Monday, September 12, 2016

REVIEW 429: FREAKY ALI


Release date:
September 9, 2016
Director:
Sohail Khan
Cast:



Language:
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Arbaaz Khan, Asif Basra, Seema Biswas, Amy Jackson, Nikitin Dheer, Jas Arora, Paresh Ganatra, Jackie Shroff
Hindi


Freaky Ali is as slim as Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s waistline, and carries none of the weight associated with his films so far. No doubt it is a pleasure to see this remarkable artiste not being grim or eccentric, as he has been in most of his high-profile roles, but the joy of watching him let his hair down as the lead in a comedy is vastly diluted by this film’s lack of substance.

The potential of the actor in this particular genre smacks us in the face in the hilarious opening minute when Siddiqui, as small-time underwear salesman Ali, rattles off a string of selling points of the chaddis he is peddling without seeming to take a moment to breathe. It reminded me of vada vendors at southern Indian railway stations crying out “vadai vadai, uzhunna vadai, parippu vadai, thaiyr vadai, vadai vadai” without a pause. Within moments though, Ali makes an ageist wisecrack that is crude but stops short of being offensive. Next he spews insults at an obese child wanting to buy an undie for his Superman suit. And the warning bells ring.

These are not warning bells of fanatical over-sensitivity or political correctness for the heck of it, but a reminder that intelligent humour is hard to do. Either the writer is specifically targeting less demanding audiences, or he lacks the imagination to pull off a two-hour movie without resorting to lazy quips drawing on prejudice. Such limitations are highly likely to show up in the plot too. Fingers crossed that they don’t.

Now that I have watched the entire film, I can confirm that in fact they do. Freaky Ali’s storyline is thinner than a potato wafer and that laptop that pegs its marketing spiel on Kareena Kapoor’s figure. To be fair to writer-director-producer Sohail Khan (whose star elder brother Salman Khan presents this film), Ali is punished by the storyline for his ageist utterances and fat jokes. Those cracks give way though to ‘jokes’ so steeped in misogyny – for which characters are rewarded not punished – that “sexist” is too mild an adjective for them. The film also fails to add anything to the early points it makes.

After trying his hand and failing at underwear sales, Ali shifts to hafta vasooli – collecting protection money from local businessmen on behalf of a notorious gangster. His partner in crime is his friend Maqsood (Sohail’s other brother Arbaaz Khan). Meanwhile, his adoptive mother (Seema Biswas) thinks her son is in “the garments business”.

All Ali wants is to make her happy and proud of him. One day Kishan (Asif Basra), who is a caddie at a posh golf course, spots Ali casually striking some balls while on a hafta vasooli visit to the club. Kishan sees sporting potential in Ali and offers to train him. Golf means money and respectability so Ali grabs the chance, and soon becomes a national-level force to reckon with in less time than it took Sultan to become a world-beating wrestler.

Okay, forget that swipe at Sultan’s believability. Films such as these demand a suspension of cynicism from the viewer, and as a masala movie addict I gladly submit to their demands if they offer solid material on other fronts. The problem with Freaky Ali is that once you are over the novelty of seeing Siddiqui in a light-hearted role and nailing the body language of a golfer at play, you realise there is little going for the film apart from him. Once a point is made about class snobbery directed at a poor man who enters a sport of rich people, you realise the film has nothing more to say. Besides, too many distractions in the form of songs, silliness, repetitive and intermittently distasteful humour take away from the goal of conveying the point that immense character and grit – not financial wealth alone – are what go into making a great sportsperson.

Early on we learn that Ali’s Hindu adoptive mother brought him up as a Muslim because she found him outside an Islamic holy place and assumed his biological parents were Muslim. Why has this gradually come to be seen as a secular imperative? Would it have been intolerant on her part to bring him up as a Hindu? If she had been Muslim and found him outside a temple or church, would it have been intolerant to bring him up as a Muslim? Unthinking liberalism, I say. Religion is not a genetic trait, it is a belief system that parents pass on to their offspring like all values, and expecting someone to bring up their adoptive child in the religion of its biological parents makes as little sense as expecting a hardcore capitalist to bring up an adoptive child as a Communist because its birth parents were Communist.

This is just an aside. Freaky Ali’s undoing is its superficial writing with clich├ęs piling up in the run-up to a dated climax. Of the cast, Basra and Arbaaz are sweet, Dheer as a hapless giant is likeable, Biswas is miscast since she looks too close to Siddiqui’s age and Amy Jackson has little to do but be svelte. Siddiqui is spot-on. It is sad though that he agreed to a running ‘joke’ that involves his character and Maqsood assuming that the women officials at a tournament venue are all on duty to sleep with the men – because what else can smart women in Western outfits do?

The film’s attitude to women is further revealed by the graph of Megha (Jackson) who gives up being the arrogant golfing champion Vikram Rathore’s manager to become not Ali’s manager but his aimless arm-candy-cum-girlfriend. Was it inconceivable to Khan that a woman could be his hero’s manager?

Frankly, expecting this film to get this is expecting too much. After an initial promise of unrelenting humour, Freaky Ali’s only strength is Siddiqui’s talent. It is worth remembering that the cute, huggable, goofy golfer at the centre of this film is played by the same guy who played that creepy, sadistic serial killer in Anurag Kashyap’s excellent Raman Raghav 2.0 just months back. That said, even the gifted Siddiqui cannot save Freaky Ali from its own flimsiness.

Rating (out of five): *

CBFC Rating (India):
UA
Running time:
120 minutes

Postscript: Another aside. Liverpool native Amy Jackson who plays Megha in Freaky Ali is a virtual unknown in Bollywood, but she has somehow convinced the UK press that she is “one of Bollywood’s biggest stars”. A 2014 article headlined with those exact words appeared not on a marginal media platform but on a website run by the well-regarded British online newspaper The Independent. Here it is, have a good laugh: http://tinyurl.com/j5fjo2n The Independent’s write-up quotes Jackson speaking to The Mail on Sunday tabloid. No sane person expects quality journalism from MoS, but it is disappointing to see such poor research from The Independent.

Posters courtesy: imdb.com

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