Humshakals opens with a scene where Ashok (Saif Ali Khan) is doing stand-up comedy. At least, he seems to think he’s doing stand-up comedy – he’s really just unleashing PJs that were old when our grandfathers were in school. The audience, understandably, departs in droves. Ashok’s best buddy Kumar (Riteish Deshmukh) – Ashok… Kumar; I’ll wait a couple of minutes till you’re done laughing; done? okay then – asks him how he can keep doing this when he’s so obviously bad at it. This is something we might ask of the director Sajid Khan, who has, so far, shown little talent for making a movie. He does seem to have a sense of humour. In a later scene, two men are tortured by being made to watch Khan’s Himmatwala – with their eyelids taped open, like Malcolm McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange. But the joke’s on us really. Ashok may suck at comedy, but he has tons of money – in other words, Sajid Khan can keep making movies for no reason other than a desire to keep doing it. Simply put, we’re doomed.
Why are our comedies so bad? We don’t have to search very far for the reasons – tempo-killing songs, underwritten heroines (Tamannaah Bhatia, Bipasha Basu, Esha Gupta), leaden pace, overlong running times… And we insist on casting stars rather than comic actors. Stars may be able to pull off light-hearted scenes or rom-coms, but for energetic lowbrow comedy – which is an art, by the way – you need someone like Satish Shah, who plays the tyrannical warden of a mental institution. He worships Hitler, Idi Amin and Gaddafi, and he imbues his scenes with a crackpot vitality. In my favourite bit, he performs the dandiya with a pair of live electrical cables. The other actor who acquits himself (dis)honourably is Ram Kapoor. Watch his rage vanish after being handed a lollipop, and you’ll be surprised at how comfortably he channels his inner idiot.
Humshakals is dedicated to the memory of the screen’s great nutters – Kishore Kumar, Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers. It’s a bad idea to remind us of how physical comedy can be done when what we have before us is the sight of Saif Ali Khan embarrassing himself thoroughly. Watching him in the scenes in the mental institution, I was reminded of Carrey’s sublime romp through similar situations in the first Ace Ventura movie. That, right there, is the difference between mastery and misery.
The story is something about people in multiple roles, and it’s set in motion because the Ram Kapoor character wants to usurp Ashok’s billions – and this brings us to the other reason we don’t make good comedies. Because the writing just isn’t good enough. Khan and his writers think of terrific setups – parathas made with cocaine and vodka; a drug derived from various species of dogs; lines from film songs being recited as dialogue (jahaan koi aata jaata nahin…), an apoplectic Prince Charles venting in Hindi – and these gags should have exploded on screen, but the follow-through is so uninspired and lazy that it appears as if they didn’t know what to do with these ideas once they dreamt them up. We walk in expecting lowbrow comedy and all we get is low-rent filmmaking.
* Humshakals = lookalikes
* Malcolm McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange = see here
* Satish Shah = see here
* dandiya = see here
* Carrey’s sublime romp = see here
* parathas = see here
* jahaan koi aata jaata nahin = see here
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.