Director: Kaustav Narayan Niyogi
Cast: Richa Chadha, Gulshan Devaiah and S. Sreesanth
Streaming On: Zee5
Cabaret, a film from the Dark Ages that has now found space on the streaming platform Zee5, is beyond critique. It’s too early to call it the worst film of 2019, so I’m going to call it one of the worst Hindi movies of the decade. That takes a lot of doing, but trust a motion picture that literally forgets the meaning of its own title – without warning, the “narrative” shift its focus from the damsel in distress to her tortured male saviour – to make a case for my hyperbolic claim. Cabaret (repeating the title might help me remember what I’m writing about) also deepens the enigma of Richa Chadha, an actress who operates in only two modes: awesome (Gangs of Wasseypur, Masaan, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!) and awful (everything else). There is no middle ground.
Lately, however, she seems to have demoted herself into the realm of a B-movie heroine whose awkwardness as the fragile vixen on screen is only a little less tragic than the fate of these doomed characters. It’s no wonder the film changes its track; she is so staggeringly poor here that it chooses to dramatize the life of an alcoholic journalist over hers. And because the man (Gulshan Devaiah, sabotaging his own promising career again) is an investigative reporter, the movie turns into a “thriller” with a daft plot-twist, while disgraced cricketer S. Sreesanth enters the fray as a Malayalee Dubai-based gangster with an ‘80s Hindi accent. Sreesanth was clearly a better actor on the cricket field. Who was to know that all those bouts of performative angst as a bowler were simply auditions for these trashy roles?
In Cabaret, Chadha plays a famous dancer named Rosa, who tries hard to escape her past – that of killing villainous-looking men like Vipin Sharma and Gulshan Grover – when she isn’t busy asserting her overcooked vulnerability on the drunken journalist. Or when she isn’t wearing ridiculous corsets that were discarded from the sets of Moulin Rouge for looking too kitschy. For the first 30 minutes, she thinks she is a slurring Kangana Ranaut character from her pre-Queen days (drink, dance, cry, repeat), and the film thinks that a dancer with links to the underworld is a story that resurrects a depressed writer from his literary grave. He isn’t very good at his job, given that he not only falls in love with his subject (of course, because she needs help) but also begins his interview with questions that range from “Do you like the night?” and “Do you fear death?” to “Do you believe in God?”. Her answer: Yes, because I believe in love. They then proceed to chew on each other’s lips – as opposed to kiss them – to depict undying lust in a dead film. Pooja Bhatt is one of the producers, which is probably why this looks like a steamy Emraan Hashmi entertainer gone dreadfully wrong.
The music and lyrics (paani is rhymed with jawaani) are in sync with the performances. As are the details – the hero is introduced as a man refusing to leave a quarter bar after closing time, and yet all the tables are tidy and the floor clean, and the manager freshly dressed as if he were trying to get rid of the Cabaret film crew before opening for the night. This must be the first time a bar rejects the concept of Cabaret. I empathize with the manager. Even I’d rather spend my evening watching people drink cheap booze in a cramped, smoky room before instructing the waiters to only partially wipe the vomit and stale peanuts from the floors.