Hindi cinema hasn’t been very kind to lovers of scatological humour. Once in a while, we catch a whiff of flatulence – sometimes in a line of dialogue, sometimes in a throwaway scene like the one where Salman Khan broke wind in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. By these constipated standards, recent years have proved positively diarrhoeal. Delhi Belly treated us to a graphic close-up of the results of the titular condition – I still remember the gasps from the audience, one half of whom was in shock, unable to digest their disgust, while the other half let rip roars of laughter. Then came Piku, which forever changed the way we regard mango pulp. And now, there’s Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho, where buffalo dung performs a sprightly double role. In one scene, it functions as evidence in a court case. In another, it transforms into a missile, hurled at a couple of unsuspecting elders. As for the cop Matang Singh (Om Puri, with eye-blindingly hennaed hair), we first see him after he’s performed his morning ablutions – as there was no water, he warns people about shaking hands with him. Even the almighty isn’t spared. At a village fair, questions are raised about the excretory habits of gods. Does anyone know what They do when They want to take a whizz?
But the most dazzlingly disgusting setup arrives when Arjun (Rahul Bagga) loosens his pyjamas and squats behind a bale of hay. Unknown to him, he’s being observed. The headman of the village, Sualaal Gandass (Annu Kapoor; and note that last name, each syllable of which means the same thing in different languages), suspects that Arjun is having an affair with his wife Maya (an out-of-form Hrishita Bhatt). He seeks the help of the local pandit (Sanjay Mishra), who asks for the young man’s stool sample, to be used in a shamanic potion. So after Arjun finishes up (no evidence of water here either), Sualaal’s henchman Bheema (Ravi Kishan) walks over to the spot. He thinks he just has to scoop the stuff up, but there’s a twist – there’s another deposit, from someone who used these alfresco facilities before Arjun. How, now, to determine which one is Arjun’s? Sualaal, from a distance, asks the bewildered Bheema, “Taaza kaun sa hai?” The answer: both. Then, Bheema notices some evidence of bhindi ka saag. If only they can find out what Arjun had for dinner the previous night…
These developments may not be entirely gratuitous, for the director Vinod Kapri is out to tell us that the country has gone down the toilet. We treat our women like shit. Our legal system is a load of crap. And the bureaucracy stinks. The story centres on the film’s heroine, Miss Tanakpur – not Maya, as you might imagine, but a buffalo that’s won the local beauty pageant. Sualaal is unable to perform what Maya terms “marad wala kaam” – hence her interest in the virile Arjun. (Is it really this easy to sneak into the headman’s house and carry on with his wife?) When Sualaal catches them together, he has Arjun beaten up. But when curious villagers gather around, he cannot reveal what really happened – that would make him an object of ridicule. So he accuses Arjun of raping Miss Tanakpur. Only in the movies, you think – until you realise this is based on real-life events. (See here and here.)
The film, thus, turns into a satire. Section 377 is brought up, because of “unnatural sex.” Candle-waving protesters show up in support of Miss Tanakpur. A khap panchayat decrees that Arjun should marry the “victim.” As the circus gets going, we begin to see the parallels between Miss Tanakpur and Maya, both controlled by men by a (figurative) ring through the nose. At one point, we see Maya tied to a bedpost. Later, we see Miss Tanakpur tethered to a stake. If nothing else, we have here the first film that addresses women’s rights through a ruminant.
The cast is game, even if everyone performs at a higher pitch than necessary – but the problem is that of tone. At one level, Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho just wants to entertain – and provided your stomach is strong enough, you’ll find a lot more comedy here than in the combined works of Sajid Khan. But things turn too serious after a while, and the humour rubs uncomfortably against horrifying scenes of social stigma and familial dishonour. The other thing that makes us uneasy is the persistent doubt that these villagers are being paraded about for our amusement, that they’re being made a little too colourful just so we can sit back in our multiplexes and laugh at them. Look how illiterate they are. Look how superstitious they are. Look what funny English they speak. Look how backward they are. Look how quirky they are. As an illustration of the latter aspect, take this stretch at the village fair where women go to buy bras from a stall. The undergarments are displayed unapologetically – they flutter like flags. As these women don’t know their size, the seller drops his eyes (as does the camera) hurriedly to their breasts before barking out an order to his assistant. Even this I could take. But when Arjun shows up to buy a bra for Maya and cups the air to indicate size, it’s just a desperate attempt at a gag. The scene rings falsies.
- “Taaza kaun sa hai?” = Which is fresher?
- bhindi ka saag = see here
- “marad wala kaam” = manly duties
- khap panchayat = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.