To be honest, I don’t remember all that much about what happened in Ghanchakkar. No, this isn’t me trying to strike comedic gold in the film’s central premise of Emraan Hashmi robbing a bank and forgetting where he hid the money. As I write this, barely an hour after walking out of the theatre, the film seems a blur of Things Happening with an intermittent soundtrack of Hashmi and Vidya Balan shouting at each other.
It wasn’t as if I wasn’t paying attention — apart from a few minutes before the interval when I found myself dozing off — or that the film doesn’t have anything other to offer than its protagonists playing panelists on primetime news. But watching what could have been an interesting premise (if they had bothered to get an interesting actor to play the part) become a car that hits cruise control at 80 km an hour is deadening in its own way. As I said, Things Happen in the film, but they seem to Happen because Things are supposed to Happen in films. The characters play along, reacting to every Thing that Happens by resorting to their meticulous Standard Operating Procedure, possibly written by producer Siddharth Roy Kapur, the positively un-bankrobberly real-life husband of Bidya Madam. Balan and Hashmi shout at people (mostly each other), while Sharma and Das, who play Hashmi’s partners in crime, generally look on in bemusement when they’re not resorting to violence. After a little while, though, they inevitably make their peace with it and react to the next Thing that Happens.
The execution is sabotaged by the decision to limit the cast to four people. Budgetary issues perhaps, but such films require their actors to be completely in synch, bouncing dialogue off each other with at least a stable tiki-taka rhythm, if not free-flowing joga bonito. The shocking lack of chemistry between the lead pair makes many of their shared scenes look positively dysfunctional, and not in a good way. It doesn’t help matters that Balan’s Neetu has been reduced to a caricature of the loud Punjabi woman, a role she plays competently, but never touching anything close to the heights she has in her recent films. Pandit and Idris, the aforementioned partners, are nice oddball characters, but what starts off as guys with intriguing tics soon turns into Guy Ritchie shtick, and becomes another one of the many dead ends the film takes.
Which is strange, because the journey the film makes is the fairly straightforward Bollywood story arc of a man gradually losing his memory. It is a well-trodden path, but lined with rabbit holes full of promise, if only the storyteller is willing to take a detour or two. Raj Kumar Gupta keeps it simple (and mercifully avoids many clichés), mainly dwelling on the paranoia Hashmi feels as a result of his suspicion that his wife is planning to run off with the money and/or a man, who may or may not be her lover. Again, an interesting actor could have carried the movie on that alone, but Hashmi’s insistence on maintaining a petulant scowl that masquerades as an intense look throughout the film (nay, his career) just adds to the feeling that the film just keeps going in circles until a deus ex machina, in the form of a fifth character, mercifully ends it all. The end, in spite of everything, isn’t half bad; it gives you a split second to see what’s coming, which makes all the difference. But, like most of the film, it feels unearned, abrupt and utterly pointless.