September 20, 2013
Shahid Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz, Padmini Kolhapure, Zakir Hussain, Darshan Zariwala, Saurabh Shukla, Sanjay Mishra, Mukesh Tiwari
No one farts in this film. There’s not a single joke about faeces or other bodily excretions or secretions. The volume remains relatively low. The characters are not all wearing red pants, purple shirts, green shoes, mustard-framed goggles and pink scarves with yellow polka dots or similar colour combinations. Nor do they rhyme their sentences. But whaddyaknow, Phata Poster Nikhla Hero is still good for a bunch of laughs. Writer-director Rajkumar Santoshi’s latest comedy is not consistently crackling like his 1994 Aamir Khan-Salman Khan-Karisma Kapoor-Raveena Tandon-starrer Andaz Apna Apna. It also holds out a rather muddled message in the end: should children not follow their dreams but do their parents bidding instead?! Yet, in this era of ‘humour’ dominated by loud crudeness, it’s still a breath of fresh air.
PPNH is the story of Vishwas Rao (Shahid Kapoor) who pretends to be a policeman to please his mother Savitri Rao (Padmini Kolhapure), while surreptitiously working towards an acting career. Misunderstandings and melodrama ensue. Along the way they encounter a social worker who is so vigilant about crime that the police nickname her ‘Complaint’ Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz); a failed film writer (Sanjay Mishra); an honest senior cop, Shivanand Khare (Darshan Jariwala); the corrupt Inspector Ghorpade (Zakir Hussain); an evil don, Gundappa Das (Saurabh Shukla); and a faceless international gangster who goes by the name Napoleon.
Santoshi’s screenplay is clever for the most part, extracting laughs without under-estimating the viewer’s IQ. When the film’s pace occasionally dips – and this happens only in the second half – it’s more to do with the direction than the writing. The bow to Deewar’s iconic “mere paas Maa hai” dialogue, for instance, is unforgivably poorly paced. There are also a couple of low-energy scenes post interval, especially that one in which the good people have blinded the bad people in their den and must escape, but run around in confused circles instead.
Pritam’s best tunes for this film (Main rang sharbaton ka and Tu mere agal bagal hai) are well picturised but elsewhere there are too many abruptly inserted songs including the very ordinary Dhating naach featuring Nargis Fakhri in a guest appearance and Mere bina tu, the picturisation of which is too reminiscent of Tu jaane na from the director’s earlier film Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani. One song may seem mild in comparison with the onslaught of sexual harassment in Raanjhanaa, but in a country where so many crimes against women take place because patriarchy believes men can demand sex as a matter of right from women, we could do without these lyrics from Tu mere agal bagal hai: “Khali peeli khali peeli rokne ka nahin / tera peecchha karoon toh tokne ka nahin / Hai tujh pe right mera / tu hai delight mera…”
These lines are particularly incongruous because of the dialogue preceding the song: when Vishwas Rao’s friend notices that the boy is smitten by Kajal, he warns him, “Yeh Mumbai ki ladki hai. Hehe karke baat karegi par line maarne jaaoge toh tumhare upar doggy chhod degi.” Meaning: Just because a girl is friendly does not mean she’s romantically interested in you. Now that’s a pleasant change from Hindi filmdom’s old message of: when a girl says no, she actually means maybe or yes. Equally important is the fact that the women in this film are not side shows or show pieces or pushovers. Kajal may seem ditsy but she has a mind of her own. And Maa is an autorickshaw driver, which is unusual enough as a choice of profession for Indian women but is particularly noteworthy in a film industry which prefers stay-at-home, full-time roti-serving, bartan-washing, bhagwan-se-bintee-karo-ing moms. Equally uncommon for a Bollywood mother is the way Savitri tells her irresponsible husband that his child cannot be deemed his child merely by virtue of the blood tie.
Some mixed messages there then, but let not this review leave you in any doubt: I had fun watching Phata Poster Nikhla Hero. Shahid is a chameleon in this film, switching from deliberately exaggerated humour to emotional intensity to a spot of mimickry at the drop of a hat. He even gets a scene in which the villains generously pull off his shirt, leaving him in a black vest that gives us a nice view of that trim torso and well-muscled arms. For the record, may I add that if he ever decides to leave Bollywood, I suspect he’d be a helluva pole dancer. In her second Bollywood film, Ileana reveals what Telugu audiences know well already: that she is a versatile actress. Is she the slightly melancholic Shruti of Barfi! or the slightly nutty Kajal of PPNH? Besides, she’s a delicate little beauty, in possession of possibly the largest eyes to haunt the Hindi film screen in decades. To borrow Laurent the Frenchman’s description of Sridevi’s saucer-like eyes in English Vinglish: “like two drops of coffee on a cloud of milk.” The rest of the excellent cast provide able support to these two.
The film’s production design is interesting, more often than not opting for a set-like, stagey look that brings back memories of Ajab Prem... There are, in fact, several nods here to Ajab Prem… and Andaz Apna Apna, the best of them coming in the form of a cleverly crafted guest appearance by Salman Khan who plays himself brilliantly in those couple of minutes. That scene alone is worth the price of a ticket. Despite its weaknesses, so is the rest of Phata Poster Nikhla Hero. It’s funny and goofy, sweet even when it's being silly, a good ol’ clean comedy from Bollywood after a long time.
Rating (out of five): ***
CBFC Rating (India):
2 hours 32 minutes (courtesy pvrcinemas.com)
Photograph courtesy: bollywoodtrade.com