Director: Farhad Samji
Writers: Sajid Nadiadwala, Farhad Samji, Tushar Hiranandani, Sparsh Khetarpal, Tasha Bhambra and Zeishan Quadri
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Kriti Sanon, Arshad Warsi, Pankaj Tripathi, Jacqueline Fernandez
Cinematographer: Gavemic U. Ary
Editor: Charu Shree Roy
In 2014, writer-director Karthik Subbaraj gave us the fabulously inventive, superbly funny, genre-melding Jigarthanda – a film about an aspiring director who gets embroiled in the life of a dangerous Madurai gangster named Assault Sethu, who he wants to make a film about. It has taken eight years for the story to find its way to Hindi cinema, which is just as well because Bollywood has mangled it beyond recognition. Bachchhan Paandey is a loud, joyless bore.
The story and screenplay have been adapted by producer Sajid Nadiadwala, who also makes a brief appearance in the film. The additional screenplay and dialogue credits also include director Farhad Samji, Tushar Hiranandani, Sparsh Khetarpal, Tasha Bhambra and Zeishan Quadri. So many creative inputs have resulted in a bizarrely confused film. To begin with, Bachchhan Paandey needs its leading man Akshay Kumar to be hero, comedian and villain. We see him brutally and indiscriminately murder people. His introduction scene has him burning a journalist to death. But the screenplay provides him with not one but two romantic tracks and even a backstory to explain how he came to have both – a stone eye and a stone heart.
The writers also change the gender of the filmmaker – in Jigarthanda, the role was played by Siddharth. Here we get Kriti Sanon as Myra. Myra travels to the UP badlands alone, wearing artfully torn jeans and trendy black nail polish. This switch results in a Bachchhan-Myra romance. I should add here that Kriti is 31 and Akshay, 54. This film also has Seema Biswas playing Akshay's mother. According to the internet, Seema is 57. Which means her character would have given birth when she was three! Last week, in Radhe Shyam, the 53-year-old Bhagyashree was playing mom to the 42-year-old Prabhas. So once again, I must ask, who is making these casting decisions?
Seema is mostly relegated to the background, which broke my heart because this formidable actor once played an iconic badass herself – Phoolan Devi in Bandit Queen. The narrative isn't much kinder to Jacqueline Fernandez who plays Sophie, Bachchhan's girlfriend. For reasons I didn't fully comprehend, their meet-cute happens at the Pushkar mela in Rajasthan and somehow Bachchhan becomes her guide. They sing a romantic number in which, at one point, they are standing in front of waterfalls and he takes out a snake from her pants. But the good times don't last.
In Jigarthanda, Sethu was actually terrifying in his rage and brutality. In one scene, he explained: Should live like a king with pride and honour. For that to happen, do anything, kill anyone. This is our policy. But Sethu was also childlike in his vanity, his impetuousness and his desire to become a leading man. Bobby Simha was so good in the role that he won a National Award for it.
Akshay unfortunately is saddled with a sloppy script that is too afraid to take chances with him. The actor obviously is willing to go out on a limb – through most of the film he has a scar and stone eye. Bachchhan Paandey is sadistic and a psychopath. A character describes him as Raavan. But the film treats the violence he inflicts mostly as comedy or heroic, with Julius Packiam's background score accentuating Bachchhan's every move.
Post-interval, Pankaj Tripathi arrives as a Gujarati acting teacher. The actor's presence lifts the film momentarily. Which isn't saying much because the comedy bar is extremely low with Sanjay Mishra as Bachchhan's sidekick, whose stammer is a punchline. Naturally then, Pankaj as Bhavesh who declares Bachchhan and his goons to be the world's worst actors, does induce a smile. Arshad Warsi as Myra's friend and confidante Vishu also puts his best foot forward. But it's short-lived.
The last time Akshay played a character named Bachchhan Paandey was in Tashan, another film that was a tough sit. Perhaps it's a sign from the gods to find another moniker and better scripts.
You can watch Bachchhan Paandey at a theater near you or you could just watch Jigarthanda on DisneyPlus Hotstar instead.
Don't forget to wear a mask.