In a critical scene in the new Marvel superhero film Doctor Strange, two veteran sorcerers in flowing robes explain to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), how they, the good sorcerers, are protecting the world from "damaging beings". In other words, they are the spiritual world's Avengers. These sorcerers have 'sanctums' or branches in Hong Kong, London and New York.
That's when you feel like cornering the producers and asking,"Why didn't they open a Delhi branch too?". After all, much of the mystique and mind-over-matter philosophy of this franchise is borrowed from our sacred books. Much like plastic surgery and nuclear technology, as our venerable prime minister might point out. Therefore, it's unfair that New York, London and Hong Kong get all the action.
But we will let that pass. Only because we get to see all the lead actors of the film, including our very own Sherlock Holmes, draw rangoli patterns in the air. And that's their superpower. Which means Rinku the rangoli champ from our locality, who can draw the entire Taj Mahal in just five minutes, gets to be the head jedi of the gang. Sorry, not jedi, sorcerer. Wrong franchise.
So who is Dr Strange you ask? Take my advice, don't. Comic book geeks, who are lurking around theatres screening the film, might pounce on you and cut you to small, small pieces and feed you to some Marvel monster. Apparently, in the hierarchy of Marvel comic geekdom, a Dr Strange fan is some sort of supreme commander. So, like me, just play along and let director Scott Derrickson give us the origin tale of this superhero.
Stephen Strange is the James Bond of the neurosurgery world. He performs incredibly complicated surgeries with the same ease that James Bond jumps from building terraces in exotic European cities. He also has a signature tune for his surgery sequences. His ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams) is a colleague whose job seems to be giving him disapproving looks. But one fine day, while zooming in his fancy car down a bridge, the doctor meets with an accident that renders his hands useless. No, not like Thakur in Sholay. More like Mohnish Behl in Hum Saath Saath Hain.
And what's a surgeon without his hands, right? Exactly! Our hero also keeps asking himself the same question until someone tells him the magic words: "Go to Kamar-Taj!". You might think it sounds like some fancy Taj Hotel property. It's pretty close.
Kamar-Taj turns out to be in Nepal's capital Kathmandu. Strange walks down a crowded Kathmandu street asking people for directions and eventually arrives at the doorstep of a sorceress very imaginatively called - The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Actually, she's called 'The Aaancient One', enunciated that way for inner peace and tranquility. Swinton, who looks and behaves like Grand Master Oogway from the Kung-Fu Panda series, looks adequately sagely. She also seems to be having a great time chastising Cumberbatch through most of her time on screen.
Strange approaches the The Ancient One's world with cynicism. You know how Westerners are, always questioning our spiritual quests with limiting concepts like 'science' and 'logic'. But The Ancient One makes him spiral down the entire universe with a mere push of her fingertip. Cue for some really cool psychedelic effects.
Guess what, the questioning Westerner is a complete convert the very next moment. He is then taken under the very able wings of The Ancient One and his training begins. Which means he has to stare into space very intently and draw rangoli patterns with his hands. The more intricate the rangoli, the more capable he becomes.
If these training scenes remind you of Batman Begins, again, don't mention it to a comic book geek. They will tell you all training rituals are the same.
Anyway, the villain of the piece isn't actually that big a villain. He (Mads Mikkelsen) is a former student of The Ancient One who has stolen some pages from some ancient book from the Kamar-Taj library and run away, like we sneak out soap and shampoo bottles from hotel rooms.
Apparently, the not-so-bad-guy wants to perform some tantric puja and those pages have all the secret mantras. All this to bring back his dead family members to life. That's it. No greedy plan of world domination. Like Karan Johar would tell you, it's all about loving your family. So we can't really grudge a man his love for his family.
Need we tell you that Dr Strange and the bad guy then have a spectacular face-off? But what you do need to know is that there are some some pretty amazing Inception-like scenes here.
The best thing about having Cumberbatch in a superhero film is that you know there will be moments in his performance where he will laugh at himself. In Doctor Strange, he gets to do that a lot. That makes Doctor Strange a thoroughly enjoyable, self-effacing film.
But all said and done, one scene from the film will stay with me for a long,long time. Towards the end of the film, the astral version of Stephen Strange is shown directing his doctor girlfriend as she performs a surgery on his physical version. Rajinikanth much?