nikamma

Director: Sabbir Khan
Writers: Sanamjit Singh Talwar, Sabbir Khan
Cast: Abhimanyu Dasani, Shirley Setia, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, Samir Soni
Cinematographer: Hari K. Vedantam
Editor: Manan Sagar

My favourite moment in Nikamma comes sometime in the second half. The film is set in a small town in UP called Dhaamli. The local don Vikramjit, who dreams of someday being the MLA, is being thwarted in his plans by an RTO officer named Avni. Vikramjit runs a cab company called Super and Avni has discovered the various illegalities in his business, which include burning a bus and murdering the forty people on it. This was done to discourage people from taking buses – Vikramjit obviously doesn’t believe in half-measures.

Avni has confiscated some of Vikramjit’s cabs. But when Vikramjit’s goons go to beat up Avni, her brother-in-law Adi trashes them soundly. In this scene, Vikramjit’s senior aide is telling their goons that they must somehow bring Avni and Adi to Vikramjit, otherwise he will stop their gym memberships and payment for their keto diet. That throwaway line was so specific and so unintentionally hilarious that it made me laugh out loud. This and Shilpa Shetty Kundra’s gorgeous handloom saris got me through this excruciating film.

Nikamma is a remake of a Telugu film called Middle Class Abbayi, which means ‘middle-class boy.’ I haven’t seen the original but the Hindi version could be titled 50 Shades of Ridiculous. To begin with, there is Adi, the nikamma of the title, who just happens to have a photographic memory. Early in the film, we see him steering his cricket team to victory because he can remember exactly what the bowler has done before and thus predict where the ball will land. But Adi doesn’t use this talent for any discernible gain. He is jobless and seemingly without much ambition.  His brother sends him to Dhaamli to accompany Avni who is posted there. Avni seems like a perfectly capable woman so why she needs a chaperone isn’t explained. Avni, hoping to discipline Adi, makes him the house help. He chops vegetables and washes clothes.

He also conducts a love affair with Nikki, a college girl. They exchange lines like: ‘See you cutie,’ to which he replies, ‘See you beauty’. Director Sabbir Khan’s brief to Shirley Setia must have been to act like a pretty doll without an iota of intelligence. In her first scene, she’s standing at a bus stop and smiling at the world for no apparent reason. Nikki, like Inaaya in Heropanti 2, belongs to the purely decorative league of Hindi film heroines – women in the frame functioning as props. The ‘naari shakti’ bit is delegated to Shilpa who adopts a stern expression to accompany her lovely wardrobe. As soon as we see Avni, we know this is not a woman you want to mess with.


Nikamma
is designed as an ode to the industriousness, sincerity and moral fortitude of the middle class. Adi delivers lectures on how ‘middle-class log chhoti si baat se khush ho jaate hain.’  In one scene, Vikramjit says, ‘Middle class jitna senti hota hai, rich utna hi mental.’ And in another, Avni is telling Adi that pyaaz bahut mehnge ho gaye hain. The intent is noble but the writing is so poor that none of this social commentary and common-man sentiment comes through.

Instead, one mediocre scene follows another until we reach a countdown. Vikramjit says that he will kill Avni in six days. Adi insists that he will prevent it. He does this by sitting outside their house with a bat. Meanwhile, Vikramjit’s goons keep attacking but for inexplicable reasons, none of them carry a gun. They arrive with axes and knives. Vikramjit spends a lot on his wardrobe – for a dinner with a Chinese delegation, he’s wearing a silky hot pink tie – but clearly, he doesn’t have the vision to invest in hardware.

Writing like this automatically reduces actors to stick figures. Shirley, who shot to fame doing song covers on YouTube, keeps smiling and smiling until your cheeks start to ache for her.  Abhimanyu Dassani, who was so amiable in his first two films Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and Meenakshi Sundareshwar, is mostly posturing at being the tough, six-pack-ab hero who can decimate an army of men without breaking a sweat. Abhimanyu Singh, an actor I’ve been rooting for since Gulaal, is reduced to a cartoonish bad guy. And my heart went out to Mayur More from Kota Factory, reduced here to the hero’s friend who stands around, doing little. Incidentally, the title Nikamma comes from the song ‘Nikamma Kiya Is Dil Ne’ from the 2002 film Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa. I don’t know if this was in Venu Sriram’s original story but Sabbir also takes inspiration from The Dark Knight, with Vikramjit giving Adi a choice to save one of two people he loves. But in this nonsensical set-up, this Sophie’s Choice makes zero impact.

Also Read: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota Movie Review: An Action-Comedy That Looks And Feels Like A Comic Book

Sabbir’s earlier films include Kambakkht Ishq in which Akshay Kumar as Viraj somehow ended up with an alarm clock in his stomach, and Munna Michael in which Tiger Shroff as Munna performed an elaborate climactic dance number with his partner repeatedly stepping on his thigh which had a bullet in it.

Clearly, logic isn’t Sabbir’s forte. I could make peace with that if his films also provided some entertainment. Sadly, that also seems to be out of reach.

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