"Can you watch Nishabd and Nehle Pe Dehla for this weekend's reviews?" my editor asked me.
"Oh, I have some work on Friday," I intoned, "Can I watch Nehlle Pe Dehlla late-ish, and you can get someone else to do Nishabd?"
Thus were the death knells of my brain cells rung.
I took it as a sure shot sign that I had made a mistake when the late night show on Friday at a local cinema was canceled (yes, canceled!) due to too few tickets sold (5, the guy said.) I braved that too, and caught the show the next day - such was my single-minded dedication to the idea of numbing parts of my gray matter forever. To paraphrase our buddy Bill from Kill Bill, "This was me at my most... masochistic."
It's not that Nehle Pe Dehla is a terrible film. Oh no, it's not content with simply being that. It is also a terrible film which wastes enormous amounts of star cast, time, and a plot with comedy potential, to deliver a dated film, a ghost of the '90s-era-filmmaking at its worst. Boo. To top it all, I have to live with the realization that I brought it upon myself.
This film belongs to a different era in Indian cinema, literally. It has been in development since 2001, and saw the light of the day only now. A paradigm shift in viewer sensibilities has taken place in these 6 years, and what was great then, may be jaded now. Really, more than anything here - the bad acting, the inane plot, the truly abysmal background score, the hammy dialog - more than all of this, what hurts the film most is that everything is just plain ancient. This is the kind of crap that plays late night on Zee Cinema, if you know what I mean.
How tired is it? Well, for starters it belongs to the times when comedy films had do-good thieves as the protagonists and they had rhyming or similar names. So joining the great tradition of Chantu and Bantu, Sonu and Monu, and Chunky and Monkey, are our main guys, Jimmy and Johnny (Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt). Petty thieves both, they are rivals by profession, and don't get along too well.
When they witness a murder, they follow the dying man's words to a hotel where they masquerade as inept stewards, and try and find the whereabouts of some Rs. 30 crores in cash. Conveniently the scene shifts from there to Mauritius as they run out of locales to shoot the songs in. When the manager's (Shakti Kapoor) crooked partners kill him, Jimmy and Johnny must use the dead body to find the hidden bounty. Hilarity ensues. Or not.
Yeah, it's that kind of a film. The slapstick-y caper movie with loud comedy that relies on the main players' charisma more than anything else, as they stumble over badly-written jokes on their way to the hidden booty. Speaking of booty, the film has actresses too. Bipasha Basu and Kim Sharma provide ample eye candy, and seeing as there are plenty beaches in Mauritius, there's no limit to the depths of their, er, character that the director is willing to display in order to get some brownie points from the audience.
Typical to films like these, the actresses have uni-dimensional roles that have some quirks, rather than character, and are used for visual appeal and to have someone to lip sync the female bits in a song. On top of that when you see Bipasha change her appearance and age (6 years is a long time, brother) over the course of the film, you do feel v-e-r-y disconcerted.
The handling of the film feels the brunt of the delay too. It is disjointed, inconsistent, and marred by a screenplay that has jokes that belong to the heydays of David Dhawan and Govinda. Not surprising, as debutante director Ajay Chandok was a one-time assistant to Dhawan. It's funny in parts, and the two leads do have a magnetic presence, and their chemistry is palpable. But when they are given such mad dialog to spew, it just all goes down to hell. Except Shakti Kapoor - he doesn't go to hell, no. His dead body sticks around animatedly to fight in the end climax too.
This film has a very David Dhawan feel to it, but lacks the manic energy he could pump on to the screen. And even so, the Dhawan template has long been updated to compete with the Priyadarshan juggernaut, and this film resolutely sticks to 2001 (this is one spaced out odyssey). Though I can't imagine this film being a riproaring work of comedic genius had this been completed even then.
This is a woeful state of affairs, and it is strange to see Sanjay and Saif, after they have both proven themselves as serious actors in recent times, to be a part of the kind of film that Dino Morea must refuse these days. Ouch, wot? The actors have indeed done some recent work on it, as there are bits where they look very close to their look in Eklavya or Lage Raho, and you can tell they are really hoping this film gets forgotten FAST.
With the kind of film this is, they don't have anything to worry about.