“A Gentleman”… An action-comedy that comes up short on both counts

Posted on August 26, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Good directors are allowed to make bad movies, but with Happy Ending and, now, A Gentleman, Raj and DK have ventured into a peculiar place: they’re making bland movies. There’s no personality, only empty professionalism. The latter can, of course, be its own reward – and the reward, usually, is the verdict, “it’s watchable” – but it’s not something you want from the makers of 99, Shor in the City or even Go Goa Gone. With good filmmakers, you want either glorious art or sublime failures, the ones that make you think they could be dreamed up only by very unique, very eccentric artists. This safe zone is unnerving. You want a movie, not vanilla ice cream.

The title refers to Gaurav (Sidharth Malhotra, who’s vanilla as well, but at least, a very good-looking slab of ice cream). He’s an Indian in Miami, and we meet him as he’s taking possession of a house. Gaurav is in a safe zone as well. His friend Dikshit (Hussain Dalal, bravely trudging through a slew of tired “dick shit” jokes), says, “Tu is duniya ka sabse depressing khush aadmi hai.” (You’re the world’s most depressing happy person.) Kavya (Jacqueline Fernandez) likens Gaurav to her father, and because this isn’t a Greek tragedy, she does her darnedest to avoid the signals he’s shooting her way.

These actors have their charms. One of my friends said she spent the whole of Baar Baar Dekho mentally cheating on her husband, and Fernandez is spectacularly agile – during a song sequence, she does jaw-dropping routines on a pole. But they’re wrong for an action-comedy where he’s meant to be the put-upon dweeb, and she’s meant to be the ditz. We know how wrong when we get to the scene at a fancy restaurant where Gaurav is going to propose, and a panic-stricken Kavya knows he’s going to propose. Instead of screwball energy and comic timing, we get a roomful of dead air.

But I doubt better performers could have done much more. The film is a series of Hollywood clichés. The “one last assignment.” The marketplace chase. The crawl through the ventilation shaft, plus a heist during a New Year celebration. I kept wondering what I was missing. Surely these filmmakers are putting a spin on these terribly obvious scenarios – but what is it? The sole element of interest is the twist that rounds up the first half. A dangerous covert-ops agent named Rishi (Malhotra again; this avatar is like a Van Heusen model impersonating The Notorious B.I.G.) is on a collision course with Gaurav, and we get a 180-degree camera move that winks at the cliché we’re expecting to see. We also realise that the narrative has been winking at us with its timeline. It’s clever, but it isn’t enough.

There’s no wit, no pizzazz. The motions are gone through mechanically. Maybe the big joke is that a man who cannot bear people putting their feet up on his couch lives to see his house (there’s a ‘Home Sweet Home’ board outside) trashed, his dream of a quiet, American-suburban life going up in smoke. Maybe the joke is the hard drive (in these films, there’s always a hard drive) being handed over by a hot-dog stand owner who goes by the name of Patel. Maybe it’s the African-American who digs puran polis. Whatever it is, I sure hope at least Raj and DK were laughing while writing the film. Because the audience watching it sure isn’t.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi