Director: Rohit Jugraj
Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Kriti Sanon, Varun Sharma, Ronit Roy, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Seema Pahwa
There will come a day when the ever-affable Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh headlines a solid Hindi film. But today is not that day. His supporting turn in Udta Punjab aside, Dosanjh seems to be suffering from the Brian Lara syndrome; it has constantly been a case of the individual being far better than the films (Phillauri, Welcome to New York, Soorma) he occupies. Arjun Patiala, a goofball comedy that comes across as the well-meaning friend at a party who drunkenly tries his bad puns on everyone to no avail, is yet another turkey that undersells his talent. It’s mostly harmless and unfunny – perhaps 5 of 50 jokes land, an atrocious rate for a film that manages to rope in cameos by Pankaj Tripathi, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Abhishek Banerjee, Sumit Gulati and Seema Pahwa. Four of those (running) jokes involve a door falling down every time someone enters the police station.
It’s even worse when you consider the half-clever premise. It opens with a desperate screenwriter (Banerjee) narrating his new story to a sleazy, old-school producer (Tripathi). The script is called Arjun Patiala. This meta film-within-a-film template essentially lends director Rohit Jugraj the license to make a self-aware parody about Bollywood cliches – a Punjab cop tale with a physical checklist of four villains, videogame-style action sequences, slow-mo introduction tracks, one Sunny Leone item song (“and then for absolutely no reason, there’s an item song”), a ‘hot’ heroine (“she is spunky because she eats paanipuri”), a marriage song, a love song, a sad song and a climax fight. In between, the film cuts back to the storyteller at various stages of his narration. (I’d have paid more just to see Banerjee actually narrating the script to a bored Tripathi in the room).
There have been tons of successful spoofs made with this device around the world. But Arjun Patiala is no viral video. It is a feature-length comedy that somehow manages to embody all the lazy stereotypes it makes fun of. The novelty of the form – a film basically admitting that it’s cheap and silly – feels like an elaborate excuse to justify the makers’ quick-and-dirty sensibilities. The writer-producer insert is simply a different, oversmart way of peddling the same nonsense. Jugraj and his writers waste a massive opportunity; they fail to disguise their limited vision as a deliberate strength. At points, a camera on them making the film might have instead made for better meta footage.
Not unlike Ranveer Singh’s Simmba, Dosanjh’s Arjun often breaks out into ‘90s classics – “Saanson ki Jarurat Hai Jaise” from Aashiqui and “Tu Mile” from Criminal being the most hummable of them. He, and at times Varun Sharma, sound like they are the only ones having fun in a stoner movie (what with the Punjab drug problem). Ronit Roy is mostly asleep, while Kriti Sanon merely exists.
There are glimpses of what might have been the first decent Bollywood comedy in ages – especially in the one scene where Arjun Patiala converses with an underwater ghost in a mirror and hands him a wet cellphone. Yes, this happens. Only, I’m not sure this was supposed to be a funny moment. Neither are the makers.