Wonderfully enacted silliness!
4084: Chaalis Chaurasi
Director: Hriday Shetty
Actors: Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni
It’s been over half a decade since Reverend RR Patil, one among a stream of moralists in Indian politics, decided to shut down the dance bars of Mumbai for good. It’s taken as many years for Bollywood to register this fact. Movies continue to show the rainbow floors where women in wedding wear move to serve the harmless imagination of lecherous Indian males. This makes for convenient setting for both the “item number” and the den where villains and cops meet in our films. Except it doesn’t quite exist anymore.
The similarly lit den on the screen before us is the orchestra bar. This is the corniness that replaced dance bars in Mumbai, just to let you know. I’m not sure how many frequent them anymore. The gang of four in this film, or at least one of them (Naseer), is especially appalled by the quality of the male singer on stage as bored women, same as the dance bar girls, stand around to collect money from customers.
He grabs the mic, hands it over to his buddy (Atul Kulkarni), who’d moved to Mumbai to become a singer, probably in the ‘80s. The song he sings is Hasan Jehangir’s Hawa Hawa, a second-rate import from Pakistan that had sold over 15 million copies in India. Those of my vintage will recall that track had heralded terrorism of another kind in this country back then, followed closely by the Pak TV show Dhoop Kinare and Omar Sharief’s stage farce Bakra Kishton Pe.
Anyway, Hawa Hawa is a hit with the gang partying at this orchestra bar. They dance merrily, take over the whole place, threaten crowds with guns, knowing that they can even get away with murder. This is because they’re pretending to be cops. No one touches cops in Mumbai, or anywhere in the world.
These blokes are also driving a cop van, which to be fair, seemed pretty easy to steal from a police station. The film gets its name from the van’s number plate. They’re headed towards an isolated hideout where lots of cash is stashed up.
The group comprises a driver, who was once an English professor (Sir), a high class pimp (Bobby), a drug peddler (Shakti), and a car thief, who’s obsessed with the old Dukkar Fiat (Pinto). They’re obviously named after old movie titles, Pinto, being from Saeed Mirza’s Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, a film that no one I know has seen, but everyone’s heard of! The allusion is essential. You must constantly remember this is a film after all and, not all in fact, no explanations by way of physics or logic apply.
It’s not important how these drunk gentlemen met, neither is this made clear. They belong to the city’s underbelly, and through their individual introductions prove how hypocritical the white collared world they engage with really is. On their way to the robbery, they take extensive detours over an evening that promises to never end.
Here’s the deal then. The drama is set in stretched real time. The gang has a common mission, a heist that may or may not go wrong. Each character in the group is loony in his own unique way. Their names are odder still. Blood-fest unnerves no one. The narrative isn’t entirely linear. Style determines the set-up. This motif has generated a gazillion crime capers/thrillers in the past. Quentin Tarantino gave it the modicum of high cool in the ‘90s.
Those films are usually set in East London, or a dump in LA. This one lights up seedy Mumbai in the night, which is a pleasure to watch. One of this director’s first films, a misfired Plan (2004), was similarly, loosely lifted from Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. There, he had Dino Morea, Rohit Roy, Sanjay Dutt, etc.
This one stars Naseeruddin Shah (rugged, bald, like his Bombay Boys’ act), Kay Kay Menon, Ravi Kissen, and Atul Kulkarni (in possibly his finest performance ever). It’s hard to sustain such farce for too long. This one manages to for most of the while. A sense of fun is never lost. It’s the actors, no doubt, who make the ridiculous believable. Hence, you truly enjoy this ride for most of the part. Which is saying a lot.
A still from the film Chaalis Chauraasi.