Sunday, November 9, 2014


Release date:
November 7, 2014
Abhishek Sharma


Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor, Piyush Mishra, Lisa Haydon, Akshay Kumar, Cyrus Broacha

The kindest thing to be said about The Shaukeens is that it isn’t icky, as the theme might suggest. I say this despite the fact that the camera zooms in on an overweight Piyush Mishra’s crotch and bum in undies in one scene. Having survived that image, I’m here to tell you about this tale of three horny old men who travel abroad to get some action between the sheets.

The film is a remake of Basu Chatterjee’s 1982 comedy Shaukeen starring Ashok Kumar, A.K. Hangal and Utpal Dutt as the elderly trio. Playing their parts in 2014 are Anupam Kher, Annu Kapoor and Piyush Mishra, with Akshay Kumar and Lisa Haydon stepping into the roles – not carbon copies – originally played by Mithun Chakraborty and Rati Agnihotri. Over three decades later, Rati is back in the remake, this time in a tiny role as the wife of one of the old guys.

Laali (Kher), KD (Kapoor) and Pinky (Mishra) are friends in Delhi. Laali is married, KD is a bachelor and Pinky is widowed. The three spend their days fantasising about young women. They meet the sexy Ahana Bhasin (Haydon) and movie star Akshay Kumar (meaning, Akshay playing himself) when they travel to Mauritius on a quest for female flesh. 

Considering the quantum of acting talent at his disposal, it’s disappointing that director Abhishek Sharma (Tere Bin Laden) delivers uniformly flaccid scenes with the old guys. The Shaukeens picks up only when Akki and Ahana are in the picture either together or separately. Two things about the male superstar are revealed here. First, that he knows how to poke fun at himself. Second, that Akshay is a first-rate comic who wastes himself in fourth-rate comedies like Entertainment and Khiladi 786. The film’s mockery of his career so far and his desperate effort to impress an oily-haired National Award-winning Bengali director are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

What is also revealed is that Haydon’s turn as a feisty woman-about-town in Vikas Bahl’s Queen earlier this year was no flash in the pan. In The Shaukeens, she is just as good playing a ditsy Facebook-obsessed designer whose idea of creativity is to fashion a pendant from a dead frog’s eyes and make other equally horrendous accessories and clothes from bizarre raw material.

The Shaukeens’ screenplay is by Tigmanshu Dhulia, director of Paan Singh Tomar, the Saheb Biwi aur Gangster films and 2003’s utterly beautiful though unheralded Haasil. Dhulia appears conscious not to be overtly offensive towards women – after all, lustful old men do exist in the real world and the ones in this story are punished by the script every time they misbehave. However, he seems not to realise that it’s possible to be funny with this theme even while avoiding misogyny. Forget the original Shaukeen. Think instead of the old American serial Golden Girls and especially that one particular episode in which one of the elderly protagonists is asked out by an attractive young man; she thinks he is romantically interested in her, only to discover that in fact he’s missing home and seeking her company in this new town because she reminds him of his mother. Ouch! Right? Yet the episode was comical and poignant rolled in one. It took the theme of ageing and loneliness, infused it with humour, and tickled us without being either sexist or ageist. How could Dhulia, one of Bollywood’s best, fail to strike that delicate balance? The Shaukeens’ treatment of its senior citizens’ lives is plain dull.

It’s another matter that Bollywood considers male infidelity a source of humour (think No Entry and numerous other films on the subject) but you’d be hard pressed to find a comedy on female infidelity. Oh no no, a Hindi film on a wife straying into another man’s arms would perforce be a ‘thinking’ film! As for an old woman committing adultery, such a film would most likely lead to nationwide protests, for how on earth can we accept that a woman in her twilight years might want companionship, or worse, might actually enjoy – blasphemy of blasphemies!!! – sex?

The girls in Golden Girls were all either divorced or widowed. Obviously, if one of them was married, then her romantic adventures would have required a different sort of deft handling. Here in The Shaukeens, the fact that Laali’s wife has gone all religious on him is clearly meant to be a justification for his cheating ways. Imagine a gender reversal being treated so lightly by Bollywood! Laali shows no remorse, and we are supposed to unquestioningly accept him and his lecherous pals as good guys. Because boys will be boys? Or as Mulayam Singh Yadav said in a graver context that reveals the same mentality, “Ladke hai, galti ho jaati hai”?

So yes, Bollywood bares its gender prejudice not just through the films it makes but also the ones it chooses not to make. That being said, it’s only fair to point out that the interactions of the three old men with Ahana never cross a certain line, and are not repulsive in the way one could expect them to be if this film had been directed and written by the guys who made Grand Masti. 

Sadly, that’s not enough. The Shaukeens lacks depth, energy or pizzazz. The scenes with Akshay and Ahana – especially the ones with Akshay – are stomach-achingly riotous and yet thoughtful, but she enters the picture rather late, he appears even later at interval time and is in the film only in an extended cameo anyway. That he had limited days on this project is evident from a scene in which he severely mispronounces Ahana’s surname but seems not to have had time for a retake.

Still, The Shaukeens’ strength remains the sub-plot involving Akshay, his search for professional fulfillment, his greedy manager (Cyrus Broacha), his unimaginative director (Manoj Joshi) and an exploitative assistant director. That segment takes so many candid swipes at Bollywood that it deserved a full-fledged film of its own. Likewise, The Shaukeens is surprisingly insightful in its characterisation of Ahana and her generation’s need for constant affirmation from the social media. Wish as much thought had gone into the writing of the three oldies.

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
125 minutes

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