An Afternoon At The Beach

This was an entry to the recent Flavorwire Short Fiction Contest that didn’t win. 

An Afternoon At The Beach

 It was the hottest afternoon of the month, but the Boy was in a state of tranquility. His toes were buried under the glowing ochre sand, his body was glazed with warm sweat that rapidly cooled, his hands were in his pockets and his eyes were on the horizon where the sea met the sky and infinity lay in between. The cool, salty breeze billowed his T-shirt, ruffled his hair, and left his lips dry, his tongue licked them frequently. The sea glittered and shimmered under the bright light, but it didn’t hurt his eyes, he was used to it. The languid waves slowly rolled in and withdrew much before his legs, so weak was their reach. A few boats dotted the azure landscape, their outlines wavering in the afternoon haze. He breathed with equanimity, his mind had switched itself off, forgotten the problem that had plagued it all day.

For weeks now, the Boy had sat in front of a blank white screen with a blinking black line on its left hand side, waiting. Waiting for the right word, the right sentence, the right beginning. His mind was a vessel that ferried stories from the cosmos into the world, but it had been docked for a long time, this new story was taking its own sweet time to emerge. Any fugitive sentences that arrived prematurely before the others were promptly excised from the page altogether. When he was not in front of the screen, doing other things to pass the time, he could feel the story coursing through his brain in all its resplendent glory, but he couldn’t hold on to it more than he could grasp a handful of water, such was its fluid shape. The Boy didn’t wait idly: whole paragraphs, characters, dialogs, scenarios, whole pages formed inside him, bursting his mind at the seams. But he lacked the conviction to put it down, what if he didn’t get it right? He thought up a volume a day and it made him sick in the heart and the mind, without having written a line. Life went on, but the block remained.

The Boy attributed this creative drought to a lack of worldly experience. His transition from infancy to childhood to adolescence had taken seventeen years, and in that time he hadn’t really walked the earth. The true artists really struggled and suffered before they achieved greatness, like Fitzgerald, Carver and Updike with alcohol, Dostoyevsky with his gambling and Plath with her depression. The Boy had never suffered for a day in his life. He wished that his parents had divorced early on or that they were poor indentured servants who had accumulated massive amounts of debt to the local loan shark, but unfortunately he had had a relatively normal childhood. To go through a truly harrowing experience and feel real pain and suffering, the kind of pain that didn’t arise from having to take the bus to school when the family chauffeur was sick, that was what he whispered to forces unseen before he went to bed at night. That was the only thing that could refill his writing well.

This wasn’t the first time he had come to the beach, and it wouldn’t be his last. He comes here for the Sun to melt the block away and let his imagination flow through his body. He comes here for the sea, the city’s true confidant, to wash away his paralysis and renew his resolve. He comes here to sweat out the story and to distract his mind from it. He comes here to be inspired by beauty and to remind himself that colors other than white exist.

He was interrupted from his placid solitude by The Beach Soothsayer. The Soothsayer was an old, dark woman, in a yellow sari with red fringes. Her figure conjured an image of a sapota resting on a yellow watermelon in the Boy’s mind. She held a short bamboo stick in her right hand and a string of colorful beads in her left. A large, thick mole stuck out from her left cheek.

“My dear boy, would you like to know your future?” she asked him in Tamil. “I’m one of the few people who can tell you. Just for thirty rupees.”

The Boy was no fool, he had never humored these obvious frauds. They foretold futures of success, fame, happiness and wealth, futures that remained the same for everyone. For who really wants to hear the truth, that Life is unfair? That ten years from now, their wives will suffer from miscarriages? That they will have to suffer the loss of their family because of an incurable plague, or that they are doomed to years of cleaning public toilets for basic sustenance?

But in the state that he was in, he needed the encouragement, false though it may have been. And he had always wanted to see the process up close and personal, his friends and family are cynics just like him. The heat dissolved his prejudices and he nodded. The Soothsayer smiled, her brown teeth, stained by years of chewing tobacco, peeking out.

They sat opposite each other on the sand, she with her legs crossed and he kneeling on his knees. She motioned for his right hand. He stuck it out, palm faced upwards. She held it with the hand that held the strings of beads. Her bamboo stick hovered over his palm.

“Lord Sakkamma!” she cried upward. “Tell me this boy’s fate!”

Her eyes rolled upward and the bamboo stick circled the Boy’s hand slowly. Once, twice, three times, and then it stopped at the center of the palm, still in mid-air.

“Troubles are imminent for you!” the entranced Soothsayer whispered. “You think you have problems now, but more troubles are coming!”

Great, so much for encouragement, thought the Boy.

“Ah, your mind has been strangled by a spirit into submission and you seek an escape from its crushing vice,” she continued. “This is your punishment for forgetting the power of the gods that roam the heavens, you have been stripped of your purpose!”

It was true that he had recently become an atheist, but he did not think that that had anything to do with the block. Evidently this Soothsayer wasn’t in the business of having repeat customers. He had had enough of this nonsense, the next thing she would be telling him would be to apologize to the gods in a weird fashion.

“You must apologize to the Almighty by visiting the six Sacred Murugan Temples in the South and rolling around the perimeter of each temple fifty times!” declared the Soothsayer. “Only then will you stop blocking yourself from your chosen path!”

There was a blast of thunder (in a clear sunny afternoon no less) to drive home her point. The Boy pulled his hand from the crazy woman’s grasp. Her eyes quickly returned to normal, but she was fuming with anger because her seance (if you could call it that) had been cut short by an insolent and impatient cursed boy.

“You have angered the gods still further! You were supposed to spit on the thagudu thrice to take care of your other troubles! Mark my words, I-”

“Now look here lady,” the Boy interjected, “why can’t you be more like the other fortune tellers and feed me a bit of superficial good news? You’ve got to improve your beachside manner, it’s unbecoming for us vulnerable souls. Here’s your damn money.”

He pulled out thirty rupees from his wallet, the last remnants of the thousand bucks his dad gave him last week when he had to go out with his friends, and shoved it into her beaded hand. The Soothsayer glared at him and stuffed it in her bra.

“Watch out, you cursed swine,” the Soothsayer warned. “God has his own way of saying what he feels.”

“Well tell him to say it directly, I’m tired of his messages getting lost in translation because of his incompetent chosen few,” replied the Boy.

The Soothsayer glared at him, got on her feet, dusted the sand off her and walked toward a couple necking under the shade of an abandoned stall. The Boy resumed his endless gaze into the sea, searching for its mysteries and secrets buried within its depths. He wondered what the Beach Soothsayer’s life was like every day and how she got into the fortune telling business. Religion clearly had a role, but he wondered if she truly believed in what she’s selling.

The beach was deserted at this time of the day, the only visible signs of life were a few couples making their scheduled rendezvous, the ice cream vendor with his red cycle stall dozing on his cooler, two photographers and the occasional vehicle the drove on the road facing the beach. And then the Boy saw the transgenders.

The six of them were dressed in faded and soiled saris that were too small for them and emanated a signature stench that the Boy could get faint whiffs of even at his distance from them. The trinkets that adorned their body were cheap and plasticky (they gave an odd glint under the sun), their makeup was splotchy and didn’t quite hide their true masculine features. The Boy had nothing against transgenders in particular, but their Chennai manifestations just happened to be a feared public menace. He felt awkward around them; he tried not to stare at them too hard because of how they looked, but he also tried to act as if he wasn’t trying to control himself and that he was normal.

The Boy had had similar awkward experiences with transgenders before when they stopped him on the street, but he had only encountered one or two of them together. He saw the focus of the group shift from horsing around amongst themselves to singling him out as a potential target, he could see it in their eyes and the way they were hurtling in his direction. He felt fear grab his throat and he quickly walked back to the road, but it was too late. One of them called out to him eagerly and hailed him with the satisfaction of a spider having caught a fly in its trap. The Boy tried to ignore him (or her?) but he (or she?) grabbed his shoulder. The rest of the gang caught up with them.

“Where are you running off to, boy? one of them, the Boy labeled him (they were definitely effeminate men, not manly women) as the Ringleader, chuckled. “Don’t want to spend time with us?”

The Boy shook his head. Behind him was the beach police station. He considered shouting for help if things got out of hand. The group circled around him, sniggering to each other with shared excitement.

“Come on, give us the money, and nothing will happen,” said another.

It was unfortunate that the Boy had spent the last thirty rupees he had on the Soothsayer’s prediction, which seemed to have come true. He took his wallet out, opened it wide, and showed the group by circling round, that he didn’t have anything to give them.

“Uh…sorry, I don’t have any money with me. Can I go now?” the Boy shrugged apologetically. He put his wallet back in his pocket.

“In a hurry eh? But what can you give us instead of money? Perhaps a bit of fun?” the Ringleader said slowly, each word escaping his mouth like the final drops from an empty Coke can. A shiver passed through the Boy as he realized what was going to happen, his eyes welled up from the fear. The circle closed in on him.

The Ringleader snapped his fingers. “Boys, on three!”

“Come on, sir, just let me go, I, I haven’t…”

“One!”

“Sir, please sir, let me go! HELP! HELP! POLICE!”

The transgender standing behind him put his hand on the Boy’s mouth. It reeked of grime and sweat and the remnants of the roadside mutton biriyani that the group had had for lunch. He started struggling, but it was no use because his assailant twisted his left nipple hard. The other five had their hands on the edges of their lungis in utter glee.

“Two!”

The tears flowed without hesitation, the Boy was truly scared. The hand moved from his throbbing nipple down to his dick and crushed it, he couldn’t even piss his pants.

“THREE!”

The group simultaneously pulled their lungis apart and revealed their privates to the Boy. He squirmed under the grasp of the other transgender, trying to turn away from this gross public display of nudity. The three of them that could afford the sex operation had ugly, hairy vaginas. All of them laughed boisterously. The Ringleader came up to him and grabbed his face.

“Next time, you see us, you don’t run. You come to us and give us our money. Understand?”

He shoved the Boy in the sand, where he was left to wallow in his tears, spit, sweat and piss. The group tied their lungis back on and shuffled away whence they came, their laughter the only trace they left behind. The Boy lay in the warm sand as he waited for the Sun to evaporate the whole experience from his body and mind. He rolled on his back and wiped his face with his shirt.

A round copper plate blocked the Sun from his face and fell on his stomach. He picked it up and spat on it three times. The Soothsayer picked up the copper plate, the thagudu, and threw it into the sea like a Frisbee, where it joined several others like it. Then she whacked the Boy with her bamboo stick for his stupidity.

As the Boy lay back on the sand, gazing at the spirals of white in the sky, he chuckled to himself. He had asked for pain and suffering, and he had got just that. There was no point in groaning over what had happened. A couple of months from now he would be recounting this tale with his friends over pitchers of beer. So the Boy got on his feet, dusted himself down, wiped off the crap all over his face and headed home, back to that white expanse, to the world of infinite possibilities.

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Why ‘After Earth’ is actually an alternate continuation of ‘I Am Legend’

Will Smith has a new film coming out in a week, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, called After Earth. Its story is set 1000 years in the future, where humanity has moved out of the Blue Planet because the Apocalypse happened and have developed supercool spaceships with the scraps they took with them, and its about a father and son (Smith and his son Jaden, because we haven’t seen enough of that kid already) who crash land on Earth during a routine mission and have to find a way to survive. Though it does have some good talent attached, I’m quite wary of it thanks to another post-apocalyptic summer film released a couple of months ago with similar talent called Oblivion, but needless to say I’ll be watching it.

But what’s more interesting is what After Earth brings to mind: another post-apocalyptic movie starring Will Smith that was released in 2007 that I’m sure you’ve heard of called I Am Legend. In that film, Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a man stuck in an abandoned New York City in 2012 as he tries to find a cure for a virus that’s infected most of humanity and turned them into a hybrid of vampires and the zombies from 28 Days Later. The ending SPOILER ALERT doesn’t bode well for Smith when he sacrifices himself for the greater good of humanity by saving a mother and child, so that they can go to a military base in Vermont, with a cure that he discovered five minutes prior to blowing himself up, and live happily ever after (which they did). SPOILER ENDS

So how are these two movies connected, you ask? Well, it seems that several alternate scenes were shot for I Am Legend, the most important of which was an alternate ending (something that’s a given these days that shows up in the Blu-Ray and DVD, there’s even one I saw recently for Iron Man 2, pre-digital effects). ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT In this ending, Smith cheats death and takes his cure to the Vermont military base, and he lived happily ever after. END SPOILER

Let’s go along with the universe where the alternate ending exists. If Star Trek could do it (albeit with an actual reason), so can Will Smith, international superstar. Neville lives to see another day.

But what if having the cure doesn’t mean that he lived happily ever after? What if the zombies actually grew immune to that cure and then came close to wiping the survivors out altogether, and the only resort that mankind had was to ditch Earth once and for all and start afresh in the stars?

Such a possibility sounds far fetched (and it is), but when you think about it, its not impossible. Maybe the governments of the world had a Master Reboot button a la 2012, where instead of a big boat, they used a big spaceship and flew the hell out of there. Or they did it gradually and finally transported the last humans, like in Wall-E, in a grand exodus, thanks to corporate help.

In this alternate universe, 1000 years later, mankind has decided to screw coming back to Earth because its too dangerous and Earth has become foreign to humanity. Also, Smith’s Dr. Neville has passed on, and generation after generation of the Nevilles continue in this new existence while orbiting Earth. The Neville namesake eventually morphs into the Raige family, and Cypher Raige (Smith in After Earth) is actually a descendant of Neville, which also means that he carries traces of Neville’s guilt from not being able to save his planet. Presumably this emerges more strongly in his son Kitai, who persuades his dad to take him to Earth, where After Earth‘s journey begins.

Talk about a long delayed alternate sequel, 1000 years in the making.

Attributions: After earth logo.png by Sony Pictures, PD-US
Will Smith 2011, 3.jpg by Truu, CC-BY-2.0

Baby Tomato

I was born at the dawn of a warm summer day. I don’t remember it except for the feeling of the sun bursting through the sky, warming my soft red skin. My first tangible memory was seeing my brothers and sisters, the Reds, hundreds upon hundreds of them, surrounding me, growing along with me, static, unmoving, marveling at life along with me. A sea of red, and I was but a tiny drop.

Our Father did everything for us: he gave us nourishment, drove away the troublesome and dangerous pests and checked up on our health every day. He loved us, softly held us with his white rubber hands, his smiling white teeth peeking out from his aged, cracked, spotted mask as his bespectacled eyes covered each one of his children. And we loved him, but we could not show it, for all our expressions were the same, try as we did to prove otherwise.

Those first few weeks were laid back and easygoing, there wasn’t anything we had to do, and soon became monotonous. The only way we could pass the time was by chatting with each other. My four closest (both in distance and in relationship) friends were Rajiv, on my left, Bob, in front of me, Lin, on my right and Dick, behind me. Together we asked questions about what we could see from where we were, like why the sky was blue, or what those metal birds in the sky were or what happened to all our comrades who got picked up by Father at a certain age.

Our older siblings told us that there would be a time in our growth where we would be able to go to the Promised Land, a place where we could interact with other men and women like Father and be admired and adored for who we were, and that’s where they all went. We imagined what the Promised Land was like, with bright lights, exciting sounds and tender care just like Father gave us. Where we wouldn’t be attacked by insects, where we could have fun and grow old together.

My dream to go to the Promised Land was almost shattered one night when an insect predator attacked the field. It was a ravenous stinkbug, its feet skittering over the soil, touching my brethren with its hideous feelers, spoilt for choice in this Garden of Eden. As it moved through the aisles, panic spread through the children like wildfire as we steeled ourselves for the inevitable. Those close to the stinkbug wailed and cried for Father, desperate for his attention, but Night meant Father would be sleeping just like us, we were truly alone. I could feel the bug’s steps coming closer and closer to where I was, rustling through the leaves, until finally it stopped.

And then it sunk its jagged teeth into Pete Sanders five rows behind me, one of the largest amongst us, with great relish. Pete’s juices spilled over its jaws, and he attacked Pete with vile ferocity. I started to quake in fear, I had always thought that I would evade any pests or insects with a (now) false sense of security.

After the bug devoured Pete, it inched slowly, weighed down by its appetizer, and burped a couple of times. It crept four rows behind me, three rows, then two. I whispered to Dick words of encouragement to be strong. Dick had already wet himself with fear, his skin glistening under the moonlight. The bug turned to him and touched him slowly, feeling his body, gauging his tastiness. He started to cry in fits and starts, his courage eroding under the gaze of the bug. All of us prayed for him to get through this, for some miracle to arrive and save us all from this ghastly beast.

And then we heard that familiar deafening roar of a metal bird as it shot through the sky, flying low in the night, leaving behind a trail of smoke that covered the stars. This fearsome predator became a frightened, tittering bug and scurried away into the darkness. We all consoled Dick and said he was very brave. I whispered a word of thanks to all the metal birds in the world that night, bless their timing.

The day finally arrived when I could feel that I would be taken to the Promised Land. I put on my best smile, made my skin glow, pushed my chest out to give it that extra bit of oomph and waited for Father to come by my side. He came slowly, looking over my siblings one by one, calculating if we were the perfect Reds that were fit enough to be dispatched to that otherworldly place. When he came next to me I closed my eyes and prayed that my gut was right. He held me, gave me a once over and then plucked me from my station. I was free, after weeks of being static. I couldn’t wait to see what was next.

We were buzzing in the bag, congratulating each one of our friends that made it in and telling each other our own imagined versions of where we would be going. After the bag was filled to the brim, Father closed it and we waited until it would open again. We knew we were moving on some kind of vessel that was taking us to the Promised Land. The initial energy that we had when the trip started soon dissipating as we grew weary and most of us feel asleep. The ones that didn’t, including me, stayed up to talk about how we would miss Father once we got to the Promised Land, but the pros certainly outweighed the cons.

I woke up in the morning, when the vessel had stopped and the bag was opened. There were five men standing around, picking us out one by one, putting us in different bags, taking us to different places. It looked like the Promised Land was still far away and this was a connection in our journey. I saw Father talking to the men, exchanging colored paper and handshakes. And then I was picked up and thrown into another bag. Father didn’t even say goodbye to us. The man who had taken me was a short, fat man with narrow slits for eyes, nostrils, a mouth and ears. A bit like a squishy ball of clay with lines. I hope he could commandeer his vessel with such small eyes. I missed Father already.

In the new bag, I fraternized with children from different fields. They were excited to go to the Promised Land, although some of them called it Paradise, others Heaven and still others Mecca. This next journey was as uneventful as the last, but once the new vessel stopped, all of us froze. This was the moment we had been waiting for for all our lives. We felt the bag being lifted by the Clay Man, and then set down in what we presumed to be our destination, the Best Place on Earth. He opened the bag and started taking us out one by one. We could see a world of white, bright lights, colorful things, and different kinds of children. There were orange, green, purple, brown and yellow ones, but we couldn’t speak their different languages. We were placed together in a box that faced outwards. The cool air of this white world calmed me, it felt better than the hot Sun that I had felt throughout my growth.

We were all placed on top of older, more seasoned Reds who had been there much before us. I asked them if this was really the Promised Land. They scoffed at my words and told us that this was a Supermarket and that we would be picked out by families to be taken to their homes, where we would be a part of their family and be attended to like we were in the fields, that was the actual Promised Land. We had to look our best, those of us that were damaged in transit or had some deformities at birth wouldn’t be selected. I was confident that they would take me, how could they not?

Men, women and children started visiting a couple of hours later, their faces listless and blank, as if this process was a chore instead of an exciting experience to select new members of their family. One by one they went down the sections, picking out the Oranges, and the Yellows and the Greens first and then they came to us. The first couple of women that came to us Reds completely ignored me and instead went for my fatter compatriots. I hadn’t let myself slide into obesity by sucking us extra nutrition when I didn’t need it, I thought I was the right size, and so had Father. But these people were looking for fatter Reds, not fit ones.

Eventually as the day went on and more and more of my friends left me behind to go enjoy their new lives, I began to grow weary. As the Sun slipped out of sight and changed into Night, I felt pangs of homesickness for the field, where life seemed much less competitive and more fun with my friends. But then a small girl walked into the Supermarket, her face flustered and her movements hurried. She grabbed a plastic cover, rushed up to us and started grabbing us one by one. I shouted to her in desperation, “Pick me, pick me!” She must have heard me, because I was next to be picked. Another bag, another place.

Our new Mother set us down on a black counter. She was still in a hurried state, maybe she was late for something. She put on an apron, took out a pan and placed it on the stove. The lot of us felt suffocated in the plastic, and we were glad when she took us out, the marble cooled us down. She took two of us, me and my new friend Joe, and washed us under a tap. I hadn’t tasted water in so long, and it refreshed me. She put us back on the counter and took a wooden board and a knife. I figured she was cooking for her husband. Then she took Joe, placed him on the board and raised the knife above him. Joe’s eyes were facing me and he was smiling, so he didn’t see this. I shouted out to him, “Look out!” but it was too late. We had come to the home of a serial killer. This woman was going to kill us and eat us for dinner. I tried to roll away from her clutches, but we Reds weren’t built for movement at all. She cut Joe into four pieces and threw him into the pan. I was next, I prayed to my real Father to get me out of this somehow, but my heart knew that there would be no escape. I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst. The other Reds were in utter panic, they didn’t care about me, not like my friends in the field. The woman turned to me and placed me on the wooden board. This was it, it was all about to end. So much for the Promised Land and being cared for by a family. Goodb-

My Moviegoing Rules

Attribution: We watch only the most popular movies… by ecastro, CC-BY-2.0

I love watching movies, whether on my laptop, television, or the theatre. I don’t visit the theatre often, because of a small alternative called the Internet, but when I do go to the theatre, I follow a set of rules that give me the best moviegoing experience every single time.

I went to Iron Man 3 with a friend a couple of weeks ago and he pointed out that these rules are particularly irritating for anyone who decides to go for a movie with me, which is probably why I watch most movies alone or with people who don’t mind my rules (a select few). Here they are:

  1. It starts with selecting which theatre I want to go to in the city. Chennai has several theatres, but the only one that is worth going to is Sathyam Cinemas, in the Royapettah and Thiruvanmiyur areas of Chennai. I could go into a whole explanation of why they’re the best theatre chain in the city, but that’s bound to bore you. It works for me because of its access, ambience and atmosphere. Oh, and their popcorn is pretty good too. 
  2. I always select my theatre seats in either the second or third rows of any screen and always in the middle or next to the centre aisle. It doesn’t matter whether the movie is in 3D or not, I find that being as up close as possible to the screen is important for the immersive experience that the big screen offers. I find it quite odd that most people jump for the last row in theatres, why would anyone want to be away from the movie? In fact, when I went to Life of Pi with a couple of my friends, I traded a ticket my friend had bought (in the last row, damn him) for a ticket five rows ahead. Yes, I’m that anal about it.
  3. I leave from my place an hour before the movie’s show time because I generally get there by the bus. Because of this inbuilt timing mechanism, if I go with a friend who has a car, or if I go there myself in a car, then I’m always early by at least half an hour. It’s better to go early than to be late; I hate missing any part of a movie, especially its opening scenes.
  4. Putting my cellphone on Silent Mode before the movie starts. Obviously.
  5. Not stepping out of the theatre during the interval if I’m watching the movie for the first time. I always end up coming back too late and the movie starts and like I said, I hate missing any part of it.
  6. I hate people who talk on their phones or amongst themselves or even look at their phones during a movie. I’m the kind of guy who shushes people and tells people to put their phones away.
  7. I only get popcorn for a movie. And Coke if someone else wants it.
  8. I hate watching English movies with subtitles. Not a rule, but a common gripe I guess.

So those are my moviegoing rules, at least habits that I’ve cultivated over the years of watching movies in the theatre. What rules or habits do you have for going to the movies?

Land Of The (Boring) Desi Undead

Attribution: Simple zombie arm by ~801crow, CC-BY-3.0

The carefree, drug-addled, wisecracking trio of Go Goa Gone are the kind of characters that exist in a generation consumed by pop culture: their actions are drawn from what they’ve seen in movies (especially Hollywood) and in a subgenre as done to death (you never know with the undead) as the zombie horror flick, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK know that these are the few character types that can walk the line between familiarity and novelty. And yet, though Hardik (Kunal Khemmu), Luv (Vir Das) and Bunny (Anand Tiwari) say variations of “I saw X in movie Y”, they don’t know how to deal with the shambling creatures at all.

While the blood spilling classic Shaun Of The Dead (paid a tribute that’s borderline plagiarism) clearly gives rules on how to deal with zombies in less than two minutes and the recent cult flick Zombieland has its survival tips spread throughout the film, Go Goa Gone’s heroes spend a lot of time asking “What do we know, and what have we learned?” You’d think they’re the kind of guys who illegally download episodes of The Walking Dead and watch them when they get home from their bloody khooni jobs.

The one guy who knows exactly what’s going on, and does something about it, is Boris (pronounced Ba-REES), a pseudo-Russian mafia don played by Saif Ali Khan, with a straight face of course (you can’t do fake Russian accents with a smile). He’s basically Tallahassee from Zombielandminus the eccentricities and plus a Russian accent. And yet, even after it’s revealed that he’s not really Russian, he stays in character and no one questions him about it. Khan, also producing thus film, milks the opportunity to blast desi brains with his endless arsenal of weaponry in slow motion and elevates Go Goa Gone beyond the average zombie comedy.

The plot is pretty basic to the point that it can be reduced like so: Three guys in their ’20s. Goa trip. Zombies attack. Need to survive. The zombie flick doesn’t require elaborate plotting as long as its characters are compelling to watch (Night Of The Living Dead, the first zombie horror film, takes place mostly in an abandoned cabin). Here, apart from Boris, only Kunal Khemmu really brings in the laughs though he plays a stock character we’ve seen before: the aimless yuppie who can bed any girl he wants and asks for nothing more (see: Barney Stinson). The other three leads have their moments, but there are more misses than hits. 

The most frustrating thing about this film is how close is gets to being great, but squanders its ideas like a poor cricket fielder drops catches repeatedly. Much of this has to do with atmosphere; the zombies in Go Goa Gone could be used as toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals, not thrown away with fright, disgust and revulsion. These are slow, ambling zombies, not the fast, athletic ones from 28 Days Later, and I’ve always imagined you could outrun them if you wanted to, unless you were completely surrounded by them. This apparent lack of conflict lowers the stakes and leaves the film loose and flat and takes away from the zombie fight scenes that are sprinkled through the narrative.

The directors have trouble in deciding what their film actually is: a zombie film with comedic and romantic elements, or a comedy with zombie elements. This spills over into the treatment of the material, but the jokes that are placed at the right moments bring large laughs, especially the final “dance around the trees”. Raj & DK also strangle their story with anti-drugs PSAs throughout the film so as to make sure that they’re not responsible for influencing their target audiences to go to Goa to party by making the connection that drugs turn people into zombies, a strategy akin to telling a child about the Boogeyman to get him to eat his vegetables. But even as the film ends with an anti-drugs message, there’s a stoner dream song that runs through the end credits, thus nullifying all the preachy statements that were made in the movie.

So should you watch Go Goa Gone? I would say it’s a lightweight film that engages all the way through, but approach it with lowered expectations so that you might find yourself a bit surprised. That’s more than you could want from India’s first zomcom, right?