Director: Rajiv Mehra
Actors: Pankaj Kapur, Gaurav Kapoor
"Naam (name)?" asks the policeman at his station desk. "Mussaddi Lal," says the accused, Mussaddi Lal (of course). "Pesha (profession)?" "Retired school master, Mahatma Gandhi School, Lal Ganj, Ghaziabad, India." "Jurm (crime?)" "Common man!"
Being common in Third World is some sort of a crime all right. Especially, in a congenitally corrupt nation that daydreams of becoming developed some day. First World, by definition, is determined by how the last man standing gets treated in his own country. Shining India is furthest from it. You can tell. This film is valid commentary of that state.
Mussaddi is an idealist old man, left with little else, besides his honesty, income from his pension, a small apartment, and a 28-year-old son (Gaurav Kapur) who's seriously good for nothing. The strange chemistry between this father and his son Bunty does offer fair amount of laughs though.
Mussadi's wife's just died. She was admitted to a state hospital that was more interested in diagnostic tests he could cough up cash for. He's off on a pilgrimage on a train to distribute ashes of the deceased one. Each episode above is a tiring drill for old Mussaddi. He has to triumph over red-tapist worms, scavenging officials, to barely survive, get on with life.
At every stage, he comes across proverbial characters, played by the same actors, in different settings - Bhatia Saab (Manoj Pahwa), Shuklaji (Sanjay Mishra), Pandeyji (Hemant Pandey), Patel (Devan Bhojani). They play multiple roles of doctor, ticket collector, hospital wardboy, low-level hawaldar, pesky pandit, bank-teller… And eventually, clerks in a pension office. Because, Mussaddi Lal has just returned from his pilgrimage to learn, from government records, that he's dead. He must now prove himself to be alive, to be able to claim his own monthly pension!
Silly as it may sound, this is not entirely a work of fiction, of course. Several similar, true cases have been reported in the past in this country, some even turned into compelling films (Mazhar Kamran's Mohandas is a recent one that comes to mind). The general attack on corruption itself can take the form of a movie that's angry (Dombivli Fast), frustrated (Saraansh), or plain funny (Lage Raho Munnabhai). This one attempts to be all three, succeeds at none.
Office Office, I hear, was a much-loved series on television. I haven't watched a single, complete episode, but it's not that hard to tell why. It starred one of the nation's most under-rated acting talents, Pankaj Kapur. As does this film. The story bears resonance, empathy. The difference is in the medium alone.
Television, free chewing gum for the brain, rarely demands half as much as a fully consuming film on the big screen in a dark theatre does. Distracted audiences are far more forgiving on TV. Anybody who's watched and loved a bad movie on a tiny tube, especially on a flight, will agree.
In here, there is just no visible escape. The writing is entirely episodic, like a TV show. Scenarios recur. Actors ham it up. Loud background score informs every scene. You care for our man Mussaddi. Or at least wish to. He takes rounds of various 'daftars' (offices), literally living a farce. Democracy is probably both the problem, and its only plausible solution. You get the point. How about a better picture?