Thursday, September 4, 2014


Release date:
August 29, 2014
Kunal Deshmukh


Emraan Hashmi, Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon, Humaima Malick, Deepak Tijori

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this uninspired to write a film review. Raja Natwarlal – centred around a confidence trickster called Raja – suffers from being overly aware of its own cleverness. For a con film to work, it has to catch us by surprise. As viewers of the genre, we’re staring at the screen with eyes wide open, on high alert, ready to catch every trick up the story’s sleeve; in spite of that the film has to catch us off guard. Here in Raja Natwarlal, not only is the con too easily executed to be believable, but too many of the ‘surprises’ are visible from a mile. A pity because it had the potential to be a thoroughly enjoyable, bite-your-nails, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, stare-aghast-at-the-screen, Ocean’s-11-kind-of-slick thriller.

The premise is brimming with possibilities: a team of con men sell a non-existent cricket team to a cricket-crazy billionaire. They’re led by the smooth-talking Raja (Emraan Hashmi) and his new-found teacher in the business (Paresh Rawal). Their victim is South Africa-based Indian industrialist Vardha Yadav (Kay Kay Menon). With this trio of lovely actors and an interesting premise, you would think director Kunal Deshmukh would deliver, if nothing else, a fun film. As it happens, Deshmukh already shares a certain comfort level with his leading man who played the hero in his other three directorial ventures too: Jannat, Jannat 2 and Tum Mile. Unfortunately, Raja Natwarlal’s screenplay lacks substance, the narrative is too self-conscious with its “look at me, see what a breathtaking scheme I’m pulling off!” tone, and its not-brilliant pace is further slowed down by a lacklustre romance that is pivotal to the plot.

Pakistani actress Humaima Malick – making her Bollywood debut here – plays the love of Raja’s life, a bar dancer who he wishes to rescue from her life of indignities. Malick is an excellent actress; we saw that in the social drama from her home country Bol that was released in theatres here in India. Raja Natwarlal does little with her innate acting talent and tries instead to convince us that she is a hottie – which she is not. There are no sparks flying between her and Emraan either. Besides, those gyrations on the dance floor, the acres of flesh on display, the awkward love-making scene in a bathtub between her and Raja are all tedious and out of place in a film that needed to be constantly on the move.

Worse, songs are abruptly inserted into the proceedings at each point where it seems like things might just speed up as they ought to. Tere Hoke Rahenge in Arijit Singh’s powerful voice starts off well, but dissipates into a slightly generic tune – it’s the best of the film’s musical numbers.

Humaima is not the only one being wasted in Raja Natwarlal. The wonderfully talented Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, familiar to viewers from Raanjhanaa, appears here in an inexplicably teeny role. On the other hand, Deepak Tijori makes his presence felt in a small but significant part as Raja’s partner-in-crime who is murdered halfway through the story. I don’t remember thinking much of him as a young man, but there’s something endearing about Tijori here, chubbier and far more wide-waisted than he was when he danced to Galyan sankli sonyachi in Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin, yet also a more substantial screen presence. It would be nice to see him in more films in bigger roles.

In terms of story and storytelling, Raja Natwarlal suffers from the same lacunae as Bunty Aur Babli did, without that delightful film’s over-riding strengths. It certainly sounded cool, for instance, that the lead pair in BAB intended to sell the Taj Mahal to gullible tourists. But the execution of that scam was weak because it relied not on human greed or the chinks in the armour of a strong, intelligent individual; it relied on the absolute stupidity of the potential target. Here in Raja Natwarlal, Vardha is so foolish, that it’s hard not to wonder how this ass became a billionaire in the first place. He doesn’t have a mega-team to back him, in fact he seems to operate with a solo associate who is a sounding board and not an adviser. Unlike B&B though, Raja Natwarlal does not come armed with Rani Mukerji’s irresistible pizzazz, the chemistry between her and Abhishek Bachchan or between Abhishek and his off-screen dad, the rarely seen nuggets and insights on life in small-town India, Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s fantastic music or the utter perfection of Kajra re.

Besides, Raja Natwarlal has a been-there-seen-that feel to it. Emraan himself has played this character – the golden-hearted rapscallion, the con man who is not such a bad guy after all – with slight variations in most of his films. If you’ve seen him in Shanghai, you know how brilliant he is capable of being and how he ought to be challenging himself more. There are some moments to be enjoyed in his relationship with Rawal’s character Yogi, but it’s not enough to lift the film.

I didn’t hate Raja Natwarlal. I didn’t dislike it intensely either. To be fair, it has a couple of interesting twists here and there, and it’s hard to completely ignore Emraan’s mischievous charm. That being said, the film as a whole is decidedly forgettable. C’mon Mr Hashmi, chuck the cliched characters. Give us another Shanghai.

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
141 minutes

Video courtesy: Effective Communication
“Tere hoke rahenge” song video :

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