Director: Akshay Choubey
Cast: Sanjai Mishra, Sheeba Chadha, Vrajesh Hirjee, Brijendra Kala
For a film called ‘Laugh,’ its somber serial-killer-ish end-credits theme is perhaps its greatest punch line. It’s an odd sensation – to grin and hyena-chuckle nostalgically for most part, and then stop dead in our tracks because the joke is, in fact, on us.
The concept is simple: a 7-minute scene from 1967, which stretches to hours – a full “session” – in real time back then, is then reinterpreted into one single swift action in 2016.
We’re dropped into the old-school (thank heaven it isn’t sepia-tinged) rural world of a bickering couple (Sanjai Mishra, Sheeba Chadha – as effortless as their turns in Dum Laga Ke Haisha), their bemused daughter (Lotika), and their two roguish male neighbours (Vrajesh Hirjee, Brijendra Kala). The actors are in such fine form that one can’t imagine anybody but them indulging in this bakchodi, this typical rakish boy-banter. Just watching them speak is infectious. Simply from their reactions, one can immediately tell the simpleton from the smart aleck, and the beta male from the leader.
The briefness of the following 2016 part is abrupt, damning and zip-zappy – a deliberate tonal jump. The three are now ‘dudes,’ glued to their phones, typing down hyperbolic expressions (LOL, ROFL) to illustrate their appreciation of the joke. Perhaps the overcoming of physical distance is a plus (one can’t imagine them dialing each other on telephones to share this moment back in the day), but the intimacy of their relationship is somewhat compromised – and shortened. The boyhood is gone.
These city slickers wouldn’t bother meeting in person after sensing each other’s presence through occasional texts.
Director Akshay Choubey fashions such a contagious little lived-in environment that one is genuinely left ruing the advent of evolution, and the relentless modernity of this era.
I, for one, wanted to revisit my school days; back when there were no cellphones and sms forwards; back when communication was tangible; back when dirty jokes were not perceived as politically incorrect misogynistic rants but just as harmless shared whispers; back when I could hear and feel these fleeting expressions of juvenile humour.
The joy of watching a person actually rolling on the floor with (real) laughter is liberating. And all but forgotten. In the village, one could sense the routineness of their equation, the well-intentioned nagging of an exasperated wife, the visible health hazards of the hukkah, the foul-mouthed machismo jibes, and then the wife’s indulgent smile as if realizing that, yes, laughter is perhaps his best medicine.
When we read funny typed-down jokes on our whatsapp groups these days, the anatomy of a joke – this before and after, its buildup, interruptions, the free bonhomie, the human factor – is lost with the simple click of a button.
Maybe I’m not supposed to feel so wretched and old, because technology has broken many barriers too. But as this film puts forth so charmingly – and as I’ve already suspected but never quite acknowledged – technology has digitalized human emotions. It has made us lonelier, without really knowing it. Facebook likes and Twitter followers are now validations in an increasingly impersonal universe of movers. I can well imagine the next film being about an online couple struggling to deal with the notion of meeting – and touching – in person.
And these new barriers are invisible and unavoidable. We often forget how much is lost in transition, until a bittersweet reminder like LAUGH comes along.