The Housefull universe couldn’t care less about being politically correct. It is a celebration of humour that many progressive cine-goers thought we left in the 80s, mining giggles from sexist plots that rummage through jokes at the expense of women, queers, differently abled people, and the black community.
But the thing is lechery (Akshay Kumar in an interview did say Housefull 2 has “love, letch, and lots of adventure”) works commercially; the box office numbers betray the willingness of people to engage with such content despite its polarizing, problematic nature.
Gearing up to the release of the fourth film in the Housefull franchise, we look back at the history of political incorrectness that the series has minted for box office collections across the country.
- Boman Irani in the first film of the franchise calls a black woman “Shurpanakha”, the mythical character from Ramayana, often told to have dark skin, and who gets her nose chopped off, a symbol of humiliation and loss of beauty.
In the third installment of the film too, Irani plays a rich billionaire who only has black women serving food and wine. “Aye Margaret, sausages sab ka bada ghumao-ne” he pronounces to one of the waitresses in front of everyone. Make of this what you will.
- Portrayal of gays as oversexed disruptors of family? Check! We have Irani who is convinced his son-in-law is a homosexual, shacking up with the servant boy whom he has caught speaking lasciviously on the phone to men. Here he tries to imagine what would happen when they are asked to share a bed.
This is right before Boman Irani points at Arjun Rampal and screeches “Tu bhi to homo hai.” Shudder.
- In Housefull 3, all three heroines, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nargis Fakhri, Lisa Haydon, at one point are called “maal” by the leading hero, Akshay Kumar.
This is before Akshay Kumar’s characters turned to social issues, trying to sell us menstrual pads, and women empowerment. However, Housefull 4’s song just dropped where the actors croon “Ek chumma toh banta hai.” Irony is not the kind of humour they were going for, I guess.
- In Housefull 3, all the lead actors, Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, Abhishek Bachchan pretend to be differently abled, and over the course of the film, their disabilities are swapped. When Akshay Kumar wheels in to meet his potential father-in-law, he touches his feet and says “Wheel pauna papaji.” It’s funny. But it’s not hard to see why it isn’t either. Able-ist humour is part of this universe.
- Add to the mix a rape joke that belongs to the rank of toxic Whatsapp forwards. I remember this as a joke we used to, as problematic teens, crack and laugh at when one of our friends told their dream job was to be a therapist.
Now, here is the confusing part. Does laughing at sexist jokes, acknowledging its sexism, make one sexist?
I thoroughly enjoyed Sadashiv Amrapurkar’s role as the evil transwoman peddling in prostitution in 1991’s Sadak. It’s not hard to see how problematic it is, depicting transwomen as pimps in a time when there was close to no representation of trans people in the arts. It was a deliciously hammy performance; it was also memorably awful. How do we categorize such a reaction? As transphobic?
The Housefull franchise is one that many enjoyed, many reviled, but interestingly there also many who laughed uncomfortably, knowing fully well that the humour is offensive. But offensive humour is humour too. Or is it?
In that sense, it is hard to place Housefull, a series that places its audience somewhere between the humoured and the horrified.