Review: Paying Guests

Posted on June 20, 2009


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Jaaved Jaffrey and Shreyas Talpade dress up in girl clothes for a two-hour comedy that yields about ten minutes of good laughs.

JUN 21, 2009 – WHEN A FILM ADVERTISED AS A RIB-TICKLER opens with the unfortunate image of three grown men tumbling off bunker beds and landing on top of one another, and when the director (Paritosh Painter) is so lazy, he won’t even bother to stage the expected payoff shot comprising of much groaning and groin-clutching, you heave a weary sigh and hunker down in your seat. This, you know, will be a dispiriting addition to the ever-increasing number of films crafted apparently for the express purpose of giving its starlet-heroines some quick-and-easy pocket money, so they can buy those fancy bags for red-carpet appearances at the ever-increasing number of awards shows. (The beneficiaries, here, include Celina Jaitley, Neha Dhupia, Riya Sen and Sayali Bhagat, who are paired off with the almost-as-nondescript Shreyas Talpade, Jaaved Jaffrey, Ashish Chowdhry and Vatsal Sheth.)

Over the course of a plot that charts the travails of the protagonists as they attempt to locate PG digs in Bangkok, Painter throws at us much by way of wincingly misguided humour. And when a suitable accommodation is located, there’s a catch: the landlords (Johny Lever and Delnaaz Paul, who attempts to amuse us by referring to “aam aadmi” as “mango man”) will only let the room out to couples, and hence the contrivance of Talpade and Jaffrey posing as women (or rather, in the case of the latter, RuPaul’s estranged half-Indian stepsister). It’s a toss-up as to which is intended as the pinnacle of dazzling wit, the throwaway shots of the house (where this con is being perpetrated) bearing the address-plate “Plot No. 420,” or the revelation that the men-in-drag have named themselves Karisma and Kareena.

There’s, to be fair, the occasional gag that evokes a grudging laugh – especially if, like me, you’re a fan of low-comedy or farce – but through the long stretches of tedium in between, I was free to ponder about the niggardly treatment we mete out to comedy in our film culture. This is a rich premise, and it could have yielded a profitable couple of hours of brain-dead entertainment – but thanks to the ineptness of the staging, it all adds up to little more than a lost opportunity. When are we going to realise that it’s not just the heavy-duty dramas that require talent, in front of the camera as well as behind, but also – and perhaps more so – the comedies? Why do we, for the most part, relegate the latter to low-budget quickie productions cooked up, apparently, on the shooting spot, and featuring the cheapest available cast?

It’s bad enough that you’re staging a climax that attempts to recreate the ink-black delirium of the final moments of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro – with a play-in-progress disrupted and systematically dismantled – but when you need an actor to spoof Amitabh Bachchan’s posturings in Shahenshah, is Ashish Chowdhry all you can scrounge up? The only performer who wiggles out unscathed is Shreyas Talpade. When pursued by the lisping gangster played by Chunkey Pandey – who mouths “Lonnie” when he really means “Ronnie,” so you know he’s up to no good when he smacks his lips and announces he’s going to launch into a “lape” – a hysterical Talpade (in drag) wrings big laughs out of old-Bollywood constructs such as “abla nari” and “hawas ke pujari.” Like Riteish Deshmukh, he’s an affably lightweight presence who blends perfectly into an ensemble, and he throws himself into these proceedings with an earnestness that’s at once endearing and entertaining. He is, in short, everything this film isn’t.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi