Bollywood’s increasing hyper-nationalism has been well documented. While the Indian film industry, like any other, had been guilty of treading nationalist waters intermittently in the past, it is no coincidence that this particular trend has skyrocketed since the rise to power of the Hindutva nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi in 2014.
Over the past six years, we’ve witnessed bans on Pakistani artists, films being blackmailed into editing out storylines and characters with links to Pakistan, and even a surge in movies targeting the Indian National Congress (INC) with the who’s who of Bollywood queueing up to hobnob with Modi.
Even as the BJP’s Hindutva brigade has been actively sidelining the Muslims – to put it kindly – many prominent Muslims from the Indian film industry – including ‘the Khans’ – have had to cozy up to the Indian premier to avoid being rendered irrelevant, at best.
Now, how does all of this factor into a review of a movie directed by Anees Bazmee, whose magnum opus is Welcome and who – unless he’s copying Hollywood scripts, as in Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha or Deewangee – can only produce what can most generously be dubbed farce comedies?
This is especially true, when the film in question is Pagalpanti, wherein anything from a poster to a trailer would underline, that it is a typical Bazmee film.
As we’ve expressed over the years in this space, we’re perfectly capable of enjoying and appreciating ‘mindless’ comedies. In fact, we have confessed it as something that is especially cherished here.
Not all comedy can be intelligent, or smartly written – most definitely in films from our part of the world. However, Pagalpanti will test the patience of even the most long-suffering aficionados of the Bazmee brand of comedy.
Pagalpanti has its moments of laughter, but the frustrating lulls comfortably outlast them. But that’s not the worst bit about the film, as we’ll discuss in a bit.
Raj Kishore (John Abraham), Junky (Arshad Warsi) and Chandu (Pulkit Samrat) are the ‘Three Idiots’ or the ‘Trimurti’ of panauti. After a string of unfortunate encounters, the trio’s bad luck takes them into the lives, and house, of gangsters Raja Sahab (Saurabh Shukla) and WiFi Bhai (Anil Kapoor).
In just the two lines above, you would’ve seen the plot of over a dozen Bollywood comedies released on this side of the turn of the millennium. But there’s one notable difference.
Now Bazmee couldn’t have taken it upon himself to make a hyper-nationalist war film, or a BJP-tainted political thriller. So what he does is that – keeping up with what most others are doing for self-sustenance – he manages to inject patriotism in his signature farce. That comes in the shape of Niraj Modi (Inaam-ul-Haq).
Where Niraj Modi – play on Nirav Modi – is the main bad guy in the film, who has stolen tens of thousands of crores of the Indian masses, a small cameo in the end also shows a character resembling Vijay Mallya. And as a result, a film that was all about ludicrous situational comedy, in the end manages to take the moral high-ground by dragging in real-life fugitives and poses as a ‘patriotic’ movie. Perhaps Bollywood should formally introduce nationalist comedy, or patriotic farce, as a genre.
Not that we’re encouraging you to watch it any way, Pagalpanti is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, wherein there’s a wide array of films and shows from this part of the world, which we’ll be discussing as part of our lockdown reviews.
Next week, we’ll look at another usually farcical franchise that mindlessly looks to preach progressive ideas. However, there one won’t find nationalism but feminism – and if you haven’t already seen it, it would be the last film in the world that you’d expect to make a feminist point.