[Film Review] Nautanki Saala!

nautanki-saala-0v“Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes. And I can take or leave it as I please.”
Trying to hang yourself, on the contrary, can be quite painful. And unlikely to succeed if you’re trying to do it on the side of a Mumbai road, as Mandar (Kapur) does in the beginning of Rohan Sippy’s Nautanki Saala!. It’s not his fault; the movie he’s in is a remake of the French comedy Après Vous, and the plot demands that he be found by the protagonist RP (Khurana) before he can die. Then again, in that film, José Garcia was hanging himself in a deserted park through which Daniel Auteuil happened to be taking a short cut, but parks aren’t an abundant commodity in Mumbai. One does one’s best with what one has, I suppose.
Anyway, Mandhar’s suicide attempt does bring on many changes, so much so that RP, who becomes his “guardian angel”, is struck with insomnia by the end of the film. This would be the point where I would joke that I, on the other hand, fell asleep, but I didn’t: if not for the comedy, then because keeping track of the plot is a full-time job. Not that it’s a complex plot. Boy meets girl, girl dumps boy, boy attempts suicide, friend saves boy, friend tries to get boy and girl back together, friend and girl fall in love, boy finds out, and so on. A fairly commonplace comedy of errors, Nautanki Saala! fails because it fails to import the spirit of the original with the story, and ends up as confused as it is contrived.
The problem, as is usual in Bollywood, lies in the third act, the bit after the interval when, confident that no one who didn’t leave during the interval will do so now, films lay on the heart-wrenching emotional drama they avoid like the plague before the interval. It’s especially true of comedies of errors, as this act is always spent in the protagonist brooding over whether he should tell the truth and untangle himself from the web of lies he’s spun so far. In this film, the drama is more annoying than heart-wrenching, even though the premise cannot be faulted. RP, whose only flaw, we’re told, is that he thinks more about others than himself, has fallen in love with the woman he is trying to get back together with Mandar, and doesn’t know what to do. His course of action — a schizophrenic seesaw between avoiding and kissing her — does him no favours, and thanks to Pooja Salvi’s vanilla performance, makes these sequences downright unwatchable. The climax comes as a bolt from the blue, seeming to be included only to give the film the saccharine ending Bollywood revels in.
As for the comedy, there are a few genuine funny moments, especially when Kunaal Roy Kapur is on screen. In the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man On The Moon, he asks a yogi what the secret of being funny is. “Silence” is the reply, and Kapur has shown in Delhi Belly and this film that it is a maxim he follows. The best jokes flow simply from his bewildered expression and his conviction that the Universe is out to get him, as well as some hilarious non sequiturs (a sign at Mandar’s grandma’s house reads “Kripiya yahaan bomb na phodein; press waaley bahut tang karte hain”). Khurana is a great straight man in their shared scenes, but pales in comparison, especially since his idea of non-verbal communication seems to be to overuse the devil’s horns whenever something goes right. But Sippy loses the original’s devil-may-care lightness, and Indianises this madcap romcom to decidedly poor results.