Director: Farhad Samji
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Pooja Hegde, Kriti Sanon, Bobby Deol, Riteish Deshmukh, Kriti Kharbanda
At one point in this film, all three actors, Akshay Kumar, Bobby Deol, and Riteish Deshmukh, are pleading three pigeons named Neil, Nitin, and Mukesh to take a dump on them, thereby blessing them. I groaned a little in my seat.
Perhaps as a cruel irony, Housefull 4 bloomed into theaters just as the Mumbai Film Festival bid farewell to the city until next year. These two kinds of cinema – the cerebral and the commercial – are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but perhaps films at the intersection are few and far between. The rest, like this film, are unconcerned of where and how they stand.
That being said, Housefull 4 isn’t entirely joyless. It begins in 2019 in London. Kumar, Deol, and Deshmukh are brothers who want to get married to the three daughters (played by Kriti Sanon, Pooja Hegde, and Kriti Kharbanda) of the London lothario and perversely rich Ranjeet played by Gopal Bedi. They want to inherit his wealth that they would then use to repay a loan to a don. They perhaps also are in love with the girls, but honestly this isn’t relevant because over the next hour the object of their love would be swapped with another sister under a bizarre concoction of reincarnation and past-birth incomplete love affairs.
This is not about being more or less sensitive or about policing humour. It is about looking at words and images and the impact they have on the world around.
The joy in the movie simmers now and then, perhaps not as loud laughs but quiet smiles- at the puns, and gaffes. But it was the groans that I largely remember.
Structurally I think Housefull 4 might be too audacious an attempt at entertaining, stitching together all possible genres into a contrivance; an overwrought faluda of comedy, action, reincarnation, period drama, and horror.
But there’s also, to the credit of the film, a sense of purpose. They hired Sudeep Chatterjee as the cinematographer and Rimple and Harpreet Narula for the period costumes. These talents had previously collaborated with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on his period epics Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat. This could be interpreted as an attempt to spoof the genre and the style by hiring the very people who curated the genre and style. I see it as a willingness to move beyond the shackles they have tied themselves with.
The problems for me lay elsewhere. I think it is time to retire jokes at the expense of transgender folks. If you find them funny, hear me out. Johny Lever plays the role of a man who reconciles with his past life as a woman and now begins dressing as one. He is automatically reduced to a caricature, one that most people who are unfamiliar with trans folks could begin to internalize as fact. Lever is excessively sexual, there are sounds of honks when the fake breasts are pressed, and there is a jovial and dismissive tone to something as life-altering and psychologically taxing as sex-change surgery. This is not about being more or less sensitive or about policing humour. It is about looking at words and images and the impact they have on the world around.
Housefull 4, of course shouldn’t be dismissed as a cultural product of its time. But when the whole is far less than the sum of its parts, it is time to introspect.
At one point in the climactic sequence when Kriti Sanon tries to punch the villain, Akshay Kumar stops her. “Tumhara kaam nahin hai.”
He was referring to the fact that history is largely meant to repeat itself, and since 600 years ago, in the flashback, it was him that pulled the punches, here too, in 2019, it should be him. The irony is not lost on the viewer. Perhaps a lot of this is intended.
Look at the whole trope of older actors being with younger actresses as they progressively age in movies that is now becoming an active source of humour. Nothing is changing, the actresses are largely still half the age of the actors, but there is self-referential humour.
Housefull 4, of course shouldn’t be dismissed as a cultural product of its time. But when the whole is far less than the sum of its parts, it is time to introspect. You are probably thinking that this movie is not made for critiquing, not meant to be taken seriously. But in saying that aren’t you dismissing the very thing you seek value from?