“Total Dhamaal” offers nothing, not even guilty pleasure…
It is with a wondrous glint in my eyes that I look at the prototypical small-town or rural film lover. They are the ones who find great joy in watching Salman Khan or Ajay Devgn bash up a gang of goons in a matter of minutes, or enjoy Govinda deliver non-stop one-liners with remarkable hold over the language. It was once a delight hearing out an overjoyed autorickshaw driver somewhere in Bangalore who swayed along with Anu Malik’s ‘Dard Karaara’ from Dum Laga Ke Haisha as he drove, adding a heartfelt comment, “Kai saal baad aisa gaana aaya hai, Sir”. Irrespective of their sensibilities and outlooks towards cinema, there’s a tinge of purity in what they expect out of ‘their kind of films’ as the film trade would call it. Known as the single-screen audience, in popular parlance, the demarcation is clear for the makers and this cluster of cinema-goers may not fancy slow narratives or starkly realistic surroundings in what they would consider ‘good cinema’. Indra Kumar, having ruled the roost in the ‘90s, is one of the pioneers in crafting such populist potboilers. He knows the potential of the target audience whereas his latest comedy-adventure Total Dhamaal does not.
So, here is supposedly the third edition to the filmmaker’s slapstick series, Dhamaal. Mind you, I ain’t someone who looks down upon genres. Slapstick is a bona fide and recognized sub-genre of comedy but Kumar (unfortunately) is not a maker possessing abilities to pull it off. Total Dhamaal sees a gang – five duos, to be precise – obsessing the hell out of a treasure worth fifty crores which needs to be recovered from a zoo in a place called Janakpur. Now, for this shoestring premise to work, you do not just need a bunch of actors with a decent comic timing but also a hilarious, well-balanced screenplay that would make you roll on the floors laughing. On the contrary, Indra Kumar’s film ends up a two-hour-long monotonous, unfunny, lazy drivel that underestimates the intellect of an everyman who is ready to shell out his/her hard-earned money on it.
It may not be a surprise that Total Dhamaal is about a journey that different sets of people take to reach from place A to place B. It is their misadventures on the way that is supposed to make the plot enticing. There is a robber duo (Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Mishra), two cops (Boman Irani and Vijay Patkar), a soon-to-be-divorced couple (Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor), two local thugs (Riteish Deshmukh and Pitobash Tripathi) along with residues from Dhamaal prequels (Arshad Warsi and Jaaved Jaffrey). The writers harp pointlessly on individual character quirks but to limited success. For instance, Dixit and Kapoor’s intercultural bickering sounds cute in the beginning but it vaporizes to nothingness soon after. Mishra’s obsession for the word ‘bro’ annoys to the hilt whereas Deshmukh is pretty spot-on with his accent game. Out of all, it is the Deshmukh-Tripathi sub-story that works the most and that too, chiefly, because the actors deliver big-time. The Warsi-Jaffrey duo, on the other hand, appears severely out of place and quite obviously so. Their scene in the antique shop is a direct rip-off from Malayalam-Tamil hit Friends and their lack of chemistry with the rest of the cast is also very evident. Devgn and Irani’s tracks are closely connected and are the film’s least exciting ones with the actors making their customary deadpan or over-the-top faces to pass off as good comic performers.
As the film ended, I could easily count the instances where I had laughed, grinned or smiled during its run-time. Now, this isn’t how a comedy film syntax ought to work on an unassuming viewer. Additionally, I always believed that one can easily point out a screenwriter’s lack of imagination in the way he/she places songs in their film narratives. In Total Dhamaal, a routine item number (featuring Sonakshi Sinha in an appalling remix) pop up out of nowhere, for no concrete reason. The film also hands a desirability badge to its leading man (Devgn) as he gets to romance two attractive ladies (Sinha, Esha Gupta) who get no roles to talk of.
So to say, whoever coined the phrase ‘leave your brains at home’ didn’t see the Netflix-Amazon Prime era coming. Whoever said ‘this film is not for the critics’ didn’t foresee the day when every second person becomes a film analyst on the internet. Therefore, Total Dhamaal, by all standards, is cinema from the yesteryears, made and performed by those from Bollywood’s not-so-golden era – the 1990s. It is only alarming that film is not half as good as some of the decade’s rib-tickling, unapologetic comic capers. Indra Kumar seems unaware that we are over the period when regional stereotypes, CGI animals and mildly racist and regressive ideas passed off as laugh-out-loud comedy. And let’s not get to dissecting the film’s (non-existent) screenplay once again.