The sensibilities of Sai Paranjpye and David Dhawan are so dissimilar that it was with a certain amount of dread that I looked at the latter’s remake of the former’s Chashme Buddoor. (Dhawan’s version is spelt Chashme Baddoor; given the more overt sexual flavour in this film, the switch from U to A appears entirely appropriate.) But I’d forgotten what an old pro Dhawan is when it comes to a certain kind of loud and slapsticky humour. In his hands, a genteel middlebrow entertainer is transformed into a rowdy lowbrow comedy – and the shock is that, barring the few minutes of initial adjustment, he pulls it off. Low expectations can certainly make a movie look more than it is, but that isn’t the case here. The tone is so focused, the segues between scenes so smooth, the machine so well-oiled that the anticipated travesty turned out, at least for me, a pleasant surprise. I doubt audiences will recall this version three decades hence, the way some of us look back at Paranjpye’s film, but for a couple of hours I wasn’t complaining.
At first, though, everything looks horribly off. Jai (Siddharth), auditioning for what looks to be the role of a rapist, fixes his gaze at his heroine’s bosom and declares, “Kaun kambakht kehta hai ki mohabbat sirf ek se hoti hai.” The character is a loud loudmouth – his over-the-top exclamations are matched by his candy-coloured wardrobe – and Siddharth plays him as if Jim Carrey were possessed by the spirit of a Tex Avery cartoon. The change in temperature from our memories of the older film to this one is too much. Our introduction to Omi (Divyendu Sharma) is no better, as he’s fond of reciting sexist and politically incorrect couplets. The last straw is when Siddharth (Ali Zafar) – the reincarnation of the Farooque Shaikh character, the supposedly quiet one among the trio – makes his entrance singing a song that goes Dan dana dan dana dan dana… welcome to the ishq mohalla. What good can come of this?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. After a while, we grow accustomed to Dhawan’s voice, the performances begin to click, and the older film begins to recede from the mind. (That’s the surest sign that a remake works.) Siddharth and Sharma bounce off nicely against the mild-mannered Zafar, and even Taapsee Pannu (as the love interest, Seema) strikes all the right notes. (If you’ve seen her flounder about in her Tamil and Telugu films, you’ll understand my astonishment. What a difference knowing the language makes.) And they get solid support from Rishi Kapoor (as a tattooed bar owner) and Lilette Dubey (as a love-struck spinster) – as today’s generation knows not what shy flirting is, it’s left to these seniors to reenact the older film’s “Chamko detergent” routine. The trick to low-comedy shtick is to hit on unique premises that can be milked dry, and there are at least two here – Omi’s couplets and Rishi Kapoor’s predilection for misquoting idioms, which he then justifies with logic cooked up on the spot. These gags keep on giving.
The plot is the same. Omi and Jai fail to snare Seema, and when she falls for Siddharth, they try to break the couple up. What’s missing is Paranjpye’s mini-commentary on the tropes of Bombay cinema. Long before Farah Khan learnt to wink, Paranjpye had incorporated a meta-movie into her main movie, and Chashme Buddoor wove riffs around love-story conventions, the unnaturalness of lovers breaking into song and dance, the difference between real and reel life (the charming simplicity of Deepti Naval as the girl next door versus her aggressive artifice in the dream sequences; the way she speaks at home versus her rehearsed sales-pitch spiel for detergent powder), and even the action-packed climax where the hero rescues the heroine from the villain’s den. The action climax here doesn’t arise from that premise. Instead, we’re simply told that this is the age of Salman Khan, not Amol Palekar. This is just what’s done. How can you argue? The icing on the cake is Dhichkyaaon doom doom, Sajid-Wajid’s spot-on invocation of the RD Burman sound, circa Khel Khel Mein. For a few minutes I was in nostalgia heaven.
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