July 28, 2017
Anil Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah, Pavan Malhotra, Ileana D’Cruz, Neha Sharma, Athiya Shetty, Rahul Dev, Karan Kundra, Sanjay Kapoor
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been longing for a silly, fun yet not lazily offensive or gross Hindi comedy for a while. Too many Bollywood writers and directors have for too long now resorted to certain IQ-averse formulae to tickle the audience’s funny bone.
One, rhyming dialogue. What on earth is that about?
Two, jokes directed at the marginalised and disadvantaged. It takes a particularly slothful and insensitive kind of creative bankruptcy to laugh at victims of rape and domestic violence, persons with disabilities (PwDs), LGBT persons and others who you assume do not dominate your audience and/or control most purse strings at turnstiles. Himmat aur dimaag hai toh find ways to mock rapists, wife beaters, homophobes and sarkari afsars who are apathetic to PwDs.
Three, crudeness. You know, wisecracks about butt cracks, balls, boobs, potty and gas emissions from the posterior.
At his worst, director Anees Bazmee has been guilty of many of the above crimes. For proof, suffer No Problem, Thank You and Ready. At his best though, Bazmee has done what David Dhawan and the much-maligned Rohit Shetty at their best have done: provide us with comic relief from our daily struggles, without making us feel foolish or tapping into our basest instincts.
Hedunnit with the screwball comedy Welcome in 2007 and Singh Is Kiing in 2008. His new film Mubarakan is not exactly a match, but it resides on the same plane as those two: slapstick, crazy, over-the-top, even loud, yet not cheap, lewd or loud-for-the-sake-of-being-loud.
The starting point of this comedy of errors is Kartar Singh (Anil Kapoor), whose brother and bhabi die in a car accident one night, leaving behind twin infant sons. Twins have long been a favourite with writers of farce, William Shakespeare being the most exalted of them. Kartar is overwhelmed by the job of bringing up the kids, so he hands Karan over to his London-based big sister Jeeto (Ratna Pathak Shah) and Charan to his Baldev pra (Pavan Malhotra) in Punjab.
The babies grow up to be the strapping Arjun Kapoor, both bearded, though Charan is turbanned (did I mention they are Sikhs?) while Karan is not. That difference helps the confounded viewer only partly, since the confusion in Mubarakan arises not just from the boys’ identical looks, but also from the fact that Karan loves Sweety Gill (Ileana D’Cruz), Charan loves Nafisa Qureshi (Neha Sharma) and neither has the courage to disclose their relationship to their respective adoptive parents, as a result of which each Mummyji and Papaji in the reckoning fixes up their betaji with another woman, causing Kartar to think up ridiculous solutions to the mess, that make things worse – of course – leading to a fight between Charan’s Buaji and Karan’s Chachaji.
(Pause, while the critic catches her breath)
Angry words pile up on angry words and misunderstandings pile up on misunderstandings until, as in real life, the original cause of the tension matters less than the egos involved.
Also in the fray is Binkle (Athiya Shetty), daughter of a rich man called Sandhu (Rahul Dev).
Binkle Sandhu. Teehee. Yes, like Binkle from Enid Blyton’s tales of two naughty rabbits named Binkle and Flip. Punjabis and Malayalis have certainly cornered the world’s weirdest names.
There’s more than Binkle’s name to evoke laughter here though. The first half of Mubarakan is unrelentingly hilarious. Bazmee does not sustain that momentum post interval – because he stretches it needlessly to 156 minutes – but Anil Kapoor as Kartar is such an uninhibited riot that it is tempting to forgive the film its elongation. The second half does not have enough of Kapoor, but what we do get of him is worth the price of five tickets.
His nephew Arjun effectively conveys the difference between the cocky Karan and his more diffident brother Charan, though the uncle and his young female co-stars manage to steal some of his thunder. To be fair to Arjun, the ladies play more interesting characters.
It is nice to see the beautiful Ileana D’Cruz evolving as a comedian with Mubarakan. Equally enjoyable is Neha Sharma as the fiery though less charming Nafisa who, by the way, is in a profession rarely assigned to Hindi film women – she’s a lawyer. The only dull performance comes from Athiya Shetty as Binkle, although to be fair – again – Binkle herself is a dullard.
Most Bollywood comedies in the past two decades have offered better-written parts to male actors and given primacy to their characters, while women have inhabited the sidelines. Mubarakan is different in the sense that among the younger lot, it offers more exciting roles to the women than the men, and also because it is an ensemble film in the true sense of the term.
Kapoor Sr, Ratna Pathak Shah and Pavan Malhotra have the benefit of the additional charisma that age lends to already charismatic artistes. When Kartar, Jeeto and Baldev are on screen in Mubarakan, it is impossible to look at anyone else.
The gifted Malhotra has not yet got his due – in terms of roles and recognition – from mainstream Bollywood, so it is a joy to see him rocking a substantial part in an out-and-out masala flick like Mubarakan. Also a pleasure is the sight of Shah in prominent roles in film after film in the last couple of years. Her uproariously maudlin and over-sensitive Jeeto follows the sharply contrasting Leela in Lipstick Under My Burkha, released just days before Mubarakan.
Is there stereotyping in this film? Of course there is, but although Mubarakan plays up a particular comical view of Sikhs and Punjabis, the fact is it laughs affectionately with a community, not patronisingly or contemptuously at them. More important, despite occupying that space, it does away with many of Bollywood’s more nauseating Punjabi/Sikh clichés. No one, for instance, says “balle balle” with each breath or indulges in identity-centric buffoonery. This choice is worth far more than the mandatory tribute to Sikh bravery you find as compensation in most such Bollywood comedies (and here too in a song), designed to appease the Sikh clergy that has proved to be disappointingly touchy and nosy in the past decade.
One episode in the film does briefly seem headed in the direction of “baarah baj gaye” territory – yup, that tired joke targeting Sardarjis – but thankfully it does not go there. It takes skill to write entertaining, relaxing rubbish without being regressive, and except for fleeting taunts directed a couple of times at wives and at Kartar’s singleton status, the rest is surprisingly okay.
In Kartar’s beleaguered gora sidekick Jolly (played by American actor Alexx O’Neill), the film even cocks a snook at that old Hollywood staple: the white leading man’s wacky black flunkey.
(Spoiler alert) The most intriguing aspect of Mubarakan is the inclusion of Nafisa Qureshi. When Hindu-Muslim tensions are at an all-time high in India, when the heightened ‘love jihad’ campaign has vitiated inter-community romances, the insertion of a Hindu-Muslim love angle in slapstick fare is curious, especially because of its unsatisfactory resolution in the film. To me it seems like Bazmee & Co chickened out, fearing going the whole hog in these disturbing times, though I guess there could also be another interpretation. Without revealing details, let’s just say that the conclusion could, alternatively, perhaps be seen as a clever act of subversion that makes the point: you can put it off all you want, or pretend it is not happening, but it will and it is. I leave you to your own interpretation. Irrespective of its intended meaning, Nafisa’s final scene is awkwardly handled, hurriedly done and the worst part of this film. (Spoiler alert ends)
Be that as it may, and despite the considerable dip in pace in the second half, Bazmee has delivered to a great extent with Mubarakan. The film does not strain the viewer’s intellect too much yet does not demand that we – to quote a reviewer cliché – “leave our brains at home”.
At one point, Kartar has a chuckle at the expense of 60-year-old Anil Kapoor’s much-vaunted eternal youth, when he tells a group of youngsters: “Arrey main kehta hoon, goli maaron un buddhon ko. Baat aapas mein hi rakhte hain, yooouthh mein”? (I say, to hell with the oldies. Let’s keep this secret to ourselves, the youth.) The star is clearly allowing the film to laugh at him, just as Mubarakan is clearly mocking itself and its entire genre. This is intelligent silliness.
Rating (out of five stars): **3/4
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: IMDB