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Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Apr 12, 2013, 12:19 PM IST

  • Movie Review: NAUTANKI SAALA
    Movie Review: NAUTANKI SAALA

    Raavan Leela is an exquisitely designed theatrical production in which the hero in this film plays both the director and the central character Raavan. The stage looks grand, as do the costumes. Outside of perhaps Aamir Raza Hussain’s The Legend Of Ram on the same subject, India sadly does not have a tradition of massively scaled, expensively priced Broadway or West End type mainstream theatre scene. Looking at the play within this film, you wish it did, though I haven’t yet been to Gurgaon’s Kingdom Of Dreams to check if their shows qualify.

    This play has been packing halls for over 1500 shows where it appears the audiences come back for repeat viewings (at least one person in the crowd had seen the same performance only a week ago). It’s a very professional sort of production. Why the lead actor and director is insistent on casting his friend – a complete nincompoop on stage who can’t remember his lines, let alone act – for the key role of Ram in the play is hard to tell. Besides that it helps to seriously overstretch that immortal “Mahabharat” gag from Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. And that the hero would like his unemployable friend to get a job. As one of the characters puts it here, if you can’t do anything else in life, you can always become an actor, if not, you could be a director – both being a loser’s job.

    Which is obviously not true, given the fine actors before us on the screen. The sort of directorial flourish you witness in this picture is also hard to match. Firstly Bombay looks as quiet and lovely as it did in Bluffmaster (2005) by the same director. The trick is to shoot in the city’s southern stretch, between Taj and Horniman Circle – the only part of Bombay, left behind by the British, that still looks like a global metropolis and vaguely approximates New York’s Manhattan.

    Ayushman Khurana plays the hero Ram Parmar (or RP in short). With the sleeper hit Vicky Donor last year, he emerged almost overnight as one of the brightest talents to hit the big screen in fairly long. He is in good form here (though the part may have been written for someone more suave and “South Bombay”). This hero had met his friend Mandar for the first time only a few nights ago. He calls him his “BFF” (best friend forever). Kunal Roy Kapur plays this role. Most will remember this overweight actor from the outrageous, outstanding Delhi Belly (2011). This film, like the two movies the lead actors have participated in before, is a goofy sort of comedy. The humour is relatively subtle; it relies heavily on some smart lines and funny set-pieces rather than the plausibility of the situation the characters find themselves in.

    Somehow the internal logic behind it all seems to work for the film, which opens with RP sitting opposite his therapist trying to explain to her why he’s turned into a deranged insomniac. Within a few minutes of him narrating his story, it becomes clear that it is in fact his friend and man-child Mandar who could do with some psychiatric help. This socially awkward fellow rarely talks, perennially stares at mid-distance, imagines that things from the sky would fall on his head (sadly they usually do), and he asks the inanest questions. He isn’t shown to be clinically autistic but his relationship with his buddy RP could remind you of Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) and his step-brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) in Rain Man (1988).

    I suspect everyone at some moment in their lives has passively considered suicide as means to end their life’s miseries. Very few actually act upon this fleeting thought. Mandar does. RP saves him. The issue is a girl. Mandar is heartbroken. RP decides he must also help his friend get back with his girlfriend, though they’ve broken up and she has absolutely moved on. The reason the hero would alter his life’s mission for a brand new “BFF” he barely knows is because, we’re told, while everybody likes asking for help, he loves helping others. He’s just basically a good guy.

    It’s only in the fitness of things that in the week that Roger Ebert passed away, I must quote the world’s best known film critic in this review. Writing about how the 2003 film Apres Vous bored the hell out of him, Ebert mentions, “There is a kind of mental efficiency meter that ticks away during comedies, in which we keep an informal accounting: Is the movie providing enough laughter to justify its running time? If the movie falls below its recommended laughter saturation level, I begin to make use of the Indiglo feature on my Timex.”

    This film is an official remake of the same French film Apres Vous. The problems that exist with the original will remain in its remake, which is basically that the story doesn’t really add up. And yet if you account for the number of laughs, measure its main performances, ogle at the smart photography, tap your feet to the soundtrack, you realise this picture is far better than its plot. Probably this can only happen with comedies and musicals. This is both. And doesn’t disappoint at being either.

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