Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Take You on a Bumpy Flight

Despite a stellar cast, including an extended cameo by Diljit Dosanjh, this heist comedy struggles to take off
Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Take You on a Bumpy Flight
Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Take You on a Bumpy Flight

Director: Rajesh Krishnan
Writers: Nidhi Mehra, Mehul Suri
Cast: Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kriti Sanon, Kapil Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh, Rajesh Sharma, Saswata Chatterjee

Duration: 123 minutes

Available in: Theatres

Crew revolves around the get-rich-quick adventures of three flight attendants – newbie Divya Rana (Kriti Sanon), mid-career Jasmine Kohli (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and veteran Geeta Sethi (Tabu) – who work for a commercial carrier named Kohinoor. Broke and sick of being middle-class, the women get involved in an elaborate gold-smuggling racket. The Kingfisher-Airlines-sized shadow looms large: The employees haven’t been paid for six months, there are rumours of bankruptcy and money laundering, ‘overweight’ air hostesses are grounded, and the chairman is a flamboyant billionaire named Vijay Walia. Given that fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya owned an IPL franchise called Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), it’s fitting that this frustrating heist caper becomes the cinematic manifestation of the men’s team: It’s packed with stars and wealth and endless promise, yet flatters to deceive. In other words, Crew is the kind of underachieving outfit that wins only on paper.

This cruel RCB analogy is another way of asking: How does a movie that pulls off the ultimate casting coup – Tabu and Kareena Kapoor Khan in the same frame, again and again – manage to fall flat? Is it even possible? It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between a disappointing film and a bad one. The former implies that it fails to live up to expectations of its own doing, and the latter implies that it fails on all metrics. Crew is more of the former of course, because it comes with baggage that spills out of its overhead cabins. Even the name of its director, Rajesh Krishnan, evokes visions of his genuinely witty debut film, Lootcase (2020). Crew is by no means unwatchable. It has a few decent gags; the best of them features a panicked character screaming “Horn maar!” in the cockpit while the aircraft barrels down a bumpy runway. But sometimes, this succumbing-to-the-pressure-of-expectations tag feels worse. You wonder why there aren’t more inventive moments like the one where the bobbing head of a newly dead man becomes a visual cue of a plane landing; you rue the almost-funny tone, the stiffness of the writing and the lost opportunities. The hope of what could have been hurts more than the superficial reality of what is. 

Kareena Kapoor Khan, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew
Kareena Kapoor Khan, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew

Selling Everything But the Comedy

Let me be more specific. For starters, Crew has what I like to call Producer’s Film Syndrome. There’s the distracting brand integration: At one point, a scene featuring two siblings having a heart-to-heart against a city backdrop is reduced to pointed shots of the momo box they’re sharing – it doesn’t help that the brand is called Wow. This is not a new phenomenon, but in cases like these – where the setting is basically an excuse to flaunt gloss, glamour and “choli ke peeche” remixes – the film ends up looking like one of the many products it platforms. It made me so hyper-alert that when an iPad magically appeared in Jasmine’s hand, I dreaded another brand reveal; needless to mention, the joke was on me. Apple will be pleased. 

There’s also the fact that much of the story seems reverse-engineered to put the three protagonists in fashionable outfits and lavish locales. For instance, the second half is centered on a heist at a posh hotel in a shiny Middle Eastern country. The problem is it all amounts to nothing; the heist is mere window dressing in a movie that morphs into the equivalent of an aimless rich drifter. Even the smuggling racket fizzles out once the real world takes over; the airline goes out of business and the police – who shaped the film’s first half – become a forgotten footnote. The reverse-engineering is more visible when the plot seeks divine intervention. When Jasmine is randomly generous to an airport peon without any context, you immediately sense that the peon will be a get-out-of-jail card towards the end. 

The humour is also laced with a privileged urban gaze of middle-class aspiration – at least twice, Geeta is heard mourning her fall from “beauty queen to bai (domestic help)”. Her husband (Kapil Sharma) runs a food catering service out of their kitchen. The term ‘Divya Rana from Haryana’ loses its ring early on; her double-life – where she pretends to be a pilot for a family that sells their car to support her – feels like cultural appropriation of dreamers like her. Ditto for Jasmine, who lives with her sweet old grandfather (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) as if the film itself is a fan of Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009). In short, the staging just isn’t as quirky as it might have been, say, two decades ago. 

Kareena Kapoor Khan, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew
Kareena Kapoor Khan, Tabu and Kriti Sanon in Crew

Missing Links

You wouldn’t question all the flab if it were entertaining. But Crew tries too hard. The result is a self-conscious comedy, where people delivering one-liners sound like people delivering one-liners. It seems so enamoured by its cast that it forgets to truly understand and trust them. It doesn’t register – or adapt to – the distinct fame of actors like Kareena Kapoor Khan and Tabu. An example to follow is the use of Vijay Raaz in Lootcase; the very idea of an earthy gangster who’s obsessed with wildlife metaphors plays right into the performer’s hands. It’s almost like the deadly don is calibrated to milk the deadpan charms of the actor. But in Crew, both Kareena and Tabu look a tad uncomfortable in the louder and more slapstick moments; the effort to ‘do’ a comedy overwhelms their natural instincts. The swag is there, but the feel is missing: Jasmine isn’t starry enough and Geeta isn’t languid enough. Sanon is more convincing, because her identity hasn’t accumulated as many miles as the other two yet. 

It also says something that the three characters don’t look like they’d hang out with each other outside planes. They do it because they’re in the same film together; the older women act all cool around Divya, and she spends most of her scenes blushing and going “Oh Geeta ma’am!”. The secondary cast – like Diljit Dosanjh as a Customs officer, and Saswata Chatterjee as king of not-so-good times Vijay Walia – is wasted. I’d like to believe that men being an afterthought is a deliberate ploy in a female-driven film, but that’s just my Ken-ergy speaking. The dominant genre of Crew is punctured by the urge to mean something – to be a hijinks-feminist saga or a light coming-of-age dramedy. That’s the burden of luxury. It’s the stress of having too much and thinking too hard. “How can we go wrong?” soon becomes “What if we go wrong?” It’s like breaking all individual records – only to choke when it matters. Some call it RCB, others call it the Indian cricket team. Either way, it’s the viewers who feel defeated. The reality of what Crew is hurts more than the empty hope of what it isn’t. 

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