By Ishan Marvel for Youth Ki Awaaz:
You know what’s better than watching a good movie? Going for one thinking it’s gonna be shit, before realizing midway that it’s actually not.
That’s what happened with me and ‘Shaandaar’ yesterday at a cinema in Karol Bagh. After watching the trailer and reading some of the reviews, I had dismissed it as yet another mindless, somewhat pointless, mainstream Bollywood release of dubious consequence. Now that I have seen the film, I would at least dispute the ‘mindless’ bit. I believe the filmmaker Vikas Bahl (of ‘Queen’ and ‘Chillar Party’ fame) knew exactly what sort of a film he was making, and who he was making it for—and I believe he did a good job of it.
And talking of mainstream films that we could have done without, how about all those old SRK blockbusters? What set apart ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (which incidentally celebrated its 20th anniversary recently, marked by this scripted but nostalgically beautiful snippet) or ‘Kal Ho Naa Ho’ (2003) from the other pointless movies was that they were entertaining. Be it the witty banter of contemporary romance, the mawkish but resonating family scenes, the populist issues seen from a populist, balanced-and-hurting-no-one’s-morals perspective, or the light-hearted, feel-good, with-a-happy-ending nature of these films. The sort almost everyone could watch and enjoy regardless of age, gender, political bent, or intelligence quotient. To maintain the lowest common denominator at a healthy rung—a fun parivarik or a ‘family’ film to be more precise.
‘Shaandaar’ is about two-and-a-half hours long, but it didn’t feel like it. Major credit goes to the anchoring presence of Pankaj Kapoor as Bipin Arora, the sweet, protective, but helpless father stuck in the middle of a ‘business deal’ in the guise of a wedding between two rich Indian families somewhere in an opulent English castle. (Think of the ‘straight guy’ amid crazy people comedy trope—something Kapoor excels at, as seen in ‘Zabaan Sambhaal Ke’ or ‘Office Office’.) The foil to Bipin, of course, is Jagjinder Joginder, or JJ (played by Kapoor’s son, Shahid) — the wedding organizer and the I-can-handle-anything-cause-I’m-a-witty-sweetheart, hustler of a hero. JJ ends up vying for Bipin’s daughter, Alia’s (played by Alia Bhatt) affections. Both of them being insomniacs, and JJ being Alia’s “sulaane wala rajkumar,” or basically, the guy who she can literally sleep with (yes, there is a cheap joke exploiting this obvious wordplay in the film—and yes, I laughed even though it was stupid).
Meanwhile, Bipin’s other daughter, or the bride, Isha (played by Kapoor’s daughter and Shahid’s sister, Sanah) is about to be married to Robin, a self-obsessed jock of an asshole with “eight-and-a-half” pack abs. The dude enters the film with a giant jar of protein powder in tow—just one of the many intentionally over the top details in the film, such as golden stretch limos and diamond-studded shotguns. Similarly, animation or CGI—there’s way too much of it (the movie starts with an animated sequence as a plot introduction) but then, who said that’s a bad thing, right? In fact, isn’t it the kind of crap that you probably loved as a kid, and dragged your parents to the cinema for?
The chemistry between Kapoor and his real kids and reel daughter is on the mark, and forms the core of ‘Shaandaar’. By the interval, I confess that I even began to enjoy the (what seemed at first cheesy and pukeworthy) new-age-cute scenes between the lead couple, such as them sharing life stories over milk and biscuits on a couch. Special mentions: Sushma Seth as Bipin’s mother, or the onerous and mercenary matriarch of the Arora clan; and Sanjay Kapoor, who is as annoying as ever (although this time the role was such) as Seth’s counterpart: the literally-flashy patriarch from the groom’s family, the Fundwanis.
Otherwise, there are beautiful foreign locales, vehicles to die for, lame stereotypes, customary wedding gaiety and nonk-jhonk between the ladki and ladkawallas, a half-decent script sprinkled with common wit and touching filial scenes, and unnecessary but fun, bass-heavy songs that to a reasonable extent match the tone of the film, such as ‘Gulaabo, zara gandh faila do‘, ‘Nazdeekiyaan’, and ‘Raita fail gaya’. Pick of the lot however is the ‘Eena Meena Deeka’ remix sung by Rachel Varghese, played to one of the aforementioned new-age-cute scenes. And when you put all this together, you get a film in the fashion of a Yash Raj-SRK blockbuster—only, with a somewhat fresh, contemporary flavour—and in a good way. And yes, by that analogy, Shahid would be the new Raj or Rahul—and well, he is. Similarly, Vikas Bahl is the new Karan Johar, who incidentally, while playing himself, brings in one of the meta touches (there are quite a few, for instance, reflexive comments on the narrative mode: “Haan, dekha na abhi, flashback mein”) of the movie while hosting ‘Mehendi With Karan’ for the wedding.
What follows is a hilarious climax where family secrets come out in the open, including pregnancies, homosexuality, unhappy marriages and illegitimate children. Also, a fake pandit and fake hair. While the good guys? “Deal-making duniya se faraar, ek shaandaar zindagi ki taraf . . .”
And that’s what I mean by calling ‘Shaandaar’ an SRK blockbuster from a fresh perspective: The film knows its genre, exploits it, but with a note of self-criticality. For instance, the continual stress on the mercenary nature of the alliance instead of the usual tradition-and-family (think Rajshree) shindig; or cutting short a hackneyed romantic sequence with “Aisa kuch nahi hoga;” or in a situation ripe for tear-jerking melodrama, the twist: “How cool!” Similarly, the usual bitchy relatives and petty feuds one’d expect in a Bollywood wedding film are thankfully absent.
So well, this is the ‘new-age mainstream’, and it’s cockier than ever. There have been movies like this in the past, and there will be more. The interesting thing about ‘Shaandaar’ is that it could mark an important milestone—for again, it is a big Bollywood release. Besides, considering them solely as symbolic of two diverse schools of filmmaking in general, what next would this curious partnership between Karan Johar and Anurag Kashyap bring? (‘Bombay Velvet’ may have been somewhat of a disaster, but hey, at least it was slick!) I believe the answer would be interesting, and could play a big role in shaping Bollywood as a whole in the near future.
And in the end, a reviewer ought to keep these things in mind: Does the film succeed in achieving the idea it set out to, and would it work with the intended audience? Again, with ‘Shaandaar’, I feel it did on both counts. Never mind all that talk of Bahl disappointing after ‘Queen’ (2014). That too was a mainstream universal entertainer with a dose of the new-age—’Shaandaar’ falls in the same mould. Similarly, what’s this crap about the film not being deserving of the Phantom (Anurag Kashyap’s production house) label? Really, you’re gonna tell a filmmaker—especially as a producer—what sort of films he should put his money on? And again, pared down to basics—if we can agree that a production house’s raison d’etre is to invest in films that would work with the audience and bring profits, then Phantom has made a good choice.