29 October 2015

Koffee with Karan writ large: thoughts on Shaandaar

My Mirror column last Sunday:

Shaandaar strains to be a madcap comedy, but ends up as an overlong, demented Bollywood home video.

Sushma Seth as the grandmother in Shaandaar
Once upon a time, people made home movies. Over the last century, anyone privileged enough to own the appropriate recording device - a slide projector, a still camera, a video camera, whatever - has been carefully preserving their Kashmiri honeymoons and their family picnics, their children's childhood and then their grown-up children's weddings.

These holiday slide-shows and wedding albums, however, were thrust upon you as entertainment only if you were part of the family, or at least knew some of the people in question. In the new version of life-that-is-Facebook, you're accosted on a daily basis by the gorgeous vacations and perfectly choreographed weddings and cutesy-pie children of pretty much anyone you've ever met at a party, even if the party was six years ago.

But Bollywood, as always, can do better than life. So Bollywood now makes its own home videos. And we buy tickets to watch.

Starring Shahid Kapoor as uber-charming wedding planner Jagjinder Joginder (JJ), Shahid's sister Sanah Kapoor as the plump bride-to-be (BTB) Isha and their father Pankaj Kapoor as the father of the bride (FTB), Vikas Bahl's Shaandaar feels very much like a new filmi family announcing itself. Under the veneer of their new names (and new acronyms laid on by the film's shaandaar humour), these people are all pretty much playing themselves.

Also part of the khandaan is Alia Bhatt, playing her usual funky-little-girl self, speaking truth to power (meaning evil family members) and swimming in waterfalls at midnight when she isn't initiating her lovers into childish joys, like peeling Fevicol off their fingers. The film begins with a long fairy tale animation sequence that suggests our heroine is a little witch (so firang-inspired is this script that this is indicated by her love of owls and frogs, and not sleeping at night.)

She even gets to keep her own name, a fact which seems deliberately intended to mess with our minds by having Alia be Alia in every way, except also being a trivia-nerd. An Alia "interested in everything", churning out factoids about everything from motorcycle engines to how you can tell male frogs from female ones, is clearly meant to kill the abiding joke about her not being able to name the President of India on an infamous episode of Koffee With Karan.

That Koffee with Karan backstory is not just an aside, because in what is possibly the film's most pointless sequence, Karan Johar actually appears. Like everyone else I've just mentioned, he too is playing himself: the film's 'Mehndi with Karan' has him conducting his famous hamper-wala faux-quiz for the BTB and her six-pack Sindhi groom, where for some reason he hands out all the marks to Isha for her doormat-like adoration of a nasty male chauvinist.

Hopefully it is apparent why Shaandaar feels like a particularly long, overindulgent home video. It also comes complete with a crazed family matriarch (Sushma Seth, who proves that at least somebody's enjoying herself, even as she's killed off halfway through the proceedings), a hyper-grand Angrez castle ("just like K3G", and we must give full credit to Johar for letting his past be the butt of humour), and several grandly choreographed songs appropriate to a film that's advertised as "India's first destination wedding movie".

But all this grandeur, to give the filmmakers their due, isn't meant to be taken seriously. We know this because: 1) the perfectly-turned-out wedding party don't just eat Eggs Benedict as they might have done in a film like Aisha, they attend an operatic performance about it; 2) the Mafioso-style Sindhi samdhi is called Fundwani, and comes with a gold (not golden) gun; 3) the serious matter of not eating non-veg on Tuesdays turns into an extended gag/ song involving magic mushrooms - which leads to the plot's only 'important' revelation, which, it turns out, isn't going to be treated as important, because what we're all really here to do is to send up everything that Hindi movies have ever considered important.

So the revelation about our heroine being an illegitimate child is followed by Alia musing out loud about how cool that is: "Main naajayaz hoon! Yeh toh adoption se bhi better hai." And in the deliberately ridiculous climactic scene, after Shahid Kapoor has announced to the villainous samdhis that "Police ne tumhe chaaron taraf se gher liya hai," he waves aside their bafflement by saying, "Dialogue, dialogue." Alia then comes up alongside and says she wants a dialogue, too - and since she is the heroine, she gets to make giggly delivery, apropos of nothing, of: "Ek chutki sindoor ki keemat tum kya samjhoge, Ramesh Babu".

The giggles, unfortunately, are all up there on screen. Episodes of Koffee with Karan have long had this quality - the feeling that these jokes might indeed seem funny if we, like everyone on the show, had grown up in the extended Bollywood family.

But given that we haven't, Shaandaar feels instead like an endless parade of juvenilia, and worse. These are the hip grandchildren of Hindi cinema, taking their poor old dadi's trip. And yet, despite all the coolth they claim to bring to the table, is there nothing more substantial they can do than make fun of old Hindi movies? Dadi is dead, long live dadi.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, 25 Oct 2105.

No comments: