As the titles roll, and the team at Pritish Nandy Communications pay a tribute to the writer-director, late Anant Balani, one hoped that this venture will add to the welcome whiff of fresh air that Joggersâ€™ Park (also directed by Balani) attempted to usher in, a few weeks earlier. No such luck. Mumbai Matinee fails on all fronts. It fails as a comedy, as a sex comedy, as a multiplex entertainer (if it were intended as one), and most basically as a film. What it succeeds in doing is expose two fundamental flaws that plague most directors. First, their poor understanding of who their target audience is, and second, a sheer negligence towards script-writing. How else can one explain the mishap that Mumbai Matinee is? With an ensemble cast boasting of such tremendous talent as Bose, Shukla, and Raaz, one would have expected the writing to be good enough to attract and justify such talent. Mumbai Matinee, the finished product as it stands, is something that these talented actors would want to forget in a hurry.
If you want the plot in one line, here it is. The film follows the misadventures of its male protagonist, a 32 year ad executive in Mumbai wanting to lose his virginity, who finally finds love. Add to this basic idea, an imposter Baba who has a cure for everything, a d-grade movie producer who by adding a terribly executed sex-scene in a z-grade movie gets his first hit in twenty-five years, and a svelte journalist who unconvincingly falls in love with our hero all-too-soon, and voila, you have a two-hour plus movie that thinks it qualifies as a comedic â€˜crossoverâ€™ / â€˜multiplex entertainer.â€™ All wrong.
Debashish Chatterjee, or Debu in short (Rahul Bose) is a 32yr ad-film executive who works in an advertising agency in Mumbai where all that transpires in the name of advertising is a boss and his two execs drooling over the bossâ€™ secretary every time she pouts, flutters her eyelashes or crosses her legs. Whether the filmmakers intended it as a spoof on advertising or simply as a comic portrayal of an ad-agency office in Mumbai, it is neither funny nor credible. Debu is obsessed by the fact that he is still a virgin, and the film takes off with his thoughts and attempts at getting rid of his current status. He picks up a cheap flyer (one of those dirty pink ones that get thrown in buses and trains) promoting Baba Hindustani who ostensibly has a cure for all problems, the sexual kind included.Â
The episode where Debu tries to salvage the flyer with Babaâ€™s information on it, when it gets picked up as trash by the office peon, is acutely amateurish and almost pathetic in its attempt to elicit laughs. What are we watching? A teenage school play? It is nothing less than sad to see Bose in this scene. He amazingly manages to keep your empathy, at least thus far. Baba Hindustani (the talented Vijay Raaz mouthing inane dialogues), who operates out of Hotel Piccadilly with an assistant (Asrani in an inconsequential, loud role), gives Debu a bottle of green pills that will purportedly solve his problem in a week. At this point, the credibility of Debuâ€™s character, in the viewerâ€™s mind, takes a huge blow. What is he getting treated for â€“ impotence or his problem of virginity? Debuâ€™s landlord who sees him with that bottle suspects he is a drug user. A whole 2 -3 minutes wasted on yet another scene that has a credibility level of sub-zero. Trying to infuse another comic angle at the same time is Saurabh Shuklaâ€™s character, small-time producer Nitin Kapoor. Also operating out of Hotel Piccadilly, Kapoor is all big-talk and little else, his coterie consisting of a sole wannabe hero. Debu and Kapoor become friends on Debuâ€™s first visit to Piccadilly, and to be fair, their camaraderie does evoke smiles, if not laughs. In a twist that takes the cake in terms of being utterly implausible, Baba conspires to help Kapoorâ€™s film by videographing Debu who is asked to exercise in his briefs during one of his visits to Baba. These shots of Debuâ€™s push-ups are used by some amateur trick photography as sex-scenes in a film Kapoor directs, called Sholay Mein Deewar (gulp!) This is not all. Hold your breath. Debu becomes an instant sex symbol when SMD becomes a huge hit. He is thrown out of his house by his landlord, and loses his lone friend at work (Kaabir), while the Baba- assistant-Kapoor trio absconds. Enter journalist Sonali Verma (Perizaad Zorabian) who wants to interview the new sex symbol, and in the process houses him, feeds him and promptly falls in love with him. Debu looses his virginity and finds love, the trio apologize when they visit the couple, and allâ€™s well that ends well. Oh and by the way, did I forget to mention the token gay character who is thrust in to the movie with absolutely no relevance or purpose? In precisely two-and-a-half scenes â€“ half in which he makes a pass at Debu, one in which they become friends, and the other in which he informs he is HIV positive â€“ the filmmakers make some sort of a statement that is not just irrelevant, but also hard to comprehend. Whatever it was that they were trying to achieve, they simply couldnâ€™t pull it off, with this character (though Bakul Thakkar is competent in that two-bit role).
With nothing special to offer technically or in its music, Mumbai Matinee can be endured solely due to its talented cast. Rahul Bose reminds one of Amol Palekar in the delightful comedies of the 70s and 80s. When he squirms in the various situations he finds himself in, Bose conveys the same everyday-man-in-troubled-waters quality that Palekar was so effective at. He is definitely talented, and an actor to watch out for. If his sensitivity and intelligence were tapped by Mr. and Mrs. Iyer last year, Mumbai Matinee showcases his sense of timing and his ability to immerse himself in the lamest of characters. Saurabh Shukla has the ability to flesh out every character he plays, just that extra bit. Shuklaâ€™s Nitin Kapoor does come off as more than just a caricature. As for Vijay Raaz, there is hardly anything worthy of his acting abilities in this film. He is nevertheless a compelling actor to watch when on screen. And finally, Perizaad Zorabian adds her signature charm, albeit in a small role. She is effortless in her acting, but a sketchily developed character prevents her from rising above the ordinary.
The glaring question that remains after watching this movie, which did have the potential and resources to pull it off but failed, is who is the target audience? With its more-than-generous use of English, one would be tempted to believe that the filmmakers were trying to target the so called â€˜urban, multiplex viewerâ€™ looking for believable, closer-to-life, sensible and sensitive entertainment. But with story turns this implausible and an overall poor screenplay, neither the sensibilities nor the taste of this target audience were catered to. On the other hand, if the intended target audience was that looking for purely a sex comedy (in which case the film had to cater to a broader audience), then the script was simply not laugh-out-loud funny nor appealing enough for that broader segment. Balani, who succeeded to quite an extent with Joggersâ€™ Park, clearly was not in form for this one. The film looks hurriedly put-together and the contemplations of the protagonist at various points in this film (on love, the gay character, etc.) look like they belong to another film. A film that could have been. But clearly wasnâ€™t.