Review: Woodstock Villa / Hastey Hastey

Posted on May 31, 2008


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The Kher boy makes his debut as a scamster with an eye on the easy buck. Plus, something that sounds like a bad comedy and plays like a bad romance.

JUNE 1, 2008 – IMAGINE AN ITCHY-FINGERED TONY SCOTT TYPE helming an urban-nightmare variation on Vertigo, with a nod or two to Palmetto along the way. Imagine the basic premise of a man watching someone else’s wife die (partly due to his own involvement), then discovering she may not quite have passed into the afterlife. Imagine, even, a scene where Sameer (Sikandar Kher) observes Zara (Neha Uberoi) – the woman, the lookalike of the presumed-dead wife – at the dressing table, where he snatches her lipstick as she begins to layer it on and applies it with his own hands, as if he were the obsessed architect of her reconstruction. And imagine that – that single moment apart, that one instance where the film seemed to be taking a turn towards someplace really interesting – all the psychology, the grand tragedy of it all, had been stripped away, that all that’s left is the empty clickety-clack of pulpy plot machinations, trashily dressed up with jittery camerawork and split-screen editing tricks, and seeped in bleached, rotting colours that make it appear that the shooting took place in Baba Bengali’s adda from No Smoking. That’s about what makes up Hanslal Mehta’s Woodstock Villa.

Years from now, the only thing this film will be remembered for is that it marked the confident debut of Sikandar Kher as – in the words of Gulshan Grover – a “baaad man, a very, very baaad man.” After Neil Nitin Mukesh in the gleefully amoral noir-thriller Johnny Gaddaar and now Kher, I think it’s officially the end of an era, of the days of Kumar Gaurav and Aamir Khan and even Hrithik Roshan being launched as the on-screen equivalent of a soft toy that schoolgirls could cuddle up with in bed. Sameer has no girlfriends to speak of, but plenty of women to sleep with. He has no job – he can’t seem to find one that’ll match his exacting standards – and yet, he drives a Pajero and lives in an apartment that all but sports an I-have-arrived sign on the doorway. And how is he able to afford this lifestyle? Well, he’s kept afloat by the money he borrowed from the baaad man himself (Gulshan Grover, playing a bhai). If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see young actors making a bid for stardom not as heroes but in characters that would have earlier been dismissed as villains.

Sameer sees an opportunity for easy money – the only kind, according to him – when he’s approached to fake a kidnapping. (This is the Palmetto part.) The wife of a rich businessman (Arbaaz Khan) wants to find out if her husband truly loves her, and she feels she’ll have proof of the fact if he hears she’s been kidnapped and coughs up the ransom instantly. Had Sameer paid heed to the hilariously overripe lines mouthed by his benefactor a scene ago – “Yeh ladkiyan shamshaan aa nahin sakti, lekin pahuncha zaroor sakti hain,” warns the bhai, that dames can be dangerous – he’d not have accepted this flaky assignment. But the subsequent twists and turns aren’t half bad – though I kept asking myself if it wasn’t any inherent goodness about Woodstock Villa so much as its not being yet another bargain-basement comedy – and there’s a satisfying snap to the conclusion. I just wish they’d gotten rid of the speed-breaker songs – there’s one featuring Sanjay Dutt for no apparent reason other than this being a Sanjay Gupta production – but let’s not get too greedy about changes in our cinema. It’ll be a while before we see the end of that era.

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IT’S A KNOWN FACT THAT GOOD ACTORS can sit you down by the sheer force of their charisma (or looks, or star power, or whatever) and lead you through a bad movie. Take Serendipity, for instance. It’s a romance about boy and girl who leave it to the fates whether they end up with each other or with the fiancé and the fiancée waiting for them in the sidelines. It’s a wildly improbable series of coincidences and missed connections and what-have-yous, and if – by the end – you’re still watching (and, more importantly, waiting) to see if boy clinches the deal with girl, it’s because they’re played by a moony-eyed John Cusack and a luminous Kate Beckinsale. Cusack manages to add a dash of smarts even to material as silly as this, and Beckinsale, she’s well, Beckinsale, so you want good things to happen to them (even if you already know that, this being mainstream Hollywood, the screenwriter isn’t exactly going to have his heroine carved up by an on-the-loose psycho killer two minutes before the hero knocks on her door).

Why am I talking about Serendipity when the film under consideration is Hastey Hastey? For one thing, there’s a bit about an inscription on a book and something about an item of clothing, along with a finale about an almost-wedding, that transported me to that earlier romance. And it’s also the fact that boy (Neel) and girl (Maya) spend a goodish portion of the story looking for one another – in other words, cue wildly improbable series of coincidences and missed connections and what-have-yous. But since Neel is played by a tired Jimmy Sheirgill (that spark he showed in Maachis and Haasil has now dulled beyond recognition) and Maya is played by a generic clotheshorse named Nisha Rawal – you could swap her with half-a-dozen other Bollywood-come-latelys and you wouldn’t know the difference – there’s absolutely nothing to hold on to, nothing to root for, nothing to lead you through this bad movie.

Fans of Rajpal Yadav, however, will find three reasons to flock to the theatres, for the actor essays a triple role, each one more painful than the next – as Neel’s best buddy Sunny, as Sunny’s uncle who thinks Sunny may have a thing for Neel, as Sunny’s father who witnesses Sunny making out with an American girlfriend. Yadav hogs entire stretches of screen time, so it appears, at times, that Neel’s story is almost an afterthought. That story, in case you’re interested, has to do with Neel falling for Maya, and leaving her behind – they’re in the US – when he pursues a business opportunity in India. He returns to find that Maya has moved on – or has she? After all, as the motivational speaker – yes, this is a film with a motivational speaker dispensing chicken soup-isms about life and love and such – points out at the beach, as he picks up a starfish that’s been stranded by high tide, Neel and Maya need one another just like the starfish needs the sea. Now you see why the likes of John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale come in handy?

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi