Let's not even bother griping about the pinnacle (or shall we say, the lowest trenches) we've reached of the masala genre. It exists for a reason and it has thrived for decades for a reason. People watch it. But films like Rohit I-still-don't-get-how-his-films-become-blockbusters Shetty's latest Bol Bachchan are missing the one key skill of making memorable, guilty-pleasure masala films - the delicate art of balance. In fact, they're not just missing the balance. They are so far beyond it and so busy pummeling us with deafening loudness that balance becomes a mythical ideal that once existed.
Shetty seems to owe quite a bit of his most successful films to Hrishikesh Mukherjee. While the title for his Golmaal trilogy was obviously borrowed from Mukherjee's 1979 comedy classic, with Bol Bachchan, Shetty borrows the story of the same film. After the rather dry title "item" song with a guest appearance by Amitabh Bachchan, the film kicks off with a series of events that take half an hour to get to the point - down-on-his-luck-and-finances Abbas Ali (Abhishek Bachchan) is forced to conjure up a mustachioed twin in order to keep his brawny yet rather foolish boss Prithvi (Ajay Devgn in a Singham hangover) placated.
In the process, the film somehow brings up the Hindu-Muslim issue - Abbas can't stay Abbas and has to become Abhishek Bachchan (yes, Bachchan playing a character with his real name. Star pandering, what?) because for some reason the dreaded Prithvi won't like a Muslim employee. But not once does Prithvi say or do anything to suggest this, and there are even melodramatic dialogues about how 'Ramazan' has the word 'Ram' in it and 'Diwali' has 'Ali'. So really the whole basis of this series of lies is flawed to start with. But then again, I'm probably putting too much effort into thinking about this.
Bol Bachchan goes from one over-the-top, insane, deafening scene to another, hurtling through the ever-expanding web of lies. And being a Rohit Shetty film, there are the obligatory airborne people and SUVS that leap, somersault, and bounce in the air. If Shetty leaves a film legacy, it will be his knack for flying cars. And we're not talking sci-fi here.
There are also plenty of action sequences with the lone hero (or tag-teaming Bachchan and Devgn) taking down an army of goons. Of course, conveniently placed around the scene of these superhuman fights are stacks of various props that can smash easily. One goon goes flying into a mound of clay pots, another into a beautifully arranged display of bangles, while a whole car in hot pursuit smashes (yes, flying) into a large truck carrying water bottles. Shetty knows spectacle. If only it wasn't so hollow and inane.
As the film carries on its seemingly never-ending two and a half hours, you start wondering if the exact same exercise in filmmaking can be done with any other star. Yes, having Abhishek Bachchan allows them to have a title that can both use the star name and also act as a pun (bol bachan, i.e. intellectual gyaan). But since the name 'Abhishek Bachchan' is uttered more than anything else in the film, you realize that absolutely anyone could have played Bachchan's role and the film could have been titled and marketed accordingly.
But by the time another twist in the story is introduced - the fake Abhishek Bachchan creates another fake persona, the extremely effeminate dancer Abbas - it makes sense why Bachchan was cast. The sort of homophobic humor that propels the story forward has been done before in Dostana, and was performed by, surprise surprise, the same actor. It seems for films like these, there exists only one kind of homosexual character in the world. Again, unnecessary analyzing here. I should be focusing still on the flying cars and people.
There are a few moments - very, very few - that manage apt comic timing. But then Shetty and the cast overdo it so much that even those small moments of comic precision are bludgeoned into a migraine. Devgn's character trait of mouthing off horrible English translations of Hindi phrases has the potential to be hilarious when the first few come out of nowhere (I will make you remember milk No. 6, A brother in need is a sister indeed, etc). But like everything else in this film, these too are overdone with extreme buffoonery that you stop caring. The cast, including the largely unimportant female leads Asin (playing Bachchan's sister) and Prachi Desai (playing Devgn's sister), sidekicks Neeraj Vohra, Krushna Abhishek, Asrani and Archana Puran Singh, all display a staggering array of hamming talent.
Bol Bachchan ends with 'Directed by Rohit Shetty and team', a rather pluralistic statement for a very pluralist film. It goes along the lines of Farah Khan giving all of her crew their five seconds of fame in her end credits. That's nice and all, but with films like this, the director just has to take the responsibility for unleashing yet another overbearing, unrelenting, film that is forgotten as soon as it ends. I have no doubt this film will do big business. Speculations of breaking the 100 crore mark also abound. And such a film becoming a blockbuster will mean only one thing - there will be more such films to come. I wouldn't blame you for shedding tears of hopelessness right about now.