July 29, 2016
John Abraham, Varun Dhawan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Saqib Saleem, Akshaye Khanna, Rahul Dev
There is an assumption in most films of the buddy crime/cop genre, that every Jai needs a Veeru, every Munna needs a Circuit and every Detective Inspector Lee needs a wisecracking Detective James Carter who will come through for his partner when push comes to shove.
Director Rohit Dhawan adopts this prototype for the action comedy Dishoom starring his brother Varun Dhawan and John Abraham. Mentioning the relationship between the film’s helmsman and the young actor in the very first paragraph is only fair because although Abraham is the bigger star, it becomes clear at some point that Dishoom is primarily a showcase for Master Dhawan.
Ah well, thankfully he is a charming chap, easy on the eye and always nice to watch ever since he entered our lives in 2012 with Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. In this film he plays the ever-smiling rookie cop Junaid Ansari – an Indian working with the Dubai Police – who finds a reluctant partner in the smouldering, intense, never-smiling Kabir Shergill (Abraham) from a Special Task Force in New Delhi. Kabir has been sent to assist the Dubai Police in saving the star Indian cricketer Viraj Sharma (Saqib Saleem) from his kidnapper/s. Sharma disappeared just days before a crucial India-Pakistan cricket match scheduled to take place in the desert state.
The mystery element in the story is not entirely uninteresting and the humour – when it does rear its head – is effective. Besides, Abraham and Varun have a neat little bromance budding in the film. If Dishoom is not wholly compelling at any point despite all this, it is because too much is left budding and nothing comprehensively explored.
So Varun elicits laughs with his natural comic timing – but there is not enough where that came from. There is some good action, including a helicopter chase of a boat down a large expanse of water, shot lavishly by Ayananka Bose – but there is not enough where that came from. Abraham has a sweetly patronising, fond look in his eyes when he gazes at Varun and the two even get their own mobike-with-a-sidecar in a bow to Sholay – but there is not enough where that male bonding came from either.
It is as if the film’s director and writers (story and screenplay: Rohit himself with Tushar Hiranandani, dialogues: Hussain Dalal) were really kicked about their concept at the start, but lost steam somewhere along the way. This can be the only explanation for why, for instance, they got so many talented supporting artistes in the cast yet no character leaves a lasting impression. Rahul Dev has a fascinating face, but does not get the space he deserves playing the villain’s menacing flunkey in Dishoom. Akshaye Khanna manages to lend notable touches to that villain, but remains a victim of an under-written role. Vijay Raaz makes an inexplicable, just-a-few-minutes-long appearance as an inexplicable person inexplicably called Khabri Chacha. Mona Ambegaonkar – who plays India’s Minister for External Affairs – and her stylist do a rather decent Sushma Swaraj impression, but the minister seems curiously staff-less and entourage-less. And in a film that seeks more from her than merely to cash in on that gorgeous face and stunning body, Jacqueline Fernandez shows us that “ladki mein kuchh toh hai (there’s something about that girl)” as filmwallahs tend to say, including a funny bone that Hindi cinema is yet to explore, but she too operates on the margins of Dishoom.
All of them get less out of this film than Akshay Kumar does in a guest appearance. Playing a character who could easily have been stereotypically camp, Kumar manages to hold back just enough to ensure that he is intentionally over-the-top yet not crude.
The film’s fatal flaw, then, is its failure to persist with any particular idea, concept, theme or thought. There is, for instance, a potentially sweet scene when a bad guy barges into a group of Muslim men at prayer and Junaid stops Kabir from chasing him through the group, saying: “Namaz ki izzat rakh le, khuda hamari rakh lega (Honour the namaz and God will take care of us).” The few seconds of silence that follow are poignant, especially in the context of the Islamophobia pervading the world right now. And then … boom! … something goes wrong, and the entire point is lost, though it is clear that it was not Rohit or his co-writers’ intention to suggest that khuda was not bothered. Team Dishoom, it appears, were unable to sustain their own involvement in the moment.
Even the film’s obvious flag-waving ambitions are erratically executed. It is silly yet amusing when a star Indian cricketer smashes the ball all over a stadium for sixes and fours in an international match, just minutes after he was soundly walloped on a shoulder he had previously dislocated during a game. Amusing because the Saare Jahan Se Achchha playing in the background as he walks on to the field is no doubt meant to emotionally wave aside our powers of reasoning, and so, rather than be irritated, it is possible to chuckle over that scene.
When the Minister utters this line in the film’s opening minutes, “Duniya ke kisi bhi koney mein koi bhi ek Hindustani ko haath nahin laga sakta hai (Let no one dare to harm a hair on the head of any Indian in any corner of the globe),” it holds out the promise of much wolf-whistle-worthy, chest-thumping patriotism, but it is downright ridiculous to witness her addressing the Dubai Police like a condescending Aunty and to see Kabir bulldozing them as though India – not the United States – is the world’s Big Brother.
Half-heartedness pervades every department of the film. And so while the camera delivers some imposing shots of a Morocco mountainside during a bike chase scene, most all interior settings of the film look glaringly fake, particularly that underground den of vice in the fictional country Abudin.
Pritam’s music too is a mixed bag. While Sau tarah ke is infectiously upbeat, Jaaneman aah accompanying the closing credits is embarrassingly tuneless.
That closing track – shot with Varun and guest star Parineeti Chopra – epitomises the film’s problems. Abraham and Fernandez are curiously absent. Who is Dishoom’s protagonist? Is it meant to be a comedy? Is it meant to be an all-out action flick as you might assume from the title? What went wrong with this project is a mystery, but it is sad that the film is less than the sum of its many noteworthy parts.
Rohit Dhawan debuted with the unrelentingly funny Desi Boyz in which he managed to whip up bowlfuls of chemistry between his leading men Akshay Kumar and John Abraham. In Dishoom, Abraham looks as if he switched off halfway through the project as did most of the film’s team.
Result: Dishoom is a sporadically engaging, intermittently funny, yet always insubstantial film.
Rating (out of five): **
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dishoom