Shyam Benegal is a legend. And with movies like Ankur, Manthan, Sardari Begum, Zubeidaa, and the more recent rural comedy Welcome to Sajjanpur, one can obviously see how! He has become the master of what Bollywood Buffs and the elites have started calling ‘middle cinema’, which is basically a perfect blend of art-house and commercial elements to entertain as well as enlighten people. So naturally, I got the tickets for the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) screening with some expectations from the director. Were the expectations fulfilled? Let’s find out…
The story goes something like this. Armaan Ali (Boman Irani) comes back after a mysterious self-extended three-month break, and his boss asks him to explain himself. Thus starts a colorful and exciting journey involving his twin brother (Boman Irani), the brother’s wife, his daughter’s (Minissha Lamba) marriage, and the hilariously realistic world of corrupt politics, which takes him on an endlessly long maze that he never knows if he can get out of. More about the story will divulge too much, so let’s stop right here!
The best part of this film is that, like Welcome to Sajjanpur, being a comedy, it doesn’t rot into the sickening over-the-top set of jokes. It uses realistic situations to make us laugh. The hilarity of the whole situation lies in the stark reality of the life around Armaan Ali, and not only do we laugh at his naïve attitude, we also think about the people and our rights. The film is not just an entertainer, but leaves a message in its own subtle way, which is an excellent way to portray something inspirational and educational to the mainstream audience.
Shyam Benegal has been able to achieve all this not through any small preachy gimmicks, but through a solid script that is more of an irony on life than some slapstick situations and a preachy end. A well written story converted into a well-executed screenplay is not something that comes regularly nowadays. And kudos to Shyam Benegal for handling all kinds of moments with that imminent directorial sensibility that nobody else can have.
Technically, the movie is brilliant, save for the green screen footage that looked immature and was improperly motion-tracked in many places. Also the editing, which was impressive in most places, looked choppy in some. Considering the motion graphics aspect, the title sequence was something that attracted my attention the most. The notebook-styled scrapbook that showed all characters' pictures ‘stuck’ onto it really amused me.
Leaving the soundtrack aside, let’s talk about the background score (also by Moitra). Well suffice to say, it leaves you spellbound, awestruck and makes you hum the tune throughout. In a word, brilliant!
As for performances in the movie, It would be difficult to pick out one outstanding effort, because all of them were perfectly enacted in character, be it the sex-freak sub engineer played by Ravi Kishan, or the weird wife of Armaan Ali’s twin brother Rehman Ali, called Salma (played by the eclectic and powerful Ila Arun), or the irate boss, or even Samir Dattani’s efficient performance as Arif, the mechanic working in his foster father’s shop. But the actor who surely takes the cake is Boman Irani, who has actually rocked the whole movie with his performance as both Armaan, and his twin brother Rehmaan – kudos to the acting team! And now comes the surprise package – Minissha Lamba. After a dashing debut in Yahaan and a brilliant performance in the surprise hit Shaurya, she makes a solid impression as Armaan’s bold, educated and free-spirited daughter Muskaan, who knows her rights very well.
And with such a stellar star cast, what could possibly go wrong? Basically, technical glitches apart, this movie is a perfect amalgamation of message-driven cinema and commercial entertainment driven cinema, merging into a beautiful movie that everybody will enjoy watching – not just once, but twice – even thrice!
Overall, watching this movie at the “DIFF” premiere has been an experience of a lifetime – something I’ll never forget. And watching movies at film festivals have their own subtle charm. After the charming gala premiere of Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year, which was basically the cake, I’ll call Well Done Abba the icing. This movie gives you the Welcome to Sajjanpur effect – it makes you grin widely at the end of the movie, and also makes you think hard about your rights, the good and the bad. So I recommend you wait for the worldwide movie release (sometime in 2010) and be sure to catch it, you won’t regret a second!
REVIEWER’S TIP: Going into the theatres expecting your regular Bollywood comedy and loads of slapstick, mindless entertainment value will be the biggest mistake of your life. Many critics did that for the recently officially released Rocket Singh and failed to understand the movie as a whole, and a similar disappointment was seen after Welcome to Sajjanpur. So, as a warning, please expect something different and meaningful alongside entertainment before entering cinema.