A truckload of stars and a truckload of set pieces – but where are the laughs?
MAY 4, 2008 – SOME THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN AMITABH BACHCHAN spat out that he had a gaadi and a bangla and a this and a that, and Shashi Kapoor replied that none of this mattered because he had his mother by his side, did the actors realise what they were unleashing on the world? Did they know then that Kapoor’s iconic, laconic riposte – just four words: “Mere paas maa hai” – would travel the trajectory from goosefleshy dialogue-writing at its best to God-awful parody at its worst? Is there anyone who wants to hear this line again in the movies – whether as worshipful homage or wicked spoof – or at least, is there any filmmaker capable of putting the kind of spin that would make it seem fresh again? Deepak Shivdasani, the director of Mr. White Mr. Black, clearly thinks he’s the man for the job, and so he fashions an entire scene – indeed, an entire character (the don named Laadla, and played by Ashish Vidyarthi) – around Salim-Javed’s salute to motherhood. As this exchange from Deewar plays on his television, Laadla weeps uncontrollably, remembering his mother who made gaajar ka halwa and who almost died with pride when he announced his ascent to ganglord (“Aaj tera beta don ban gaya hai maa”) and who actually died a minute later when a stray bullet from her son’s gun brought down a chandelier on her skull.
That incident has never left Laadla’s mind, and so he’s amassed a collection of such motherly cinematic moments – Lata Mangeshkar’s saccharine Tu kitni achchi hai from Raja aur Rank is another – to be viewed whenever he feels like a really good cry. (A sidekick who speaks in a falsetto stands beside him, dutifully unspooling a roll of toilet paper so his boss can dry his eyes.) And this is one of the better gags in Mr. White Mr. Black, the latest shot in the arm to the contention that we’re witnessing one of the sorriest movie-going years in recent memory. A nonsensical comedy with Suniel Shetty in the lead – he plays a bumpkin named Gopi – was never a promising proposition to begin with, and any hopes of pleasantly being proved wrong are dashed when we see how Gopi meets the girl of his dreams: a dog pulls his dhoti off and the garment is borne away by the wind, only to land on the comely Tanya (Anishka Khosla). And this is one of the better romantic tracks in Mr. White Mr. Black, because when we first meet Kishan (Arshad Warsi) and Anu (Rashmi Nigam), she’s flinging a wad of cash at him because she thinks he’s a cad named Hari (a lookalike of her lover Kishan), whereas he’s only pretending to be that cad named Hari so Anu won’t know that he’s a conman (in other words, a cad named Kishan).
These are the moments that make you terrified of setting foot in Mumbai, because there’s clearly something in the water. Can you think of another reason anyone would bankroll such a project, which kicks off with Sandhya Mridul sucking on a lollipop as she – along with two others – steals a bag of diamonds (belonging to Laadla) that, by the end of the film, lands up on an arm of chandelier, thus necessitating the formation of a tottering human pyramid? And this, just after the supposed comedic bit where Upasana Singh requests Manoj Joshi to hook up her blouse, without realising that he’s not her husband. And this, just after a drunk Tanya asks Gopi to kiss her because he’s got – you’d better be sitting down for this – “such a desi smell.” And this, just after Kishan walks into Inspector Brown’s house – yes, Inspector Brown, played by a hapless Sharat Saxena – and announces that he’s the recipient of the Plumber of the Year award. As such, Mr. White Mr. Black is likely to delight only film scholars pursuing the trail of homoeroticism in our cinema, for if you saw (or imagined) traces of a love of a – cough, cough – different kind in the likes of Sholay and Dharam-Veer, just wait till you hear the song sung by the heroes here, likening them to beats of the same heart: Ek dil do dhadkan, ek Gopi ek Kishan. And here we were, thinking all along that their hearts were beating for Anu and Tanya.
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