December 1, 2017
Kapil Sharma, Edward Sonnenblick, Monica Gill, Ishita Dutta, Kumud Mishra, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq, Aanjjan Srivastav, Narrator: Amitabh Bachchan
In a small village in 1920s Punjab, a youth called Mangat Ram (Kapil Sharma) meets a pretty young woman called Sargi (Ishita Dutta), when he comes visiting for a friend’s wedding. Manga, as he is known to everyone in his own home village, is a good-hearted chap, hard-working but unemployed. The two, of course, fall in love. Manga’s search for a job finally ends when a British government official, Mark Daniels (Edward Sonnenblick), hires him as his Man Friday.
While Manga and Sargi negotiate the tricky terrain involved in a romance in a conservative society, elsewhere in the storyline the ruler of the region, Raja Indeevar Singh (Kumud Mishra), is plotting with Daniels to take over Sargi’s village to start a liquor factory. As it happens, Daniels has taken a shine to the king’s good-looking Oxford-educated daughter Shyamali (Monica Gill). India is in the grip of Gandhiji’s call to boycott British goods, and some of the local people led by the Gandhian village elder Lalaji (Aanjjan Srivastav) have thrown themselves into the movement. Manga, meanwhile, has become fond of Daniels, which has driven him to believe that not all Brits are bad. Will he be proved wrong? Will he save his lover’s village by bringing Daniels over to their side, or will his simplicity give way to wiliness in a battle with the powers that be?
The period setting and theme of Firangi bring to mind Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan which again featured poor villagers taking on the might of the Empire through a clash with a single cog in its wheel. The similarities end there. Lagaan was not flawless, but it was brilliant in the way it etched out every single character on Bhuvan’s cricket team in delightful detail, making each of them memorable. Firangi’s uni-dimensional villagers merge one into the other and would have been indistinguishable from each other if it were not for the presence of several gifted and well-known character artistes among them, including Rajesh Sharma as Sargi’s father and Inaamulhaq as Manga’s buddy.
Besides, this is a film of broad brushstrokes and simplistic characterisations, as it ranges a bad rich man and a bad gora against sweet, golden-hearted, poor Indians. It was perhaps foolish to expect nuance from a cinematic venture that chose as its title a disparaging Hindi word for “foreigner”. The production quality of Firangi too is average. And at 160 minutes, it is also just too long for a film with such little depth.
This is not to say that it is a complete write-off. It is not. The cast is pleasant, it has a catchy soundtrack composed by Jatinder Shah, and even when it is indulging in clichés, it does not scream exaggerations at us. Daniels, for instance, is a one-tone villain, yet not of the snarling, fang-baring variety that 1970s-80s Bollywood favoured.
Kapil Sharma, whose claim to fame is his stupendous success as a Hindi television comedian, has been cast to break the mould here – Manga is not a comical character although he is occasionally funny. Sharma is the producer of Firangi, so going against type is obviously a calculated career decision on his part, and not an entirely unwise one at that. He has a naturally likeable personality and is fair enough in the role of a rural simpleton. Ishita Dutta is pretty, Monica Gill is strikingly attractive, and both leave an impression.
Gill’s Shyamali, in fact, is the only character in Firangi with some convention-defying heft in this otherwise paper-thin film.
Edward Sonnenblick playing the evil firangi of the title is the only one in the cast who seems not to even try to rise above the ordinary script. He hams his way through the entire film.
The closing passages of Firangi are completely predictable, except for one that throws up a surprise appearance by a person who contemporary India sorely needs as we are being torn apart by divisive forces. In that scene – naïve yet somehow appealing in its artlessness – writer-director Rajiev Dhingra pulls out the Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogan and reminds us that it was not always the disturbing weapon it has become in the hands of today’s nationalists.
Clearly Dhingra has his heart in the right place. What he also needed to have in place was substantive writing.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
This review was also published on Firstpost:
Poster courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firangi