The finest, most fascinating mysteries are the ones where we find the red herrings stashed away in plain sight all along. In Raj Kumar Gupta’s Ghanchakkar, the true clue to the proceedings is barely hidden. It’s in the song playing in every trailer, the song over the opening credits of the film: it’s fiendishly smart to say Lazy Lad and make us assume the filmmakers are talking about the protagonist when in reality they mean the screenwriter. For this is a confoundingly half-written film.
What is exasperating is how good it is right up to the third act, right up to the point when the people plotting this clever and twisty story decided not to type out any more ideas and let the film remain an almighty mess.
Like all of Gupta’s films, it starts brilliantly. Emraan Hashmi’s Sanju lives with his wife Neetu (Vidya Balan) who dresses like a backup dancer in an 80s music video and doesn’t have a knack for seasoning food. One evening, over a plateful of something too salted, a mysterious man calls with a very lucrative offer. Sanju, who insists they have enough saved up for a few years of idling, isn’t keen but Neetu nudges him towards that classic ‘one last job.’
This leads to a hilarious bank robbery, one that makes dazzling use of celebrity masks that I would hate to ruin by telling you about, but it’s like a Hrishikesh Mukherjee version of Point Break. Each mask wears a different expression — a Grin, a Gasp and a Frown — and the way these famous faces fumble their way through the chaos is priceless. The film rollickingly (and with very impressive narrative economy) zips through its constantly compelling story, and in less than a half hour we know all our principal protagonists, have seen a great robbery, and are aware that one of them has lost his memory and thus forgotten, three months later — when the cash is meant to be divvied up — where the loot lies.
So far so far-out, and Gupta and his fine ensemble cast fill in the details with wonderful whimsy. The reliably excellent Rajesh Sharma plays an unctuous baddie called Pandit, a great contrast to his profane and trigger-happy partner, Idris (Namit Das), while Hashmi looks appropriately befuddled and Balan, from amid a deluge of polka dots, sparkles in that way only she can. I think I smiled at the screen throughout the madcap first half, the lunacy of which echoed early Coen Brothers movies. (I was particularly reminded of Raising Arizona.)
Balan, in particular, deserves to be singled out for applause simply because of her willingness as a leading lady to take on a role this farcical — that of a loud character not just overweight but mocked for her weight, through dialogue and ludicrous costume. There is a scene, I kid you not, where she wears giant earrings shaped like prisoners, as if The Beagle Boys were using her ears for clotheslines.
But despite all the merry tomfoolery, a film like Ghanchakkar depends more on the meat of the story than on its execution. And somewhere through the second half, it stops being funny and becomes inane precisely at the time when it should have showed off its intelligence. We look for a big reveal and there is none. And a house of cards can’t be built on jokers alone.
So despite the delicious nuances — the sabzee-buying commuter; the roadside apothecary with technicolor bottles; a chipmunk-like crook talking naughty on the phone before, without irony, straddling the film’s hero — Ghanchakkar builds up and builds up and builds up magnificently before collapsing in a bloody silly heap. I was loving this film till it turned the tables and hoodwinked me.
Maybe, like the television-addicted Sanju, we’re all better off watching these films on Zee Cinema. At least we can change channels or fall asleep midway.
Rating: 2 stars
First published Rediff, June 28, 2013