Madgaon Express Review: A Supremely Funny Trip to the Movies

Kunal Kemmu’s directorial debut sparkles with hat-tips to a legion of buddy movies, from The Hangover to Dil Chahta Hai.
Madgaon Express Review: A Supremely Funny Trip to the Movies

Director: Kunal Kemmu

Writer: Kunal Kemmu

Cast: Divyenndu, Pratik Gandhi, Avinash Tiwary, Nora Fatehi, Upendra Limaye, Chhaya Kadam

Duration: 144 mins

Available in: Theatres

You know how some movies leave you with a throbbing headache? Madgaon Express left me with a bellyache – but in the best way possible. The buddy comedy made me laugh so hard for so long that it felt like I was avenging all the years of laughing at unintentionally funny films. It’s been a while. Maybe it says something about the emotionally fraught times we live in. Maybe a dam of pent-up smirks in me burst. Maybe this is what the doctor ordered. But it’s more likely that I’m overthinking this reaction: Maybe Madgaon Express is just very successful at tapping a sense of humour that some of us are too shy to reveal. An “accident prone” signpost accidentally reads “accident porn”. A group of Goan gangsters succumb to a post-lunch susegad, leaving their hostages to escape. A don named Mendoza is addressed as everything but his name: Mandakini, Mangola, Madeline. Like Uday Chopra in the Dhoom films, a needy bachelor imagines a musical life montage with the first pretty girl he sees. A coked-up Gujarati dude goes from docile to daring as if it were his superhero alter-ego. A casual chat collapses into the lyrics of an Aashiqui 2 (2013) hit (“sunn raha hai tu?” – “ro raha hu main”). It’s all so gloriously silly – and undeniably nostalgic.

A still from Madgaon Express
A still from Madgaon Express

‘Abey Tu Hai Kaun?’

Madgaon Express revolves around three friends on that (un)holy pilgrimage for 80s-born desi males: A Goa trip. Their failed attempts after high school and college make the dream burn brighter. So in 2015, as full-blown but unfulfilled adults, they make the better-late-than-never dash – except Goa is nothing like the movies, and yet it’s everything like the movies. Given Madgaon Express comes from Excel Entertainment, it’s easy to describe it as a middle-class spoof of Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011). The inverted hat tips are everywhere, starting with the DCH title track transitioning from a car stereo to a hospital soundscape. Or the fact that the narrator is the ‘loser’ of the trifecta, Dhanush a.k.a Dodo (Divyenndu), who remains tragically stuck in the past. Unlike the other two, he hasn’t been able to move on, and so he’s spent his years photoshopping a fake life on Facebook – including a ‘by-chance pic’ with Farhan Akhtar and then Anurag Kashyap – with a shot of Kashyap’s reaction “abey, tu hai kaun?” (who the hell are you?) in the comments section. 

To hide his jobless living-with-dad reality, Dodo fools the New York-based Ayush (Avinash Tiwary) and Cape Town-based Pratik (Pratik Gandhi) into doing Goa “the way we would’ve done it as college kids – penniless and free-spirited”. This includes a non-AC unreserved ride on a train called Madgaon Express, which is where Pratik mistakenly lands up with a shady drug dealer’s bag full of cash and guns – and the chaos begins. When they reach Goa, they get fleeced by the notorious airport cabs, and they soon sit at a beach shack in the heat and wonder: Where’s the fun? Growing up on an aspirational game-changer like Dil Chahta Hai can be disorienting. The irony being: Only an ecstasy-like pill puts them in euphoric song-and-dance mode.

A still from Madgaon Express
A still from Madgaon Express

An Ode to Past Comedies

If you’ve followed director Kunal Kemmu’s acting career, however, you’ll know the humour is far more diverse and…old-school. Kemmu’s always had great (and underrated) comic timing, and he brings himself to the table with reckless abandon here. There’s a generous dose of modern classics like Dhamaal (2007) and Welcome (2007); I can hear a hidden generation of giggle-starved millennials go “You had me at Dhamaal”. But Madgaon Express is also littered with nods to Kemmu’s own filmography: The stoner-farce from Go Goa Gone (2013) (replace zombies with a Konkani fisherwomen drug mafia); the mistaken-identity madness from Lootcase (2020) (a red bag triggering the adventure); slapstick acting from the Golmaal series (Pratik’s cocaine highs – apart from riffing on the ‘roaring’ masculinity of Singham – feature the best physical comedy since peak-Rohit Shetty and peak-David Dhawan); even sexist chuckles from Guddu Ki Gun (Dodo pushing the Nora Fatehi character forward when the don asks for the “maal”; Dodo kicking a wrestler-like lady in the crotch and asking “it hurts you all there too?”). 

Somehow, most of the jokes land, even when they don’t. It’s a familiar template that often mocks its own familiarity. The casting elevates the material. Mirzapur star Divyenndu is the Kemmu stand-in as Dodo, but his side-splitting turn is a reminder that he was first a liquid Pyaar Ka Punchnama star. Scam 1992 star Pratik Gandhi is a revelation as a man that puts the duality of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) on speed; after a point, the cinema hall started to mark Pratik’s split-personality trickery with preemptive chuckles. Avinash Tiwary turns his buddy-film swag from Tu Hai Mera Sunday (2016) into a weapon. And if there were ever actors who could do justice to characters named Don Mendoza and Kanchan Komdi, they’re Upendra Limaye and Chhaya Kadam; they play up their own typecasting over the years as cheeky innuendo.  

The background activity doesn’t miss a beat either: A kid throwing vada-pav in slow-mo at his mother, or an off-screen voice checking for healthy snacks at a counter only to be served samosa and bhajiya. But my favourite gag of Madgaon Express unfolds on the station platform, minutes before departure. The chic NRI duo of Pratik and Ayush are appalled by Dodo’s choice of transport. They react like multiplex audiences watching single-screen potboilers. But Dodo – still hiding his “poverty” – is adamant that they stay authentic to their journey. He is determined to turn back time. In a last-ditch effort to convince them, Dodo resorts to the final word in our cultural lexicon. He launches into a monologue about the greatness of India and Indian Railways. Like preprogrammed zombies alerted by a codeword, bystanders gravitate towards the three friends and surround them. Their chest swells. The Lakshya (2004) theme plays. Trains can wait. Life can wait. Goa can wait. Waiting can wait. The proud stranger must be heard. So what if patriotism is only his punchline?

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