July 18, 2014
Vir Das, Vega Tamotia, Anindita Nayar, Kavi Shastri
Hindi with English
Vir Das can be genuinely funny. His stand-up comedy routines, I mean the ones I’ve seen, have been cheeky and irreverent without being distasteful or crude. And I remember nearly falling off my chair laughing when I interviewed him with his fellow cast members from Badmaash Company, back when I worked at a channel that he insisted on calling HeadWines Today. But stand-up comedy is usually a monologue. Few films can pull that off. Amit Sahni Ki List has so much of Amit Sahni talking to us the audience, that the entire film feels like one big monologue with some poorly etched out characters on the sidelines. And no, ASKL can’t pull it off.
This is such a huge disappointment because, of the three Hindi film releases this week, the one with the most promising trailers was this one. Besides, Das has managed to be quite charming as part of ensemble casts in comic ventures such as Delhi Belly and Go Goa Gone. And those two lovely dance-able songs – Ab main kya karoon (music and singing by Raghu Dixit;) and What the fark (music: Palash Muchhal, singers: Rahul Vaidya, Amit Mishra, Aditi Singh Sharma) – are just so much fun and so different in tone, tenor and delivery from what we’re used to in Hindi cinema. Not surprising considering that the composers are not yet Bollywood regulars.
Unfortunately, these nuts and bolts don’t add up to much because ASKL takes a concept bursting with potential, and expands it into the thinnest screenplay to emerge from Mumbai in a while.
When the crux of a film is pretty much what the film is in its entirety, you know there’s a problem. Here’s what it is: Amit Sahni is a well-off young MBA working with a multinational corporation who lives in a spacious, well-appointed flat, wears Pink Floyd and Metallica T-shirts, and is searching for the perfect girl based on a list of criteria he has made to aid his search. After a series of predictably disastrous dates with a bunch of cardboard cutouts – Kinky Pinky gets turned on by conversations about cars and tries to bang him while he’s driving; Sheena is a celebrity trainer who’s not really interested in a boyfriend/husband as much as she is looking for a cook who will help her stay trim – he meets free-spirited Mala (Vega Tamotia). She ticks off virtually none of the items on his list, but he finds an emotional connection that he can’t understand. Just as he’s allowing that relationship to teach him something about life and lists, he meets Devika (Anindita Nayar), a voluptuous Ms Perfect According to Amit Sahni Ki List with whom he gets along so well that they never ever fight.
That’s it. Not a single situation in the film allows the characters to rise above what I can only guess must have been the one-line description of each of them in the initial concept note.
Firstly, the film is so one-sided that we at no point get to identify with the girls or for that matter, with Amit’s silent dad who is always reading newspapers, or his wannabe cool mother who has been dreaming about his marriage even before hers happened, or his childhood friend who is a wannabe chef (played by the good-looking Kavi Shastri).
Second, it’s simplistic. There’s not a thing the film discovers about relationships beyond the point that is so obvious from the minute you hear the explanation for the title in the first few scenes. ASKL’s idea of depth seems to be to have Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy lying on the table when Amit visits Mala at home one day.
Third, its idea of what is cool is odd. Mala whistles at a waiter in a restaurant and that’s presented to us as evidence of how hip and unfettered she is. Err…I don’t know about you, but I would be completely put off by people who whistle at human beings to attract their attention, but especially at waiters, busboys, servers in banquet halls, flight attendants, household help and subordinates at work. And if that didn’t go against her, how come Amit can bear being called Gappi by her? Gappi? Seriously?! Yikes!
Fourth, Amit himself is dull and not well fleshed out despite the zillion lines the film gives him.
Fifth, the film is verbose. Oh so verbose. I like Das. I do, I do. But at one point I was so exhausted listening to his unrelenting narration that I wanted to cry out to him to stop talking.
Add to this the fact that both the actresses – to borrow a very politically incorrect term from Amit’s mother – struck me as “BTMs (behenjis turned modern)”, an acronym that I remember was popular back when I was in college. Sorry, I know that might be categorised as a classist comment, but it’s not. I’m merely pointing out that their personalities are not quite suited to the clothes they’re made to wear and their styling. There are few things as unattractive as people trying to be what they intrinsically are not.
The final nail in the coffin of my experience of ASKL: for the most part, it is a bore. What does it say about the film that the funniest line comes about one-and-a-half hours into the story (it involves Doordarshan, I won’t say more). Das has a likeable screen presence that is wasted here. You just need to watch him in a village in Durg in Chattisgarh towards the end of the film, turning the simple act of scratching his way up a hillside into a moment of brief hilarity, to know what he’s capable of. But like stand-up comedians, actors too need solid written material to back them. ASKL’s screenplay (credited to Shiv Singh and Rohit Banawlikar) does not have that.
What the fark, Ajay Bhuyan. What a fark-ing wasted opportunity!
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
Trailer courtesy: Effective Communication
Poster courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/amitsahnikilist