The personal and professional overlap crazily for this Bollywood couple… now at the box-office too.

It’s not often that you see a husband and wife as happily married as is possible in B-town and who work together at the office as well, slug it out at the box-office. In fact it’s probably the first time that a Bollywood producer who is also an actor will be competing against herself.

But when you’re talking maverick director Farah Khan and her somewhat unpredictable husband, Shirish Kunder, anything’s possible, really. So, just one week after Farah made her acting debut in middle-aged romcom Shirin Farhad Ki To Nikal Padi, Kunder is out with his alien invasion film, Joker.

Shirin Farhad… is likely to be beaten roundly at the box-office by Joker, as it mainlines a big star abetted by a clutch of aliens, who should provide novelty value at least. But Farah could well be laughing away in defeat, for Joker comes from her own production house, Three’s Company, named after the couple’s triplets.

So the situation gets curiouser and curiouser. Somewhat like their marriage itself, which most people gave not more than a few moons. Some years ago, when I asked Farah whether she had discovered a maternal instinct after the birth of her triplets, she chortled, “Forget maternal, I never thought I even had the marital instinct!” But the marriage has lasted close to eight years and three movies!

Making a husband-and-wife team work at home is difficult enough in B-town. Making it work on the sets is even crazier, as film-making is the most collaborative and, hence, the most combustible of arts. Tempers can fly at any time or point — and they do. Now, Farah is not known to be the politest of directors on the sets; her temper is legendary, though it is also without malice. (She insists it has mellowed after marriage and the birth of her triplets.) Kunder generally keeps a low profile when it comes to partying and the paparazzi. But he compensates by erupting from time to time.

And in this couple’s case, the personal and professional overlap so much that it gets tricky. So when Kunder tweets scathingly about Ra.One and gets into fisticuffs with Shah Rukh Khan, Farah has to do the damage control.

Then again, both husband and wife have an inherently wacky sense of humour, and when they get together matters can get quickly out of control — as in their last outing, Tees Maar Khan.

The couple have worked together in three earlier movies, in fact: Main Hoon Na, Om Shanti Om and Tees Maar Khan, all directed by Farah and edited by Kunder. The first two showed a strong SRK influence, the third seemed more influenced by SK. And the difference showed. Tees Maar Khan lurched from inane insider gags and cheesy dialogue to cheap swipes at Shah Rukh Khan, with a few genuinely funny scenes managing to find their way into the free-for-all that was the screenplay.

So one awaits Joker with some trepidation. The tagline on the poster: ‘When being human doesn’t work, try being alien!’ is not very encouraging (or polite to Salman Khan, perhaps). Even less so is the bunch of aliens, each looking tackier than the next. SFX and aliens need money, more money and some more. Without that, you’ll end up with something that could look as outdated and amateurish as all those arrows in B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat.

And taking swipes at superstars is not very smart humour. What’s with Kunder, I wonder: first Shah Rukh and now Salman? Does the man have a cinematic or marital death-wish, considering both are “like family” to his wife? On the positive side, at least he has the guts to take on the biggies when he feels like it.

Outspoken and no-nonsense as Farah is, she doesn’t make that mistake too often. She has a different sense of humour; there’s usually a sense of unpretentious adolescent fun around them. She has had her brash moments and she’s not going back there in a hurry. Her attitude derives from a rough childhood, which forced her to learn to fend for herself and her family. It’s made her a fiercely independent woman.

The character you see in her acting debut, Shirin Farhad Ki To Nikal Padi, is pretty much what Farah’s like in real life. She makes no bones about not being a professional actress; heck, she’s not even trying to be one. She just breezes through being herself. Manhandling rowdies, screaming at her fiancé or offering him an embarrassed kiss, helping herself to more salli boti, putting her foot in her loud mouth — it’s all pure Farah. And pure fun.

I’m not sure how many young people might enjoy Shirin Farhad… but if you’re over 35, there’s a good chance you will. It’s the biggest and funniest collection of Parsis seen on the Hindi screen. In fact, I was awash with gratitude to director Bela Sehgal and her brother, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, for (finally!) giving us such crazily clean fun at the movies. One shudders to think of what the makers of Kyaa Super Kool Hain Hum might have done with the character of a lingerie salesman. Boman Irani plays him so delicately and endearingly, it is a joy to watch.

Yes, some members of the cast (especially Daisy Irani) ham away, the movie drags in parts, there are too many songs and way too many frilly nighties even for a story about Parsi aunties, but it all seems so real even when it’s madly exaggerated. Go catch it if you haven’t already.

shashibaliga@gmail.com

(This article was published on August 30, 2012)
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