Thursday, November 23, 2006

BORAT: Cultural Insights Into 'US And A'

BORAT (mock documentary)
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian and Pamela Anderson
Director: Larry Charles
Time: 84 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
Cohen takes a jibe at Americans and almost everybody
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? “Jagshemash! I am Borat. So nice meet you!” he says, and proceeds to hug and kiss strangers he meets in the train and on the street. He chases pretty girls who pass by and asks: “How much?” Watch out America, the Jackass has landed!
At a time when the big year-end movies are battling for the US box-office dollar, an ‘obscure’ mock documentary is raking in big bucks at the box-office despite its fewer screening venues. “Borat” is causing an upheaval not only at the cinemas but also among its unsuspecting ‘cast’, including a bunch of Romanian villagers and the nation of Kazakhstan, clamouring to sue the film-makers. We haven’t had such a whirlwind controversy since Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” in 2004!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” has Sacha Baron Cohen (of “Talladega Nights”) as Borat Sagdiyeh, a Kazakhstan TV journalist coming to the great nation of America to film a documentary on its lifestyle and successes. When Borat arrives in New York with his producer Azamat (an obese Ken Davitian), he catches a Baywatch episode on the hotel TV and falls in love with its star Pamela Anderson.
This sets him on a road-trip to Los Angeles, ostensibly to bag the Baywatch bombshell for his bride. Along the way, Borat takes humour and driving lessons, interviews unsuspecting real-life Americans for their views on subjects like feminism and homosexuality, and how to run down gypsies and hunt Jews. He even persuades a rodeo show boss in Virginia to allow him to sing his ‘national anthem’ in the style of "Kazakhstan is the great country in the world—all other countries are run by little girls." Elsewhere, at a TV talk show, a gay pride parade and even a Southern hospitality dinner, Borat never fails to make an ass of himself and his hosts, like presenting a bag of his faeces to the hostess during dinner, and inviting a cheap fat prostitute along for desserts.
And if those are not crude enough to rile the censors, Borat and Azamat also engage in a bout of nude brawling and wrestling that takes them from their hotel room to a crowded convention hall!

HIGHLIGHTS: Yes, “Borat” is ‘gutter comedy’ at its most outrageous. It seems to pride itself in being offensive, disturbing, deceitful and blatantly politically incorrect. It takes pot-shots at Jews, gypsies, gays, feminists, Christians, Muslims, and everything else to get the kind of laughs that Cohen’s Ali-G TV character is famous for. Admittedly, many of the shots hit home and draw guffaws from the audience.

LOWLIGHTS: Others, like when Borat washes his face in a toilet bowl, or buys a grizzly bear to “protect against Jews” are so utterly ridiculous that they are ‘so not funny’. And can you imagine ANY TV journalist in the world thinking that Pamela Anderson is still a virgin?

THE LOWDOWN: It is obvious that Cohen’s aim in “Borat” is to push the boundaries of taste and decency way beyond what comedies like “American Pie” had done. And from its surprising box-office collection, he has struck deep into America’s funny bone. Perhaps Borat” offers viewers relief from their ‘shackle’ of political correctness and social compassion. Perhaps it gives vent to their pent-up racist feelings. But we must also admit that Cohen can be disarmingly charming as the ‘naïve’ Borat (a character to which he clings on to even at media promotions for the movie). He has precise comic timing and does not try to wring every drop out of his gags. And at a crisp 84 minutes, Cohen’s ‘mockumentary’ has us wanting more at the end.

("Borat" has been banned in Malaysia. This blogger caught the movie in Indianapolis, USA, on Nov 16 2006).


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