The laughs from the dusty heartland have you riveted in Phas Gaye Re Obama, even as the Golmaal genre remains gleefully over-the-top..

SHASHI BALIGA

Let me say this at the outset: I am not a fan of what I'll call the Golmaal genre of comedy. Outlandishly over-the-top expressions that pass for acting, high-decibel screeching that negates the need for dialogue, and picking on physical handicaps for laughs is not my idea of humour.

Neither is parading grotesquely dressedmen in drag. That nightmarish memory ofAjay Devgn dressed like some over-buxomGoan aunty with horror-movie makeup stillmakes me break out in a cold sweat. (RohitShetty and gang, you really need to takesome cross-dressing tips from TheBirdcage, Tootsie or Aamir Khan in Baazi.)As I watched Golmaal 3 some weeks ago,I amused myself by trying to figure out howlow it lay in my list of `Painful movies I havehad to sit through'. Pretty low, I decided.And then, two weeks ago, I saw NoProblem. This time, I knew I had a winneron my hands; it left Golmaal 3 way, waybehind. The sight of so many talents - AnilKapoor, Paresh Rawal and Kangana Ranautleading the pack - going through the mostludicrous scenes made me despair.And I thought to myself, trembling, if thisone turns out to be a hit at the box office,what does one make of audience tastes?However, the movie has sunk and itsdirector Anees Bazmee even had the grace(so sorely lacking in his movie) to admit hehad made "a mistake". Whew, that wasclose.Because, every time I see a movie such asGolmaal 3, Welcome or Partner, and I findI'm the only one not laughing in a packedcinema hall, I wonder: am I simply beingtoo stuffy and snooty, am I so out of whackwith the rest of the world?For, I truly believe that however much Ihate a movie that turns out to be ablockbuster, I have to, however reluctantly,respect the fact that it has struck a chordwith thousands of moviegoers. If thepurpose of any creative art that is placed inthe public domain is to connect, I believe Ihave to concede defeat in the face of suchsuccess (Golmaal 3 has made over Rs 100crore and is the year's second-biggestgrosser after Dabangg).Trying to figure out where the Golmaalsand Partners of the world score can be avery simple job - or a very complicated one.It is easy to dismiss such movies as thoseappealing to the lowest commondenominator.But that could be both patronising andprejudiced - it takes skill to weave togetherwhat might seem like a series of outrageousepisodes into the narrative structure andcinematic demands of a film (many DavidDhawan movies and Bazmee's own NoEntry being great examples). Besides, whodecides that my sensibilities are morerefined than those of the guy in the nextseat?Especially when a little gem like PhasGaye Re Obama creeps up from behind andbecomes a sleeper hit of sorts. Here ishome-grown humour from the heartland,filled with the cadences, flavours and bodyodours of rural India. It is not what youmight call an elegant comedy; it is raw andearthy and scatological in parts. But it is anawfully clever movie made with finesse -definitely no men in drag here. No itemnumbers either; just some superb acting,sharp writing and classic twists in the talethat have you scared to take your eyes offthe screen even for a few seconds.Director Subhash Kapoor didn't have thekind of budget that No Problem had, and itshows. The NRI sets are distinctly tacky andlook more like Ahmedabad than Amreeka,but what the hell, you are so willing toforgive Kapoor that.Movies like Phas Gaye Re Obama andTere Bin Laden stand at one end of thespectrum of home-grown Indian comedy; atthe other lie the Golmaals and Partners. Theformer are covered with the dust and sootof the heartland; the latter peddle theirlaughs with a very Indian sensibility setagainst a big-budget backdrop of swankhomes, designer outfits and foreign localeswhere, unaccountably, many of the localsspeak Hindi.Between them, somewhere in the middle,are movies like Khosla ka Ghosla, OyeLucky! Lucky Oye! or 3 Idiots, that take agently quizzical look at the failings, foiblesand pressures of middle-class India. Thecontemporary versions of HrishikeshMukherjee films, if you will.I couldn't help thinking of these middleclassgems when I saw Woody Allen's latest,You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, whichreleased this week in India. It is certainlynot one of Allen's best (and opened to rathermixed reviews in the West) but even so, ismiles ahead of most other films. It, in fact,felt like a soothing balm for my cinematicsoul so bruised by No Problem. Though thedialogue doesn't crackle as much as youmight expect with Allen, it's superbly castand exquisitely acted. (Incidentally, it alsostars Freida Pinto, our Slumdog Millionairestar).Allen's cynicism about love continues,focusing this time on an upper middle-classfamily in London, in which everyone ischasing love and lust where they shouldn'tbe. Allen himself sees it thus: "They're allrunning around, bumping into each other,hurting each other, getting hurt, makingmistakes - a constant chaos."And I thought to myself, hey, that onesentence could so well describe No Problemand Phas Gaye Re Obama too.The universal language of comedy? Mayits various dialects prosper. All three arerunning in a theatre near you now. Whichone would you pay good money to see?

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 24, 2010)
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