Synopsis – A group of people learn about a hidden treasure and then they race to find it and claim it.
My Take – Over the years, the sub-genre of ‘leave your brains at home’ or ‘screwball’ comedy has found itself settle a comfortable place to settle into. Despite the critical lambasting they tend to get, they also end up becoming profitable ventures for their makers. However, when done right, they can be considered the escapist cinema a middle class working family can easily be swayed into just for the mindless laughs.
One such film was the 2007 release, Dhamaal, which while borrowing elements from films like Rat Race and It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, still managed to use its talented comic cast to induce many laugh out loud moments in its 137 minutes run time. However, the case wasn’t the same for its 2011 sequel, Double Dhamaal, where franchise director Indra Kumar decided that by adding a zanier plot and a bunch of sexual innuendos was the best way to move the series forward. Well, we all know how it all turned out.
Eight years later, Kumar is back with yet another installment which despite retaining lead actors (minus Sanjay Dutt and Aashish Chaudhary) acts more of a reboot of the 1st film, with Ajay Devgn and 90s iconic pair Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit filling in the missing shoes.
The good news is that this newly released film, despite of its major shortcomings is way better than Double Dhamaal, however, that fact doesn’t save it from being close to abhorrent. I agree if a screwball comedy has an engaging screenplay, wacky characters and rip-roaring gags, then one can suspend disbelief and forsake logic voluntarily, but here, director Kumar provides everything – laughs to entertainment- in half measures.
Sure, some of the humor is nicely timed and executed, and the film even tucks in a message of environmental conservation (delivered through some terrible CGI wild animals), but as a whole package the film seems just lazy. But looking at its opening box office numbers, it seems to have hit its target viewership: casual audiences, parents and children, the kind of crowd that’ll laugh at an accent. Best to watch this one as a cartoon film shot in live-action, with nothing more to prove.
The story follows Radhe (Ajay Devgn), a thug whose only motive in life is to become rich, who with the help of his side-kick Johnny (Sanjay Mishra), manages to steal 50 crores from the corrupt police commissioner of Mumbai (Boman Irani), which he had earned by striking a deal to launder currency rendered useless by demonetization.
Unfortunately for Radhe and Johnny, their third wheel, Pinku (Manoj Pahwa) dupes them and makes a run for it with the money. While they do catch up with him a month later, Pinku dies in the pursuit and in his last moment shares the location of the loot to a bunch of strangers. One being Avinash (Anil Kapoor) and Bindu (Madhuri Dixit), a constantly bickering couple who are in the midst of finalizing their divorce, the second being, Lallan (Riteish Deshmukh) and Jhingur (Pitobash Tripathy), two former fire officers now turned small time con-men, and the third being, Adi (Arshad Warsi) and his dim-witted brother Manav (Jaaved Jaaferi), who always seem to be down on their luck.
While Radhe initially offers them each a small share of the money as a consolation for not going to the police, the groups end up arguing for a bigger share, that is until they all come to a conclusion, that whoever reaches Omkar Zoo in Janakpur first gets to keep the money. Thus beginning a day full of life changing, near death experiences and adventures they never expected.
The set-up returns to the first film: the prize is bigger this time, the elusive ‘W’ replaced by an assertive ‘OK’. With a cardboard thin story line, the script is stitched with buddy scenes and is packed with action drama and comedy. It takes you on a roller-coaster ride of desperately anti-climax moments with laughs in every scene punched with low-brow dialogues that holds your interest more than it should have, given how sloppy it is. The first half is fast paced and races through. The second half drags a bit trying to play on the emotional chord, especially in the zoo scene.
The humor is puerile in most places, but thankfully not cringe-worthy or crass. Some of the punchlines, especially delivered by Jaaferi and Mishra, are delectably droll and elicit guffaws. When you throw so much at the screen, something is bound to stick.
In an earlier scene, Adi and Manav apply for a job at an art gallery. And so of course, they must destroy a bunch of things that apparently have beauty and value. But first, let’s squeeze in an old Reader’s Digest era joke. Adi almost drops a vase, and the owner of the gallery gasps, says “that’s 300 years old!” Adi responds, “Oh? The way you screamed, I thought it was a new one.”
The screenplay, by Paritosh Painter, Ved Prakash and Bunty Rathore, has enough visual gags and punchlines to distract from the severely tacky visual effects and overwhelming familiarity of such films. Poor IQ levels exist across the board in the film, and the idea that Indians have to cough up a lot of money for poor services extends beyond the universe inhabited by the characters.
Here, director Indra Kumar seems to have sat with a checklist with all funny things. Instead of concentrating on the quality, he has worked more on making sure that the funny things find a way into the film. So from toilet humor to WhatsApp forwards and from domestic humor to silly characters, every ingredient has been added to this comical serving. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a character representing all communities. From a Gujarati to Maharashtrian, a Bengali, to a North Indian, the film has very diverse characters!
The film then sets about picking on every regional identity it could think of, without ever moving away from the usual stereotypes. So, a South Indian is sipping a coconut, a Bengali is singing Tagore’s ekla cholo re, and the Bihari, of course, has a gamchha around his neck.
For the longest of time, Bollywood has often searched for laughter in the casual regional identity tropes and the film of course wasn’t going to attempt innovation. The film keeps itself at a safe distance from that word. And let’s not forget there are the animals too. In fact, the only time the film comes most alive is when Jackie Shroff’s ‘Chindi’ voice-over blares out of a car’s HUD panel.
Now given all that can happen in an attempt at madcap comedy while staying strictly within slapstick boundaries, the performances can be said to be suitable for the genre and in that sense, every actor is effortless and natural. Each pair shares a brilliant chemistry between themselves and are legitimately funny as they fit right onto the bromantic comedy bandwagon.
Ajay Devgn (also the co-producer) lends his star power and cocky charm to the enterprise and is completely in his Golmaal mode. Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit Jodi are a treat to watch. Here, Anil is hilarious as the upset husband with his Gujarati accent and Madhuri uses her natural Marathi accent to hit all the right comic notes.
Riteish Deshmukh does well in his character of a pan-chewing ruffian Lallan, who puts his mouth where the money is, his scenes with Johnny Lever are entertaining. Arshad Warsi and Jaaved Jaaferi continue to be scene-stealers. Sanjay Mishra and Pitobash Tripathy, yet again, are in fabulous form. Meanwhile, Mahesh Manjrekar, Esha Gupta and Boman Irani are wasted in unwillingly written characters. On the whole, ‘Total Dhamaal’ is a below average entertainer which despite a promising cast is led down by its bad writing and bad execution.
Directed – Indra Kumar
Rated – PG
Run Time – 127 minutes