The attraction of Freaky Ali is the prospect of seeing Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a movie that, in just its first half-hour, insults a lisping child, a wizened old man and an albino (“nakli angrez!”) – all set to a background score made up of cartoon noises, the sonic equivalent of the BIFF, POW, THUD we see on comic-strip panels. Siddiqui, of course, is no stranger to mainstream cinema, whether the multiplex-y kind (Te3N, Badlapur) or the more hardcore variety, like Kick and Bajrangi Bhaijaan. His “Tu phir boli, Begum!” to Salman Khan in the latter film is one of the great comic comebacks of our time. But he’s never been in something that comes with a “directed by Sohail Khan” tag, which is the equivalent of “starring Sunny Leone”. Only, the moans from the audience are going to be more out of boredom. But Siddiqui makes it watchable. This isn’t, in any sense, a good movie. But he’s good. Sometimes, that’s enough.
It’s the trained actor’s instincts and alertness he brings to stock situations. The story is that of local Mumbai boy (Siddiqui’s Ali) discovering he’s a natural at golf – or “ameeron ka khel,” as the snobbish Vikram (Jas Arora) puts it. Vikram is appalled that this slumdog has taken to this sport of millionaires (he calls it “gulf”), but Megha (Amy Jackson, who lip-syncs better Hindi than she does Tamil) warms up to Ali. Before a game, she wishes him luck, pats his arm and leaves. Another actor would have lifted the arm to his face to sniff it. Siddiqui lowers his face to the arm, and then turns his head the other way, as though unable to handle the intoxication. Scene after scene he keeps doing this, and his odd, offbeat line readings, where he’lljamtogethermanywords a-n-d-t-h-e-n-s-a-y-t-h-e-re-s-t-s-l-o-w-l-y, lift the most banal dialogues into the realm of verbal graffiti. Even the melodramatic scenes come off differently. Ali gets a moment where, post a major injury, he removes the bandage around his hand and tosses it into the air before playing a crucial shot. Hrithik Roshan would have clenched his face till the veins on his neck popped out and made us feel the momentousness of this moment. Siddiqui doesn’t emote at all.
Freaky Ali compensates, at times, by dialling up the volume. There’s rich-versus-poor theatrics. There’s the day-before-the-big-game prayer song, sung by Seema Biswas (she plays Ali’s mother). There’s match fixing, courtesy Arbaaz Khan, who still moves as though unable to believe he’s playing a human being when he was actually auditioning to play a coffee table. Most unexpectedly, during the final game, one of Ali’s friends declaims, “Muddai lakh bura chahe to kya hota hai, wohi hota hai jo manzoor-e-khuda hota hai.” Who would’ve thought the thunderous couplet that moviegoers associate with Mehboob Khan’s studio logo would echo across a golfing green! But there’s enough silliness to deflate all this drama. There’s a running gag about a forgetful old man who knows everything but where he’s stashed away some gangster money. The gangster keeps feeding him almonds and walnuts, hoping to make him remember. What can I say? It’s funny. Parts of Freaky Ali make you laugh in the way that you hope no one else in the theatre is watching you.
- nakli angrez = you fake Caucasian!
- Badlapur = see here
- Te3N = see here
- Kick = see here
- Bajrangi Bhaijaan = see here
- “Tu phir boli, Begum!” = You spoke again, darling!
- “ameeron ka khel” = rich man’s sport
- Muddai lakh bura chahe… = Even if people wish you the worst, it’s God’s will that will take place.
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.