A film tribute to the original 1979 Bollywood comedy movie Gol Maal.
This is the new polished and ultra slick action comedy from one of Hindi cinema’s heavy hitters, Rohit Shetty, who has over the years made a successful franchise with the Golmaal films. His new picture, which opened worldwide yesterday, has already got some ho-hum reviews (as well as a lot of very good ones) on home turf, but, for what it’s worth, I thought it was great fun. The energy, the performances, the comedy, the story rhythms, production and styling, and the sheer manic craziness takes hold from the get-go and does not let up over its nearly three-hour running time. Even the song numbers (there’s not many) are strong. It looks pretty and very polished too.
The sheer manic craziness takes hold from the get-go and does not let up over its nearly three-hour running time.
Apparently for some, Bol Bachchan is something of a cinematic sinner (or at least 'dated’). For starters, say its distractors, it’s a somewhat loose remake of what’s thought of as a major 1979 Bollywood comedy called Gol Maal (which I haven’t seen), directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
The story revolves around virtue: What’s the cost of lying in order to save face? Here, the main characters lie to an all-powerful patriarch, whose own integrity is rock solid, in order to preserve their social position, status and livelihood. Much of the film’s comedy comes out of a 'clash of cultures’; tradition vs. modernity; tolerance and acceptance vs. conservatism.
Still, Shetty and co. show a knowing postmodern wit in relation to their picture and the original. At one point, the characters here get a crucial clue to unlock the film’s tricky plot – which revolves around multiple false identities – when they happen to catch Gol Maal on TV!
In modern day New Delhi, Abbas Ali (Abhishek Bachchan) and sister Sania (Asin Thottumkal) lose everything, including their ancestral home, in a legal battle. At the suggestion of a pal, they move to a village called Ranakpur. The place is presided over by scary Prithviraj Raghuvanshi (Ajay Devgn), a wealthy landowner. He’s a hugely macho figure of comic proportions and great eccentricity (he likes to impress his dimwit staffers with his English, which is spectacularly bad). All seem to be terrified of him.
When we first meet Prithviraj, he’s chasing down one of his employees with a strap. It turns out that he cannot abide liars; his victim here deceived him and so Prithviraj puts the guy in the hospital! This sets up the major issue to get the narrative going: Abbas, a Muslim, violates village law while committing a chivalrous act. Instead of declaring his interests (and truly frightened by Prithviraj), he calls himself Bachchan and Prithviraj gives him a job. Prithviraj grows especially fond of Abbas, who is not only a good worker but – at least outwardly – has all the old world scruples and values his boss so greatly admires.
And so begins the film’s tangled plot, based on the classic comic tropes of masquerade and mixed identities; characters here 'swap’ genders (and sexual orientation), disguise their religion (and true feelings), and they keep up this farce until guilt begins to pull at them. The tipping point for Abbas and Sania’s and their pal’s deceit is love; the film’s second half is dedicated to competing romances. Prithviraj falls for Sania and Abbas falls for his boss’ sister played by Prachi Desai.
The gags are pretty good; there’s one lengthy episode here when Abbas receives a visit from Prithviraj, who wants to meet Abbas’ mum, but since she’s dead, this creates all sorts of issues for the hapless liar.
There’s also a couple of lengthy action scenes where the film’s two male heroes punch and kick their way to victory; Shetty uses lots of digitally tricked out slo-mo effects where the characters do battle in mid-air (a la The Matrix). The best bit is the climactic car chase which is hilarious and exciting in equal measure; it’s got the pursued outpacing high performance vehicles in an old bus which seems to have been drafted in from the hippie era.
The cast are fine; I really liked the women, but unfortunately their parts are reduced to looking good and acting sincere and comically subordinate to the men.
The premise is a culture clash of standards that’s all inclusive – religion, social practice, morality, sexual orientation – it’s all comic fodder, and respectful. I think it says a lot about the film’s 'live and let live’ theme that Bol Bachchan’s biggest comic set piece involves a grotesque gay caricature (more precisely, the part is a straight man pretending to be gay in order to secure his real identity). I’m not accusing the film of gay bashing quite; later, there’s a seemingly heartfelt plea for homosexual tolerance (in line with the film’s general 'liberal’ stance on most things). It’s just to say that with Bol Bachchan, Shetty and co. aim to push all the right 'commercial' buttons simultaneously.