Director: Anees Bazmee
Cast: Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Ileana D’Cruz, Arshad Warsi, Urvashi Rautela
Producers: Bhushan Kumar, Abhishek Pathak, Krishan Kumar, Kumar Mangat Pathak
Duration: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Thank You. Welcome. Ready? No Entry. No Problem. Welcome back. Mubarakan. Anees Bazmee’s filmography since the turn of the millennium reads like a year-long monosyllabic Whatsapp chat between two cordial Indian business relatives who detest each other but have to fake niceness and occasional wishes for the sake of their dogs (rare breeds) and shareholders. Pagalpanti is the furious blue-tick message when all pretensions are withdrawn. This is madness.
It’s 2019, and Bazmee – old-school in the manner of jazzy frame rates, swish pans and songs featuring dancers doing Govinda steps in fluorescent costumes at exotic locations while foreigners gawk at this acidic spectacle – is still trying to replicate his Welcome and Singh Is Kinng days. I’m all for harebrained comedies, but even nonsense needs to have a language. Welcome, for instance, had the most unlikely actors being a good sport and playing the fool. Nana Patekar, Anil Kapoor, Feroz Khan, Akshay Kumar. You’re not amused by the plot or situations; you’re amused by the idea of these serious actors losing their inhibitions and doing all sorts of silly stuff. You’re grinning at the fun they seem to be having. You’re chuckling at the audacity of sane-minded adults who leave no stone(r) unturned to entertain. It’s the cinematic equivalent of watching the pensive in-laws resort to naagin-dancing at the wedding. The movie is still every self-respecting Bollywood fan’s guilty pleasure.
But films like Pagalpanti lack that tone. For starters, it heavily features John Abraham, Kriti Kharbanda and Pulkit Samrat. As a result, the Anil Kapoors and Saurabh Shuklas and Arshad Warsis try doubly hard to salvage the stubborn datedness of the Bazmee universe and come across as outdoor-shoot professionals who’ve overdosed on muscle relaxers. Inaamulhaq plays a fraudulent Gujarati multimillionaire named “Niraj Modi” – if nothing, he gets the accent right.
At one point, there’s an entire super-glue set piece in which Kriti Kharbanda’s lips are glued to Pulkit Samrat’s cheeks, with the others stuck in less incendiary positions on a moving truck, and all I could think of is The Human Centipede.
The three-losers-out-to-get-rich “narrative” isn’t exactly original, but one keeps hoping that perhaps the two-doltish-dons thread (featuring Kapoor and Shukla) might invoke the good old Pappu Pager days. I’m not exactly an optimist, and such films – 165 minutes in length, relentless and rampant in their commitment to mediocrity – truly test my condition. At one point, there’s an entire super-glue set piece in which Kriti Kharbanda’s lips are glued to Pulkit Samrat’s cheeks, with the others stuck in less incendiary positions on a moving truck, and all I could think of is The Human Centipede. At another point, I was so bored with the comedy of watching an unfunny comedy that I was mildly relieved by the sight of Urvashi Rautela appearing as an item ghost in a haunted mansion – before she is coupled with Warsi, who seems to be wondering why he wasn’t instead coupled with the more acceptable Ileana D’Cruz. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the ladies. I guess that’s the point. I never thought I’d be attributing this to the conscious imagination of adult writers, but that’s the world we’re in.
In between, there’s a sudden nationalistic surge in dialogue; it’s as if the makers suddenly decide to cash in on John Abraham’s genre because clearly the comedy isn’t working out too well. The closest the film comes to being smart is when the climax features three lions – in England – though I suspect the symbolism is entirely accidental. The big cats look quite confused and cute, as if they were feeling existential like Madagascar’s Alex. (“Is this my purpose in life? To rescue a Bollywood comedy instead of ruling the great wild?”)
There’s not much more I can say about Pagalpanti. It exists. I exist. Baby steps. I’m fine. No problem. Thank you.