Friday, January 23, 2009

Prez & Bad Luck 

The President is Coming

Kunaal Roy Kapoor’s The President is Coming has several pluses—it is based on a contemporary Indian English play by Anuvab Pal, a major Bollywood production company (the Sippys) have put their money (not a lot, but still..) on it and some of Mumbai's best stage actors get to show their talent on screen. George Bush was always a subject ripe for satire, even though this film comes a little too late for throwing a figurative shoe at him.

Since it is in English, the audience is automatically limited, but its wacky humour, and furious one-liners will go down well with young urban multiplex-going crowds, who get to see a film that speaks their tongue and probably expresses some of their thoughts.

Like the sniggers raised at the expense of the ‘vernie’ communal angry man (Satchit Puranik) who has a chip on his shoulder and says “phuck.” Or the Gujju stockbroker (Anand Tiwari), who thinks everything can be bought. The upper crust comes for some battering too, when the airhead heiress (Ira Dubey) is mocked.

These three are part of a group—the others are a snobbish novelist (Konkona Sen Sharma), an accent trainer (Vivek Gomber) and closet-gay IT geek (Namit Das)—who have been chosen to take part in a contest that will pick one, who will get the shake hands with the visiting President Bush, as a representative of the New Indian.

The whole circus is handled by the bossy Samantha Patel (Shernaz Patel) and her ditzy assistant Ritu Johnson (Shivaki Tanksale). The group has to participate in a series of tests—mostly humiliating—but they are all, for reasons of their own, willing to do anything to meet Prez Bush. The quarrel, make fools of themselves and let their worst sides emerge. The film is lampoon of our own insecurity and corruption, using regional stereotypes.

There have been a few alterations made in the play in the attempt to open it out, but it remains a one-location affair, and can’t shake off its staginess and occasional meandering off the point —the humour remains in the lines (by Anuvab Pal) and the actors collectively-- without any attempts at scene-stealing— being their characters alive, clichés and all. For those who haven’t seen the play, worth a look – go see what the fuss was about, and laugh a bit while you are at it.

Bad Luck Govind

In the credits (and the brochure), the characters have names likes Angelic Anu, Hungree Hussain, Krazee Kripalani, Troubled Talpade, and so on… and the wit in Varun Khanna’s Bad Luck Govind ends right there.

The thought of watching yet another Mumbai gangster film is not in the least encouraging, but the title suggested a comedy, so hopes were raised a bit… and dashed soon enough.

A skinny and sad-looking, jug-eared Govind (Gaurav Kapur) believes he brings bad luck wherever he goes… a very unlikely series of errors, leads to his leaving Delhi for Mumbai, and having his luggage stolen on the train.

At a hospital (where he goes to try make some money as a sperm donor), he meets aspiring actor Vishal (Amit Mistry--earnest), who gives the hapless fellow shelter in his chawl room.

The chawl has two sets of warring gangsters – Kapoor (Parmeet Sethi) and gang on one side, and Talpade (Ganesh Yadav) on the other. Mostly they just yell insults across the yard, but there is some complicated betting involving the imprisonment of a don Mahalkar’s (Govind Namdeo) nephew, causing ego clashes between the two sides.

By the time the entire cast of characters is introduced, speaking Bambaiya slang (or what filmmakers imagine they do), you are already yawning out of boredom. Govind (called names like Sukha Bombil by his raucous neighbours) tries to tell Vishal of his bad luck, Kapoor’s henchman Hussain (Vrajesh Hirjee) overhears, and they get the idea of having Govind hovering on the other side, so his misfortune rubs off on the enemy. For a while it does, then Govind starts feeling guilty and lands up in hospital (with some bones broken by Hussain), where he falls for the Doctor Anu Fernandes (Hrishitaa Bhatt). Anu, it is established earlier, has Buddhist inclinations and believes in a positive thinking chant.

The plot goes nowhere, Govind must be the most irritatingly passive and ineffectual ‘hero’ of all time, and the pace—for a comedy—is fatally slow. If there is a small hint of humour it is in the exaggerated reaction of a man (Zakir Hussain), whose muscle-building pills are substituted by female hormones by the enemy camp.

It’s unfortunate that the film turned out to be such a dud, there was a cool idea there, and films about innocents in big bad Bombay (okay, Mumbai) have always appealed to audiences. Director Varun Khanna has made the hard-hitting Beyond Honour earlier (and also the unremarkable American Blend) , but what can say to this no-brainer, but better luck next time.


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