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Comedies: Excess can hinder success

In the mad rush to cash in on the mood of the market, filmmakers have inevitably allowed quality to become the biggest casualty, observes Saibal Chatterjee. Pyare Mohan pics

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 20:34 IST

It took comic actor Satish Kaushik well over ten years to gather the courage as a director to attempt an all-out comedy. His timing could not have been better: his ninth feature, Shaadi Se Pehle, produced by Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts, has come at a juncture when laugh riots are in the middle of a major boom.     

But the distance between boom and bust, as any seasoned Bollywood player will tell you, isn’t much. One false step and you can go over the precipice. Too much of a good thing, even if that good thing happens to be laughter, can be counter-productive. Excess can hinder continuing success.

Since Rajkumar Virani’s Munnabhai M.B.B.S., a film that struck a fine balance between pure hilarity and emotional depth, hit box office paydirt, many out and out comic romps have pulled the crowds in. Munnabhai was wholesome fun; the majority of comedies that have been foisted upon filmgoers since then have been painfully laboured efforts.

In the mad rush to cash in on the mood of the market, filmmakers have inevitably allowed quality to become the biggest casualty. From the entertaining Munnabhai to the insufferable Pyare Mohan, the genre has suffered mutilations along the way. Sexual innuendoes have replaced wit and situational twists as the stock in trade of contemporary peddlers of comedies.      

A still from Pyare Mohan. The film has garnered lukewarm response at it opening.

Genuine comic romps, no matter how seemingly absurd they are, certainly aren’t always easy to make, but they do have a way of sending everyone home happy. Should that be the only reason for every

Tom, Dick and Harry

in Bollywood to give the act of tickling the funny bone a shot?

Priyadarshan, a past master at the comic game, has a formidable track record, as does the irrepressible David Dhawan. As for the rest, directors like Indra Kumar and his ilk, the less said the better. Mindlessness is bad enough. Tastelessness is unpardonable. 

It sure is getting crowded out there. Priyan’s Malamaal Weekly is still running in certain sectors. Satish Kaushik’s Shaadi Se Pehle, is also in the frame. Indra Kumar’s Pyare Mohan, starring Viveik Oberoi and Fardeen Khan, has just got to the theatres. Deepak Tijori’s Tom Dick and Harry is all set to follow suit.

With numerous other comedies in the pipeline, Bollywood is flirting with the danger of being swamped by an excess of lunacy. In the bid to make audiences roll over in the aisles, many a producer is pushing too far and too fast for his own good. Every successful idea has a sell-by date. Comedies woven around the misadventures of libidinous married males is pretty close to crossing its expiry date    

The offshoot of all this is that comedy is no longer the preserve of the likes of David Dhawan and Priyadarshan and the genre is poised to move into the big budget space. A happy augury that, provided people know how to make the most of a genre that has instant mass appeal.

None other than Subhash Ghai has thrown his weight behind Kaushik, who is known primarily for his emotional and romantic sags. Ghai is, incidentally, also bankrolling Sangeeth Sivan’s Apna Sapna Money Money, a comic film that is expected to hit the screen later this year.

The surfeit is, off course, a result of the success that comedies have had at the box office lately. Films like Masti, Hungama, Hulchul, Kya Kool Hai Hum, Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and No Entry having hit the bull’s eye, the urge to cash in on the formula is understandably strong. But the latest comedy to make it to the theatres, Pyare Mohan, is a pale shadow of the comic romps that have gone before. It is pretty clear that the genre is running out of steam.

For one, Indra Kumar’s film does the unpardonable: it seeks to derive fun out of physical disability. One of the film’s heroes is blind, the other is stone deaf. If that makes anybody laugh, it can only be a sad reflection on the audience.

Even the upcoming Tom Dick and Harry is about three physically challenged male protagonists. While any judgement on the quality of the film would have to be reserved until its release, the tendency to palm off disability as a source of mirth is rather reprehensible.

For a movie industry that for several decades steadfastly eschewed the purely comic genre, concentrating instead on romantic films, family dramas and action-packed thrillers, the sudden spurt is surprising. It was the success of the David Dhawan-Govinda combination that revived comedies in Bollywood in the 1990s. Even after Govinda went into sharp decline, Dhawan and Priyadarshan continued to churn out laugh riots that were as absurd as they were entertaining.

But of late these two filmmakers have been skating on thin ice. Dhawan’s Shaadi No 1 and Priyadarshan’s Garam Masala did not make much headway. The reason: they lacked the spontaneity of their past films. That is a fact that has been reinforced by the success of Priyadarshan’s subsequent film, Malamaal Weekly. Although the film does not have stars in the conventional sense – the cast is headed by the likes of Om Puri, Paresh Rawal and Rajpal Yadav – it did bumper business.

What Malamaal Weekly proved beyond an iota of doubt is that stars don’t make a comedy. The situations count. Lesser actors tend to ham their way through comedies and that invariably proves counterproductive. There is a world of difference between Paresh Rawal and Fardeen Khan. While the former raises laughs effortlessly, the latter has to struggle to elicit a mild chuckle. The gap between intention and achievement could prove costly for the genre as a whole.