June 16, 2017
Riteish Deshmukh, Vivek Anand Oberoi, Rhea Chakraborty, Sahil Vaid, Bhuvan Arora, Vikram Thapa, Upendra Limaye, Cameos by Baba Sehgal and Vikram Gokhale
Considering the reputation Riteish Deshmukh and Vivek Oberoi have built for themselves in the comedy genre, it might be natural to assume that any collaboration between them would be filled with rhyming jokes, crass wisecracks about butts, breasts, farts and faeces, and other clichéd devices used by creators of low-grade slapstick humour. Bank Chor is a good example of why you should not pre-judge a film based on reputations. Far from being a crude comedy, writer-director Bumpy’s second film is pretty serious stuff, a seemingly innocuous comic thriller that says a lot while appearing to do little beyond trying to amuse and wow the audience at a very basic level – like the film, there is more to this sentence than meets the eye for now.
Bank Chor begins with three idiots who ain’t no Ocean’s eleven, botching up their attempt to rob a branch of the fictitious Bank of Indians (BOI) in Mumbai. The name at first sounds like a funny take on existing Indian bank names, but like most things in this film, it means something beyond its face value. This truly is a BANK OF INDIANS, housing and safeguarding our collective national intelligence, self-preservation skills and survival instincts.
So Champak (Deshmukh) and his accomplices Gulab and Genda (played by Bhuvan Arora and Vikram Thapa) look like they will not get anything right as they try to loot this BOI. The bumbling fools are further slowed down by CBI officer Amjad Khan (Oberoi) who unexpectedly arrives on the spot to deal with what should have just been a case for the Mumbai Police.
What’s the CBI doing at a simple bank heist? Ah, that would be telling.
Also in this mix are a now dead investigative journalist (Vikram Gokhale), Maharashtra’s corrupt Home Minister (Upendra Limaye) and a well-meaning reporter (Rhea Chakraborty) among the media crowd milling outside the bank.
The first half of the film is devoted to the central trio’s stupidity combined with the Mumbai-versus-Delhi and intra-NCR rivalry in their group. The barbs going back and forth between them are worthy of laughs because Bumpy and his team of co-writers here play on stereotypes without perpetuating them and gently mock those who do. There are, for instance, swipes aplenty directed at netas who have encouraged resentment and violence against ‘outsiders’ in Mumbai in the past decade. When a Mumbaikar in the film asks a Dilliwaala to get out of the city, the gentleman shoots back: If Delhiites return to Delhi, who will do the work here in Mumbai? Touché.
(The writing, by the way, has been credited as follows: story: Baljeet Singh Marwah and Bumpy; dialogues: Ishita Moitra Udhwani; screenplay: Marwah, Bumpy, Omkar Sane and Udhwani.)
The parochial friction between the accomplices holds up even when the plot starts to drag – or at least it seems to drag, until it emerges (or at least that is what my generous soul suggests) that even that lax pace was probably deliberate, designed to lull us into a stupor as nothing much happens on screen. And then it does. Post-interval Bank Chor revs up, there are new developments at every turn, followed by an unexpected climax. The speed at which the story progresses leaves little time to dwell on loopholes and question marks over the modus operandi employed by the villains.
If this was all there was to it, Bank Chor would have ended up being a moderately interesting, harmless entertainer. There is more though. By pointedly and repeatedly emphasising the religious identity of certain players in the saga, Bumpy and his team add a mischievous layer to their entire storyline, making their film not just about good people in conflict with evil, or ordinary citizens besting corrupt corporates and netas, but also about the ‘good Hindu’, an Aam Aadmi, overcoming the ‘bad Muslim’ (complete with Urdu-laden dialogues, a background from Faizabad and a sadistic delight in tearing into living flesh). That the ‘bad Muslim’ is used by the powers that be to exploit their own people does not make it better. Oh wily Muslim and Enemies Within, do not take the ‘good Hindu’ for granted or be misled by his surface naivete, says Bank Chor’s facile symbolism.
For the record, to counter such objections from cynics, the film throws a ‘good Muslim’ into the blend and gets the Aam Aadmi a.k.a. the Common Man to let on in the end that his name was not what he claimed it was at first and that a name, in fact, is irrelevant.
It is not, dear Team Bank Chor. Names lead to assumptions about human beings, particularly in the communally charged atmosphere pervading our nation right now. So in case you claim innocence in this matter, in case you insist that you genuinely did not intend to convey any point subliminally, then let me throw back at you a line that a crucial antagonist in the film directs at a Mr Nice Guy: innocence (maasoomiyat) is the biggest problem in this world. The unthinking liberal, if that is what you are, often does more harm than the committed communalist.
As far as performances go, the three leads do a decent job of playing off each other’s crookishness, though Bhuvan Arora and Vikram Thapa suffer the effects of shallow characterisation – just because they play Champak/Deshmukh’s sidekicks, does not mean they should have been half-heartedly written. Vivek Anand Oberoi nee Viveik Oberoi nee Vivek Oberoi is effective. To re-capture the intensity he brought to his memorable debut performance aeons back in Company, he will need a screenplay to match. Still, it is a relief to see him in a role that does not require the cringe-inducing tomfoolery of the Masti series.
Rhea Chakraborty as a mediaperson is so-so, though her wardrobe by Maxima Basu – a tight pencil skirt made of leather, no less, a noodle-strapped top and stilettos – is laughably unreal for a working journalist sweating it out on the streets of Mumbai. Seriously, Bollywood, would some research hurt?
The stand-out cast member is Sahil Vaid as one of the hostages in the bank. Vaid here reveals his versatility in a role vastly different from his calling cards so far, Poplu in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Som in Badrinath Ki Dulhania. The rest of the supporting players are fair enough.
Bank Chor is produced by Yash Raj Films’ youth banner Y-Films. Bumpy made his directorial debut with an earlier Y-Films offering, Luv Ka The End (2011), starring Shraddha Kapoor and Taaha Shah. That one was an occasionally engaging but mostly dull affair. Despite its many misses, Bank Chor has more verve. Whatever little progress Bumpy has made as a filmmaker, however, is far outweighed by the insidious messaging of this film which cashes in on the prejudices that wrack Indian society today below a mask of good intentions, comedy and thrills. Sorry young man, you do not get to claim maasoomiyat here.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
120 minutes 9 seconds
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: Yash Raj Films
Vivek Oberoi photograph courtesy: Raindrop Media