Chaalis Chauraasi, Naseeruddin Shah

<Review by: Tushar A Amin>

Directed by Hriday Shetty. Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni, Ravi Kishen

This is one confused, chaotic, conundrum of a film, unsure whether to be a Guy Ritchie wannabe or a comic caper. The result is a movie that ends up being a spoof (of itself), the ensemble cast notwithstanding.

Powered by brilliant ensemble cast and taut, twisted narratives, and fueled by positive word-of-mouth publicity, films like Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Aagey Se Right, Sankat City and Shor: In The City have successfully carved a niche for Grunge Bollywood. So, when three of Alternative Bollywood’s torch-bearers agree to work in a film, expectations are that the film would do justice, not just to their talents but also to the trust you put in their sensibilities.

You are already in two minds as the (unintentionally) retro opening credits roll, jarring low-fi track, poor choice of fonts, et al. But the opening sequence shows promise. Sir (Naseeruddin Shah), Bobby (Atul Kulkarni), Pinto (Kay Kay Menon) and Shetty (Ravi Kishen) are getting drunk, playing cards and generally shooting crap in a police van as they patrol the city streets. Doing everything you expect cops would do. A few minutes into the film, Chaalis Chauraasi springs a twist. These guys aren’t real cops and the van they are driving is stolen. You think, this just might overshoot your expectations. Hopes raised, you look forward to things getting twisted. Instead, you get two (almost) back-to-back item numbers. And everything takes a sharp turn south thereafter. By the time the foursome’s plan to execute a heist are vocalised, you have stopped caring. The already forced characters’ are burdened with shallow back-stories, stupid obsessions and mandatory ticks and quirks. Workable twists are drawn out to such lengths that they lose the little charm they had. By the time climax dawns, what could have been a tolerable film has become a spoof of itself.

Something has to go really wrong for a film featuring Naseeruddin Shah, Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni to turn out so bad. In the case of Chaalis Chauraasi, the fatal flaw emerges in the form of the filmmaker’s ambiguous vision. Director Hriday Shetty plunges headlong into non-linear narrative structure script and then gets cold feet. Choosing not to gamble on the audience’s intelligence, he bungs in repetitive expositions at every turn, vocalising what little subtleties the film could have had. Hriday Shetty chooses a contemporary story, has second thoughts and then decides to coat it in a thick layer of B-grade sensibilities. You get the feeling that a director with a little clearer vision could have salvaged this utter mess.

But then, this is also a film that emerged from the shooting floors only half-dead. The actual dismembering seems to have taken place on the editing table. There are portions of the film (like how the four got together) that seem to have been shot (hinted at in the dialogue) but sacrificed at the altar of item numbers. You would expect one of the three respected actors to see this for what it is turning out to be. However, the cast seems to have their own plans – The Revenge of the Indies. “You want commercial, here take a load of this,” they seem to be saying with every theatrical gesture, each stupid line mouthed and every spoofy sequence executed. This is their answer to Golmaal, Dhamaal and the likes.

Now, we all love films that are so bad, that they are good. Chaalis Chauraasi fails even those standards. The best way to describe Chaalis Chauraasi comes from street-lingo. It’s called KLPD.

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