Review: Toh Baat Pakki / Click

Posted on February 20, 2010


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A dramedy about groom-hunting that promises only to deceive. Plus, a shocker about ghost-hunting that promises only to deceive.

FEB 21, 2010 – TABU, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, is an actress nobody knows what to do with. She isn’t – and she never was, praise the heavens – a stick-figure siren capable of seducing the multiplexes. (It’s only the rare MF Husain who will even begin to think about venturing into her Amazonian voluptuousness.) As for the other side of the actress, courtesy the reputation of an industrial-strength role-inhabiter, she appears to have peaked a little too early, in the pre-plex era. The films, today, that amble along the path less trodden – Ishqiya, say, or even Kurbaan – opt for younger actresses whose lesser skills are counterbalanced by greater star power. (Tabu may be a pyromaniacal performer, but she’s never quite set the box-office on fire.) So, at first, Kedarh Shinde’s Toh Baat Pakki seems little more than a pocket-money project for the actress, a means of prodding the public memory while making a tidy bit of cash till the next truly worthy offer trundles along.

But as this dramedy begins to roll, we’re in for a mild surprise. We’re thrust into the kind of India that isn’t quite shining on screen these days – it’s Palanpur, a bustling anyplace where people still bond over community names like Saxena, where dowry is still a millstone on the bride’s family, where one-upmanship with gossipy neighbours is still a rousing sport, where bashful youngsters still count on much-venerated elders to fix them up with matrimonial alliances (and where a perfectly ordinary looking engineer-to-be like Sharman Joshi, who plays Rahul, is considered a prize catch), where the Hindu hero’s best friend is the local Muslim paan-wala, and where the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi still mean something.

Better yet, there is – at least on paper – the sketch for a magnificent character in Rajeshwari, the über-controlling elder sister that Tabu portrays. She showers affection on Rahul, hoping to marry him off to her sibling Nisha (Yuvika Choudhary), and when the richer, handsomer Yuvraj (Vatsal Sheth) steps through the threshold. Rajeshwari, quietly, packs Rahul away and begins to dream about Yuvraj and Nisha spending the rest of their lives together. As such, she comes across as a callous vamp who values success and status over more humane qualities – but a little earlier, we’re shown that Rajeshwari is the pillar of the family. Her mother, a vestige of a more chauvinistic age, comments that Rajeshwari takes such good care of them that she’s more son than daughter – and Rajeshwari replies that she is a daughter, and that daughters take far better care of parents than sons.

The way Rajeshwari sees it, she’s more than the man of the family – she’s the woman of the family. And that means that the tough decisions, the ones no one likes to take, are hers. (She’s like the iron-fisted matriarch Dina Pathak played in Khubsoorat.) When her husband – the henpecked Surendar (Ayub Khan), who prefers Rahul to Yuvraj – demands what she will do if she located, tomorrow, a Saxena-surnamed bachelor worthier than Yuvraj, Rajeshwari replies that she’ll marry off Nisha to the newcomer. Not an eyelid is batted. It’s her responsibility to ensure happily-ever-after for her sister, and she will do whatever it takes – the feelings of Rahul are of minor consequence. He’s a good man, yes, but her sister deserves the best. The character of Rajeshwari embodies not only the traditional middle-class desperation of finding a good match but also the wily determination to achieve this end at any cost.

What a pity, then, that this character – like the others – is mired in an appalling hodgepodge of drollery and drama. The director can’t decide if he wants to coast along with weak laughs or dive into fascinatingly flawed humans. The result is dull beyond belief, with amateur-hour plot contrivances involving missing diamond rings and botched kidnap attempts and an akhada-based wrestler-uncle (the aptly surnamed Sharat Saxena). This isn’t even cinema – just TV-style drama with shot after shot of talking heads. The attempt may have been to emulate the light-hearted family entertainers popularised by the likes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee – who, incidentally, would never have staged a generic soniyeheeriye bhangra-rock celebration during a Kayasth engagement ceremony – but there was more to those films than just the grim grind of plot machinery. When Surendar hands his son money to buy kulfi, Rajeshwari snatches it away citing the boy’s health as reason, and we move to the next clinically calculated scene. Mukherjee, however, would have paused for a moment of empathy, giving us the father’s attempts to cheer the crushed child behind the mother’s back. That’s the difference between a pretender and a pro.

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MORE DISAPPOINTMENT ARRIVES VIA Sangeeth Sivan’s Click, with Shreyas Talpade and Sada inhabiting the barely believable parts of a photographer-with-a-past and his excessively loyal girlfriend. Taking a cue from the preternatural premise, the film, too, could have broken free from its earthbound confines. The plot – from the Thai horror hit Shutter, which also formed the basis for the Tamil remake Sivi – is a Shyamalanesque stunner, with an accumulative twist you’ll never see coming. And while there are plenty of shock-cut scenes (with jangly sound design) intended to keep the heart hammering, Click is also about the heart in an entirely different respect – about its capacity to cling endlessly to love. Unfortunately, what could have been a prime entry in the hitherto underserved elegiac-horror-as-gothic-romance subgenre is reduced to a mere jump-out-of-your-seats exercise. That said, though, such an exercise demands its own cluster of skills and has its own clutch of fans, whose screams are sure to overpower the complaints of the critic.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi