Let me begin by quoting what is essentially the catchphrase of Sajid Khan’s Housefull: “Jis jhoot se kisi ka ghar basta hai, woh jhoot, jhoot nahin hota” (The lie that establishes a home isn’t a lie). Chew on that for a second. Now imagine a mega-budget, star-studded film that uses that same logic to justify almost everything that takes place in the most unbearable two-and-a-half hours of your life this year. Well, that line and sheer stupidity. Sajid Khan’s Housefull not just wastes a decent ensemble cast, it is an embarrassing example of ‘entertainment’ and ‘cinema.’
The rather loose storyline goes something as follows: Arush (Akshay Kumar) is a loser (which is made painfully obvious by an entire song dedicated to this), who is dumped by his girlfriend (walk-on role by Malaika Arora-Khan) and seeks solace with his best friend Bob (Ritesh Deshmukh). Bobby and his wife Hetal (Lara Dutta), who both work in a casino, fix Arush up with their boss’s (Randhir Kapoor) daughter Devika (Jiah Khan). The two get married, but Arush is dumped by her on their first night. Enter Sandy (Deepika Padukone), who then becomes his true love. With all this settled, there is then a series of ridiculous events that are intended to create a comedy of confusion. The comedy part rarely works, and the confusion grows over why such films are allowed to be made.
Not only are the characters idiotic, they are incredibly shallow as well. They are all obsessed with money, and not in the fun con-artist sort of way. They all have jobs, live “normal” lives, but constantly keep fabricating lies about material wealth. Lara’s character repeatedly lies to her father (Boman Irani) on the phone about the riches she is swimming in because of her husband. Later, when Sandy tells her brother Krishna (Arjun Rampal) about Akshay, one of the first questions he asks is “Is he well to-do?” to which she lies fleetingly “Yes yes, he’s rich.” These lies then result in the need to rent out a palatial mansion to pass as their own for when Hetal’s father and Sandy’s brother decide to visit. Cue several mistaken identities and an ever-growing web of lies, and trust me, you’ve seen this before. Umpteen times.
While there are plenty of references to other Hindi films and characters, Sajid Khan also borrows situations liberally from a cross-section of American films. Arush bringing a tiger into the house is a reminder of The Hangover, while Arush slapping a monkey is taken right out of Night at the Museum. Both these films were still funnier. The lie-detector scene between Krishna and Arush is lifted right out of Meet the Parents. There is also the done-to-death joke of mistaken gay identity that was initiated by Kal Ho Naa Ho. In Housefull, the character who keeps misconstruing the interactions between Arush and Bob is Hetal’s father, also a Gujarati just like Kantaben in Nikhil Advani’s film. It’s one thing to pay homage to other filmmakers or films, it’s another to copy them so blatantly that there’s nothing original or memorable about your own film.
Additionally, Hindi filmmakers need to realize that comedic racism is still racism. When Hetal needs to conjure up a child to uphold another lie she told her father, she ends up with a colleague’s baby, who happens to be black. The scene where the father first sees the baby is laden with distasteful racist humor and is cringe-worthy. The performances are largely superficial, since none of the cast has the narrative scope in which to perform, nor do they have strong characters. Of the principal cast, Ritesh Deshmukh stands out with good comic timing at points. His tendency to go shirtless in every other scene will give Salman Khan a run for his money. Akshay Kumar delivers a restrained performance as the straight-faced simpleton, which ultimately falls flat. He’s become repetitive and needs to experiment with different scripts again. Lara Dutta’s character is the real driving force of all the confusion in the story since she begins all the lies and then encourages the others to keep them going. She is okay in parts, with some genuinely funny moments, but tends to go overboard. Deepika Padukone looks stunning as always but has little scope for histrionics in this one. Perhaps if her character hadn’t first uttered the “Jis jhoot se kisi ka ghar…” line, I wouldn’t have held a grudge against her throughout the film. Jiah Khan is present merely as eye candy. And Arjun Rampal gets held back by a two-dimensional character. Of the supporting cast, Boman Irani and Chunky Pandey (as the half-Italian hotel owner Aakhri Pasta) provide the remainder of the very few funny moments in the film.
Housefull will have a solid first few days at the box office, and I won’t deny that. But whether it exemplifies pure entertainment cinema is highly questionable. Even though by the end of the film, Arush corrects the catchphrase to make it more moral, I’m still left with the need to say this: “Jis jhoot se film banti hai, woh film nahin hoti.” (The film that is made by lies isn’t a film).