Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Tabu, Paresh Rawal
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Storyline: 64-year-old boy meets/loves 34-year-old girl
Bottomline: A flawed ode to consumerism and a world without boundaries
“What is this O-K? It’s neither here nor there. Neither good or bad,” the 64-year-old perfectionist chef tells his staff, lashing out at mediocrity. If the first few minutes of the film are any indication, it is evident that debutant director and advertising maverick Balki sets his standards high. Like his protagonist, he wants to make sure his film has all the ingredients of a winner, in exactly the right quantities.
The lines sparkle. Look at them individually, they make great copy, at least in the first half of the film. Flawless. The characters are impeccably well fleshed out. And, delivered perfectly by the finest Indian actors in any part of the world.
R. Balakrishnan, popularly known as Balki in advertising circles, seems to have no problem whatsoever in making us fall in love with his lead characters and them, with each other. That would’ve been the most difficult part for most directors. But then, the ambitious filmmaker finds himself in tricky territory as he tries to pit a new-age product of consumerism and globalisation, the Indian chef at a London-based restaurant, a Versace-sporting Buddadeb (Bachchan) against the khadi-clad old-world senior citizen (Paresh Rawal) who lives his life by Gandhian principles of Swadeshi and satyagraha (only selectively though). Now, for many this Versace-versus-Khadi conflict would be sheer blasphemy.
Like Hindi cinema has often tried to do since Raj met Simran’s parents in ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya,’ the later part of the film is all about manufacturing consent for love.
Which is where the advertising maverick succumbs to formula and loses his way. The final act is a disaster.
Post Dil Chahta Hai, Hindi films have unabashedly celebrated the self, the individual and one’s right to live life in one’s own terms. While making a shameless ode to consumerism (it is quite amazing how many products Balki manages to sell in the film but we will come to that later) and while dealing with more than grown-ups, there is very little need to try to manufacture consent. Spare us the family drama, Sir. That is clearly a step back.
It’s not entirely downhill though. Balki finishes with a nice touch hinting that the twain, Mr. Versace and Shri Khadi, might finally see eye to eye. Cricket, the biggest product of consumerism, with its ability to whip up pop patriotism, serves as the perfect bridge.
Where Balki succeeds is in successfully placing products, ideas and solutions for a world without boundaries or barriers. He sells the idea of insurance for the security of life, plugging it shamelessly in the final speech, Sugar-Free (He actually manages to make that the tag line of the film – a Sugar Free romance), gyms for keeping in shape (as his 90 year old mom keeps telling him) and condoms for safe sex.
As a screen-writer Balki gets the brief right, sneaks in the back-stories effectively and sets up the right kind of characters to illustrate that life expectancy has nothing to do with age, contrasting the 90-year-old perfectly healthy mom (Zohra Sehgal infuses the role with her infectious zest and spirit) with the cancer-afflicted nine-year old confidante (Swini Khara, a little stilted sometimes, is largely convincing). In an attempt to resolve stories of all characters, he mistimes one terribly that it only further affects the final act.
This brand of melodrama seemed too out of place in a film so light and young at heart. In the histrionics department, Bachchan is top-notch exuding the quintessential charisma needed for a role like this. One moment he’s the supremely confident chef running the restaurant, another minute he has butterflies in his stomach. One moment he goes through the angst of love seeking advice from his nine-year-old philosopher and guide, the other moment he has the boyish nervousness of facing a father-in-law younger than him. It is very unlikely that any other actor his age would’ve convinced us for a 34-year-old falling for him.
Tabu lends the character ample solidity and substance to turn on the thinking man, living the role with her razor-sharp repartees, holding her own against the veteran. Paresh Rawal is a comic delight as always, reveling in a role tailor-made for him. Watch him in the Satyagraha scene as he clasps his daughter like a kid holding a toy. Endearing.
Ilaiyaraja’s score borrows from his earlier works, jazzes it up a little perfectly to suit the mood. The new lyrics are sure to sound a little odd for fans who can’t get ‘Mandram Vandha’ out of their heads.
Overall, the film that could’ve been among the most perfect pieces of cinema created this year ends up watered down by a forced sense of drama towards the end. The film ends up Okay.
Probably, a little better than that too.
But then, we didn’t lecture on the importance of perfection. The film did.