August 5, 2011
Pankaj Kapoor, Gaurav Kapur, Manoj Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra, Deven Bhojani, Hemant Pandey, Asawari Joshi, Mahesh Thakur
I guess Chala Mussaddi Office Office will work best for those who have been regular viewers of Office Office, the popular TV serial from which it is derived. But even if, like me, you’ve watched just a few episodes here and there, or you’ve not seen the show at all, it’s possible that – like me – you’ll have a nice time watching it.
The film is as simple as the serial … Mussaddi Lal Tripathi (Pankaj Kapoor) represents the common man who is constantly trapped in a web of bureaucratic corruption, red tapism, administrative sluggishness and all the other issues that the aam aadmi in India faces every day. The film begins with the death of Mussaddi’s wife. He goes off on a pilgrimage for the repose of her soul and to immerse her ashes in our holy waters. Mussaddi’s long absence from home results in him being declared dead in government files. Result: the stoppage of the pension due to him as a retired government teacher. Most of the film is spent on Mussaddi’s efforts to prove that he is alive.
It’s strange that this film has not been promoted at all by its producers, especially since its protagonist’s struggles are likely to find a resonance with all of us while the nation debates the Lokpal Bill. Mussaddi Lal is you and me. He is Everyman. He is the middle-class family of Dibakar Banerjee’s Khosla ka Ghosla whose land has been fake-sold by a crookish property dealer. He is the little old man who strips at a government office to shame an apathetic babu into action in Lage Raho Munna Bhai. And unlike the Common Man in A Wednesday, he is not playing disturbingly to the gallery by offering an anarchic but populist solution to our problems – he is simply sticking to the Gandhian dictum that stays on screen right through the end credits: “Corruption ought not to be an inevitable product of democracy. Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mussaddi Lal’s refusal to pay a bribe to get what is rightfully his may seem naïve to many, the film’s denouement could be viewed as simplistic, but it’s touching all the same!
Pankaj Kapoor as the central character has had years of practice playing the hapless citizen, but still knows how to pull at our heart strings. He is ably assisted by Gaurav Kapur in the role of his no-good son and the other members of the original serial’s five fixtures – Manoj Pahwa, Sanjay Mishra, Deven Bhojani, Hemant Pandey and Asawari Joshi – who play multiple parts in the film. Makrand Deshpande makes an appearance as a sort of wandering minstrel singing the film’s title song at regular intervals.
The strength of Chala Mussaddi, as in the case of the serial, is that its point is conveyed through humour with scenes and dialogues that are deliberately exaggerated yet not of the slapstick variety. Like the bribe-taking government official who says: “Hum sarkari karamchari hai, koi bimari thodi hai jo theek ho jaaye (We’re government servants, not some sort of disease that can be cured).” Like the student who pays lip service to customs but is too lazy to get up from his chair to touch his old teacher’s feet and so makes do with some long-distance paao chhoona.
Chala Mussaddi is not without its problems. Some of the jokes (especially the decidedly unfunny “do baate ho jaayegi” gag mouthed by Bhojani) get repetitive. Some (like the ones involving the pandits fleecing a man mourning his wife’s death) are not novel. And it’s irritating to see a lack of attention to detail that prompted the editor to splice together shots of Mussaddi and his son headed for the Pension Office on a scooter through a route that takes them past Connaught Place, then Red Fort, then back past Connaught Place and then past Red Fort again. That’s tacky. Still, this is a film with a heart and soul, a good cast and good intentions, a sense of humour and relevance to the times we live in! It’s not sock-you-in-the-stomach, punch-you-in-the-gut brilliant. But it’s nice.
Rating (out of five): **3/4
CBFC Rating: U without cuts
Running time: 98 Minutes
Photograph courtesy: http://tinyurl.com/3ep5wfn (on Facebook)