Director: Syed Ahmed Afzal
Cast: Ranveer Kumar, Sandeepa Dhar, Anurita Jha
Director Syed Ahmed Afzal has been an interesting filmmaker. He started with the not-entirely-idiotic, semi-novel Jackky Bhagnani starrer, Youngistaan (2014). But it was his second film that really intrigued me. The overwrought Karnal-based blood-theft mafia drama, Laal Rang, was centered upon the roguish kingpin of the illegal trade, Shankar. In one of his best career performances, Randeep Hooda follows the typical crook-to-savior protagonist graph, character transition et al, by primarily playing the redemptive mentor to a hot-blooded young couple. Afzal reuses this reluctant-Robin-Hood template in his latest, Baaraat Company.
This time, a newcomer named Ranveer Kumar essays the role of a bullying second-generation family-business owner named Imaan Singh in the myopic heart of Lucknow. The nature of this business, of course, is what forms the premise of the film: He is the destroyer of love, secret court marriages, natural feelings, facial expressions and elopers, and carries on his old-school grandfather’s legacy of executing large-scale arranged weddings without any “hitches”.
There are a lot of problems with Baaraat Company – not least that it’s unfunny when the background music thinks it is funny, and that it’s boring when the six screenplay writers think they’re creating an innovative throwback to the dark ages.
For instance, he and his merry gang of unnecessary misfits (a vertically challenged gangster named Diljale, a bearded “smooth criminal” named Jackson and a hammy transsexual named Rani) beat the living daylights out of grooms who develop cold feet, and abduct male lovers who represent a threat to the traditional practice of family-designed unions. He basically makes a living out of breaking young hearts – an accessible rom-com version of “honour killings” without the actual killing.
All is hunky dory until – you guessed it – he becomes the people he is trained to hate. He falls for Mehek (Sandeepa Dhar), a wildlife photographer (establishment: fleeting photograph of a tiger on her DSLR) who is in town to help her best friend Yasmeen (Anurita Jha) secretly marry, and elope with, a nice hostel-residing Hindu boy. At the same time, Imaan must transform, mentor and protect the symbolic Yasmeen-Akash union because what is a Lucknow movie without forced communal commentary?
There are a lot of problems with Baaraat Company – not least that it’s unfunny when the background music thinks it is funny, and that it’s boring when the six screenplay writers think they’re creating an innovative throwback to the dark ages. So many scenes are designed to have a punch-line moment, with an extended stay on faces and dialogues, but they just come across as the mood equivalent of that awkward sociopath at a party unable to communicate with real humans. There is virtually no sense of comic or dramatic timing.
There are aggressively stupid characters who don’t belong within the realms of civilization: a court magistrate who has a habit of popping out his tongue like a toad (the sound effect, though, depicts this to be a rattlesnake trait), and a Superintendent (dimpled Roadies’ export Vishal Karwal) who plays Mehek’s fiancé with a penchant for annoying unconditional nobility. He is a high-functioning Subodh (from Dil Chahta Hai) of sorts. In fact, Karwal looks like a fictitious snapshot of nepotism – a chocolate-faced kid who might have inherited his father’s hallowed police position.
Next is what – a son inheriting his dead father’s Prime Minister post?
But perhaps the biggest problem is its lead, Ranveer Kumar, who unwittingly makes us realize how excellent Hooda’s Haryanvi avatar – and the lively texture of Karnal – was, in Laal Rang. This chap looks like a fair-and-lovely wax-figure version of Puru Rajkumar and Shiney Ahuja’s illegitimate adult offspring – complete with all the emotive elasticity of John Abraham’s left eyebrow. This might sound mean, but think about folks like Mehek who must fall in love with this tree against all odds (Manglik, much?).
This is not to say a better actor would have made this a watchable experience. Except for Anurita Jha (who was great in last year’s Jugni), nobody seems to have gotten the memo about how depressingly by-the-book and bland this “hinterland” coming-of-age tale is. She tries, and partially succeeds because the limelight isn’t on her. The limelight is on poor Sandeepa Dhar instead, whose excessive lip-gloss is bright enough to cause random lens flare effects.
On the brighter side, at least Bollywood’s bad movies are getting a little better. The standards are not that hopeless: the out-of-focus shots have decreased, the dubbing isn’t so jarring, I don’t feel suicidal and the whole home-video tone has made way for some fleeting geographical/cultural tidbits. Baaraat Company is that kind of technically competent bad movie. If it were a character in its own environment, it’d have been a fair-skinned orphan who has absolutely no bearing on the convoluted plot.