Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Release date:
November 22, 2019
Anees Bazmee

Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Ileana D’Cruz, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Kriti Kharbanda, Saurabh Shukla, Brijendra Kala, Urvashi Rautela, Inaamulhaq, Zakir Hussain

Pagalpanti (Madness) is what happens when Anees Bazmee gets a couple of good ideas in the middle of a creative drought, but does not quite know what to do with them. Bazmee is not someone who can be dismissed as a mindless, crude comic in the league of Sajid Khan. He is, after all, the director who served up Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar in top goofy form in Welcome (2007), and brought a degree of freshness to the stereotypical Bollywood representation of boisterous Punjabis in Singh Is Kinng (2008). Just two years back, he did a ripping job with the Anil Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz starrer Mubarakan.

Pagalpanti is not Bazmee’s worst. Gosh no, that distinction goes to No Problem. But it is not a patch on his funnest works either.

Bazmee appears to have been struggling when he kicked off Pagalpanti. Nothing else can explain why he and his co-writers Rajiv Kaul and Praful Parekh chose to rehash for this film so many elements from successful Hindi slapstick comedies of the past decade. For a start, they picked a hero who is a ‘panauti’, just like Akshay Kumar’s character in the first Housefull. They added to that a mansion housing a beautiful female ghost, as in Great Grand Masti, going so far as to cast that film’s bhootni, Urvashi Rautela, in this one too. And if stampeding camels wreaked havoc in the climax of Welcome Back, here that job falls on the shoulders of a trio of lions.

The screenplay does nothing to any of these tropes to elevate them to the level of tributes. Even the twist in the bhootni’s tale does not serve that purpose. In between the writers do have a couple of good ideas, but those and the ensemble cast that includes some fine actors are all overshadowed by the overall lack of novelty in the story and treatment of Pagalpanti.

Raj Kishore (John Abraham), Junky (Arshad Warsi) and Chandu (Pulkit Samrat) are friends and failed business partners. Raj is supposed to be an unlucky guy who destroys the fortunes of all those around him too, but his buddies stay with him. When their paths cross with the Indian gangster brothers Raja Sahab (Saurabh Shukla) and Wi-Fi (Anil Kapoor) in London, these two dreaded men choose to hire them despite knowing that Raj Kishore’s mere presence can spell doom in their lives. No credible reason is offered for their decision.

What follows is a series of financial disasters, chases, exploding cars, the escalation of Raja and Wi-Fi’s long-running feud with fellow gangsters Tulli and Bulli, and a new-found enmity with a crook called Niraj Modi (you read the name right) who cheated Indian banks of thousands of crores before fleeing the country.

That last chap is played by Inaamulhaq, styled very precisely to look like the actual Nirav Modi. The obvious allusion to a high-profile real-life fugitive is interesting at first, until the scenario wears thin once it becomes clear that the writers do not know where to go with what started out as a clever move.

There is a point at which humour unexpectedly makes way for patriotic fervour, when Wi-Fi is given a passionate lecture about love for the country (meaning, India – of course – and not the United Kingdom which he has made his home). Just when it seems like Team Pagalpanti may be getting subversive and having a giggle at the expense of Bollywood’s hyper-nationalist brigade who have been churning out loud deshbhakti films in the past three years or so, they chicken out, and the scene ends tamely. This particular passage is unwittingly amusing in its effort not to appear too fixated on its desh prem, especially since it is clearly fixated on the same market as those aforementioned films.

It is always nice to watch Kapoor and Warsi letting their hair down, and they do manage to extract some laughs in Pagalpanti’s best moments. Years of facing the camera have given even Abraham a certain comfort with comedy that he did not initially have, and that too is nice to see. The younger members of the cast acquit themselves reasonably well, although they have not that much to do. Besides, there is only so much that actors can achieve in the face of lack of innovation.

The one effective aspect of Pagalpanti is that it continuously laughs at its genre. It does this primarily through the medium of Junky (Warsi) who rhymes words while he speaks and delivers lines rather than having normal conversations with people – each time he says something he is particularly impressed with, he expresses disbelief at his own smartness. Later, when Raj Kishore vomits out a monologue, he too responds to his own words in a similar fashion.

It is hard to be totally angry with a self-mocking film, especially considering that Bazmee manages to run through 165 minutes without a single wisecrack about rape, disability, farts and faeces, which have been favoured fodder in Hindi film comedies for some years now. But not being angry with a film, not disliking it is not the same as enjoying it. Pagalpanti is sporadically entertaining, but for the most part it feels stale and ordinary. Even the appearance of a Méhul Choksi lookalike in the end cannot lift the film out of its plainness. References to current events work if you have a take on them. Pagalpanti has none.

Rating (out of five stars): 1.5

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
152 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

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