Too clever for its own good

Subhash K Jha


If you like Kamal Haasan’s timeless comedies, this one will make you scratch your head. The too-clever-for-its-own-good screenplay (by Kamal Haasan) subverts the unorganised crime of kidnapping into a situational comedy. But the humour never rises above the murmur of mirth created by the plot. Unlike ‘Pushpak’ or ‘Appu Raja’, where the leading man’s mythic proportions as a cerebral hero of the masses was used to create protagonists who were rooted to a poignant ground reality, here efforts to locate the everyman hero in a middleclass milieu are fully farce sighted. Protagonist Avinash (Kamal Haasan) is a hard of hearing and slightly daft but sensitive soul who, halfway through a kidnapping ploy, changes his mind and takes off with the kidnapped boy (Hardik). To its credit, ‘Mumbai Xpress’ is an original hahathon. If only Sourabh Shukla’s dialogues were more sly and provocative! The plot and narrative depend largely on the spoken word. Most of the film’s looming verbiage overrides the characters and situations, creating a kind of extended lowbrow standup comedy that fulfils none of the lofty cinematic aspirations which Haasan’s cinema usually strives to achieve within its given parameters. For about 30 minutes of the narration, all we see are Kamal Haasan and his partners in crime (Vijay Raaz and Kannada star Ramesh Arvind) running around in sweltering circles creating a verbose and claustrophobic vista that leaves the audiences thirsting for visually liberating avenues in this riotous roadblock of a movie.

It isn’t as though the actors let the plot down. Om Puri is particularly effectual as the harassed

father of a bride whose mistress (Manisha Koirala) suddenly demands his attentions when their illegitimate son is kidnapped. The cruellest and most savagely funny lines ensue between

Puri and Koirala. When he offers to pay her Rs 1.5 million to get rid of her, she retorts:

“Achcha! The kidnapper of our son gets Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million), while the woman who bore your son gets just Rs15 lakh (Rs 1.5 million)!” Koirala, looking slim, sensitive and luminous, is a treat to watch. Why so little of her very interesting character in the roomy plot? And why so much of Vijay Raaz, who almost walks shoulder to shoulder with Kamal Haasan?

A large part of the narrative is about the growing bonding between the hero Avinash and the boy whom he kidnaps. Lamentably, the child actor Hardik playing the key role is neither very cute nor a capable actor. As usual, it’s up to Kamal Haasan to hold up the doddering comedy of errors. The purported mood is that of a Laurel Hardy or Crazy Boys flick. But the world that we’ve inherited has no place for misapplied parody. Finally, jokes about the kidnapping industry can evoke mild amusement only if you’re willing to follow Kamal Haasan blindly. But beware, he plays a deaf man. (Film: ‘Mumbai Express’. Starring Kamal Haasan, Manisha Koirala, Hardik, Om Puri, Sourabh Shukla. Directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao)