Thai tourism since The Hangover Part II, director Mangesh Hadawale’s comedy-drama Thai Massage paints a rather confusing picture of the popular travel destination. And that no-commitment approach seems to have rubbed off on the film, too.

On the one hand, Hadawale suggests that everything you’ve heard about Thailand being a hotbed of vice and degeneration is accurate, and on the other hand, he’s behaving like someone who has just been granted significant tax relief by the Thai government. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, one might imagine. And while there’s nothing wrong with the way Thailand is portrayed in the film — if anything, the country seems to be comfortable with its slightly sassy image — it’s more disorienting when the film itself cannot decide which version of itself it wants to present to the world.

At various stages, Thai Massage is a Baghban-style melodrama, a small-town comedy, a fish-out-of-water farce, and then, just when you thought it couldn’t turn anymore, an adventure film. on living your best life. Juggling these tones would be a challenge for any film, let alone one produced by Imtiaz Ali.

Gajraj Rao stars as elderly widower Atmaram Dubey, who one day discovers he is having trouble getting an erection. Coupled with his grief, it bothers him so much that he attempts to jump off a bridge one night. He is pulled from the ledge by a young thug, played by Divyendu, who assures him that there is no “samasya” they cannot solve together.

Atmaram spills his guts and together they come up with a game plan. Of course, he can’t seek the services of a sex worker in his home town – the film is set in Ujjain, by the way, where everyone seems to know everyone – and therefore influenced by his new friend, Atmaram decides to secretly travel to Thailand and participate in the local culture. Just kidding, he wants to go “boom boom”.

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But it happens after the interval, which might (rightly) make you wonder how the movie passes the previous hour or so. There’s no way to coat it in sugar; it basically wastes everyone’s time, including his own. There’s a mopey framing device that involves Atmaram recounting his adventures to his two disapproving sons, and a subplot about Atmaram’s trial-and-error approach to curing his erectile dysfunction. But the film comes into its own after Atmaram lands in Bangkok.

There he meets a couple of colorful characters, who become his companions in this exotic new land. Atmaram, remember, had never traveled outside his district, much less the country. And after a meandering first half in which it offers little to tell, the Thai massage, in its second half…offers more of the same, albeit in a more focused way. There’s an interesting subplot involving a carefree young Russian woman with whom Atmaram strikes up a genuine friendship, but the resolution of this arc is deeply unsatisfying, as are the film’s attempts to unpack Atmaram’s troubled relationship with his sons. But you have to hand it over to Hadawale, though; even though he drops the ball more often than not, the juggling act doesn’t stop.

Rao, however, is really good in the central role, putting his own endearing stamp on a character who is visibly struggling with decades of conditioning, even as he explores new ideas, meets new people and experiences new things. that change lives. Alina Zasobina, who plays Atmaram’s Russian friend Rita, also deserves credit. She awakens something within Atmaram, and her presence allows him to express himself freely, which is basically a foreign concept to him, an Indian. To its credit, the film doesn’t magically transform Atmaram into a different person at the end, which is surprisingly restrained for a film that also features a rapping taxi driver with dreadlocks.

Thai Massage continues Ali’s sudden fascination with sex. The filmmaker’s evolution has been rather odd to watch, given his lifelong tendency to observe women in his films not as potential romantic partners for his male leads, but essentially as non-playable characters in games. video, whose only job is to point the hero in the right direction. In many ways, Ali’s career rebrand was stranger than even Anubhav Sinha’s political awakening or the messiah phase of He Who Must Not Be Named. But unlike the recent Dr. Arora: Gupt Rog Visheshagyawith which it shares several similarities, Thai massage has a more delicate touch (although it often gives the impression of being stepped on by a burly man).

A much better version of a similar story – the belated emancipation of a middle-class Indian – has been told in the delightful Sharmaji Namkeen earlier this year. Thai massage might not warrant a trip to the movies, but you could do a whole lot worse at home.

Thai massage
Director – Mangesh Hadawale
Cast – Gajraj Rao, Divyendu, Sunny Hinduja, Rajpal YadavAlina Zasobina
Evaluation – 2.5/5

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