Saturday, March 11, 2006

Malamaal Weekly 

What kind of comedy would start with a droning commentary about the history of a poor village? You wonder, as the voiceover and introductions to the various crazies of this village (somewhere in UP, but with distinctly Southern architecture) go on forever.

This village in Priyadarshan’s Malamaal Weekly is ruled by a greedy Thakurani (Sudha Chandran) and her brother Baje (Rajpal Yadav), who have the entire village in debt. For villagers who are desperately poor and half starved, they all look rather well-fed, well-dressed and live in enormous houses with courtyards the size of football fields. One of them even owns an elephant.

Anyway, you are not looking for authenticity in a film, but surely you can grumble about a cast of totally charmless, cantankerous characters, whose mode of communication is shouting at one another at ear-splitting volume.

Leelaram (Paresh Rawal—with a set of protruding fake teeth) is a seller of lottery tickets, who finds out that one of his customers has won the one crore jackpot. The winner, a drunk called Anthony (Kerala actor Innocent with Tiku Talsania’s grating voice) dies of shock and Leelaram is discovered in the process of prising the ticket out of the dead man’s hand by Ballu (Om Puri). Leela offers to share the spoils with Ballu and takes his help to dispose of the happy-looking corpse, lest they be accused of murder. (Why would that happen, when an autopsy would prove cause of death?)

Ballu’s employee and his daughter’s suitor Kanhaiya (Ritesh Deshmukh) stumbles on them with the body and has to be offered a share. Kanhaiya gets his hopes up about marrying Sukhmani (Rima Sen), who is also being pursued by Baje.

Then Anthony’s sister and her family turn up to demand a share, and one by one the list of people who find out the secret and have to be silenced with the promise of money grows. Everyone then has to deceive the lottery inspector (Arbaaz Khan) who comes to do a check, by pretending that Anthony is not dead.

For simple villagers, they can sure think up very complicated lies and subterfuge, though the goings-on are more loud and exasperating than funny. After a while, both the lottery shenanigans and the Kanhaiya-Sukhmani romance get tedious and you can only look ahead much too eagerly for the film to end.

Priyadarshan is a good director but some of his comedies (Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar for example) are caught in some kind of cultural miscommunication, so that they simply don’t appeal as much to Hindi audiences as they do to his Kerala fans.

The ever-dependable Om Puri and Paresh Rawal strain hard to get laughs, but their efforts are of no use. Malamaal Weekly is the unfunniest comedy seen in a long time.


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