A messy dramedy makes you wonder what it could have been with the right actors. Plus, a love story so not worth falling for.
JUNE 22, 2008 – IF WE HAD A TRADITION OF SURFER-DUDE MOVIES, Aftab Shivdasani might have been a star by now. He’s tall, he’s blandly handsome, he knows how to flash a winning smile, and it’s easy to imagine him as the go-to actor if you wanted someone to do nothing more than fill the frame photogenically while riding monster waves into the sunset. All this is just another way of saying no one has yet figured out what to do with him on land, where he’s at best an affable presence, at worst a blank slate, passable enough in frantic comedies like Hungama and Masti, but an absolute misfit in dramas. (Of his goldfish-mouthed attempts at thesping in Footpath, I wrote then, “The baby-faced Aftab Shivdasani, in particular, is majorly miscast; he’s supposed to be the lead through whose conflicts of conscience we’re meant to view the story, but he’s so out of his depth, it’s like watching Kumar Gaurav attempt Amitabh Bachchan’s role in Deewar.)
Teetering uncomfortably between comedy and drama, E Niwas’ De Taali doesn’t do Shivdasani any favours – but then, in all fairness, who, really, could pull off a moment like the one in a restroom where the actor (playing Abhi) is asked to high-five the occupant in the adjacent urinal before zipping up, just because they’re best buddies? (Apparently, friendship means never having to say you’re sanitary.) The recipient of this misplaced jubilation is Riteish Deshmukh (as Paglu), who, at least, has never posed a problem about where he fits in – and he’s actually gotten quite good at playing low-rent characters in lowbrow comedies. But then, De Taali isn’t his typical turf either, for it’s a wee bit more ambitious – a dash of the absurd and the farcical and the slightly surreal thrown into a story about love and friendship, and if you’re like me, you’ll spend your time wondering which performers, if any, could have made this mix work.
De Taali is a sprawling, shambling, and rather strange mess that gets going, most unexpectedly, with a few sharply shaped observations on how friendships evolve over time. Abhi and Paglu, along with Amu (the always alight Ayesha Takia), are the kind of never-apart friends that have grown up in a tree house, and when Abhi invites his newfound girlfriend Kartika (Rimi Sen) to this sacred space and asks her to carve her name alongside those of the Tree Amigos, Paglu is utterly resentful. He doesn’t want a newcomer in the group, and that’s why he’s possibly trying to fix up Abhi and Amu, with little regard to the fact that Abhi – his friend, whose interests he should be looking out for – doesn’t look at Amu as anything more than “one of the guys.” And when Amu follows Paglu’s advice and falls for Abhi and discovers the existence of Kartika, she has a touching line of dialogue, that thus far he was just Abhi, whereas now he’s the boy who’s broken her heart.
But every time the film seems to getting somewhere, the terribly placed Vishal-Shekhar numbers (Maari teetri is a zingy blast) bring things to a halt – and the worst offender would be the first song in the film, which follows the beautifully realised opening credits. For a while, we seem to be looking at random bursts of graffiti, with confessions like, “We saw Sholay today… for the 25th time” (and the name of the blockbuster is chalked out in panoramic block letters, the way it was in the original posters) – and then we see that these inscriptions are on the walls of the tree house. It’s a diary in bark, and we’re poring over years and years of scribblings about Paglu and Abhi and Amu. But Niwas decides this isn’t enough to establish their friendship, and so we cut – so abruptly, it almost hurts – to this moronic number that goes De taali, taali de / Life is just a holiday, as Paglu and Abhi and Amu shake their booty along with a dozen imported extras. The mood has changed, in a moment, from something heartwarmingly intimate to something horribly impersonal.
The songs trip up the second half too – where Paglu and Amu do their best to make Abhi realise Kartika isn’t The One – but there are other problems as well, with Niwas struggling to juggle all the balls he’s thrown in the air. He’s especially cavalier about the way he treats Kartika, who isn’t even all that bad as she’s made out to be. When accused of being a gold digger, she points out – not incorrectly – that Amu too chose Abhi, the moneybags of the group, when she could just as easily have fallen for Paglu. Kartika is a woman who’s unapologetic about the means she’s undertaken to get ahead in life, and perhaps as punishment, she’s stuck with the film’s worst screenwriting decisions, involving farcical characters and ridiculously inappropriate situations. But if this farce is just what you’re after, De Taali has a few inspired instances of lunacy. Saurabh Shukla is a scream as a sweetly demented landlord who thinks his tenant is some sort of emperor, but the best gag is the one about Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag. This, without doubt, is the cheekiest ever nod a director has made in the direction of his mentor and one-time master.
ANIL DEVGAN’S HAAL-E-DIL IS THE WHOLLY UNNEEDED ANSWER to the question: What happens when Jab We Met collides with the portion of Cinema Paradiso about a soldier who stood outside a princess’s window to prove his love? If that sounds like a rather unholy mash-up, you haven’t seen this unlikeliest of love triangles – because you can hardly believe that Shekhar (newcomer Nakuul Mehta, not bad in the chatterbox-Kareena part) would fall for Sanjana (Amita Pathak). She’s the kind of pill whose idea of romance is to ask her boyfriend Rohit (Adhyayan Suman) to hand over a one-chapter summary of the Bhagavad Gita every day. And when not looking at Holy Scriptures, she has an eye on Hallmark cards, which is surely how she comes to the conclusion that the Seven Wonders of the World aren’t in Giza or Agra, but in virtues such as Honesty, Sensitivity, Sacrifice, and so on. The only person who’s going to be thrilled with this film is Mimoh Chakraborty, who finally possesses proof that it’s not just his dad who’s capable of picking out career-killing launch pads. Watching poor Adhyayan receive a flower from his girl on Valentine’s Day, only to muse, “Wow, a rose from a beautiful rose,” you have no doubt father Shekhar Suman is frantically dialling the Chakraborty household for tips on how to survive the inevitable attempts at patricide.
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