The first half of Welcome is a mess. It was one of those movies that I had almost walked out of but eventually stayed back because we—my then-girlfriend and I, and this is a potentially controversial confession—had gone for it solely for the purpose of canoodling (those were the days). I remember the date, it was 31st of December, last day of the year. What a great way to bring it down. We had tried it once with Mark Wahlberg’s stoic sniper film Shooter and it was perfect. That wasn’t the case with Welcome. It wasn’t nice at all. A mindless Anees Bazmi comedy isn’t exactly the best thing to make out to; add to that the relationship had begun going downhill. By the interval we had given up—both on the movie and ourselves. There was nothing funny except maybe the scene where Paresh Rawal—playing Akshay Kumar’s extra-careful uncle, who wants to make sure that his nephew doesn’t marry into a family with criminal connections—ends up meeting one such family, headed by the actor Ranjeet and insults them with a line that goes ‘Kapoors! The Criminals!’
But then the film recovers miraculously. The second half of Welcome is a mad, mad one. The story takes turns bordering on the absurd that makes no sense at all but is irresistible as a series of standalone comedic set-pieces. I mean, who can forget the funeral scene—the most epic of them all—that takes place in what looks like a promenade in Dubai where they try to burn a pyre containing Feroz Khan’s son, the psychotic weirdo, Lucky.
Now Lucky is presumed to be dead after he is shot accidentally when he forces himself on Katrina Kaif, and they proceed to dispose of his body before word reaches Khan’s RDX, a much revered crime lord who everyone fears, including Nana Patekar’s Uday Shetty (dreaded gangster himself and boss to Anil Kapoor’s Majnu). I mean, the more I try to explain the scene the more ridiculous it’ll sound, but Lucky is alive, and he escapes so Paresh Rawal has to pretend to be his dead body—but not everybody knows that. This creates all kinds of confusion, at different levels. Akshay is shocked to find out that his mama has sacrificed his life. Akshay’s mami (Supria Karnik)—who the family priest, played by Sanjay Mishra, has dutifully called up to inform that her husband has passed away—is devastated. She reacts like an 80s heroine, knocking her bangles against the dead body and shouting ‘Main barbaad ho gayi’.
Meanwhile, Feroz Khan has no idea why these people are reacting so strongly to his son’s death, so Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor have to cover up—we get priceless lines from RDX, like ‘Lucky ke pyaar ne use paagal bana diya hai’ and ‘This is called True Love’. Before you can question the implausibility of something, you have something funnier within seconds. How much of it was on paper and how much is improvisation is impossible to tell. It’s a 10 minute scene with preposterous situations, with actors at the top of their game: an understated Akshay, a deliciously over-the-top Feroz Khan, with Nana Patekar and Anil Kapoor sharing incredible chemistry. And then you have Paresh Rawal, who lies under the white sheet all along, and who quietly slips out of it before they are supposed to take the body away, leading to more hilarity.
Welcome is not all about just one scene. There is an entire sub-plot involving Nana Patekar’s character fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a film hero, and of Anil Kapoor becoming an artist. It’s all orchestrated by Akshay and Katrina, with a little help from Vijay Raaz, playing a maverick, impulsive fake director who throws out Sunil Shetty (who makes a guest appearance) from his film when the actor creates a fuss over the absence of a “bound script”(a touch that could be a self-reference to the film’s own amazing scriptlessness). Watch out for Patekar’s ‘audition’ scene where he sells vegetables with great conviction, making a great impression on the director (‘Duniya ko bohut bada actor de raha hoon main aaj,’ he declares).
Mallika Sherawat, too, makes an entry—into the rigged auction of Majnu’s artwork where Raaz and Asrani are also present, with fake moustaches and accents, making fake bids—and into his heart. She not only buys Majnu’s imbecile painting—a grinning pony standing on a horse—for a whopping five thousand dollars but also sees in it a metaphor. The plan is to soften Majnu so that Akshay and Katrina end up together.
These two or three things alone make Welcome a masterpiece, in a league of its own, an integral part of the post-2000 canon (I’m kidding) of silly comedies, along with Priyadarshan’s Hungama and Indra Kumar’s Dhamaal. I have seen it so many times that it has become something of a comfort watch. I am happy to report that it still holds. Even minor players like Balu, played by Mushtaq Khan—who tells a made-up story about Uday bhai’s big-heartedness where he first broke his legs and then took him to a hospital, every time he is asked to, as if he has a switch—are still as pleasurable. Guilty? Not one bit.
Welcome is streaming on Amazon Prime Video