Film: Badmaash Company
Director: Parmeet Sethi
Actors: Shahid Kapur, Anushka Sharma
The father (Anupam Kher), an old, stable, middle-class family man, and a salaried employee of 25 years in the same company, can barely recognise the son he’s raised. This may have little to do with the upbringing, more to do with the times of opportunities and restless ambitions they’re in.
The son is clear: “Meri mehnat ka fayda sirf mujhe hona chahiye. Mere boss ya meri company ko nahin (The fruits of my effort should accrue to me alone; not to my boss, or my company).”
The boy’s still intrinsically bright, and the father warns, “You have sharp brains. The problem is, you know it. This can either take you really far, or eventually pin you down, depending on the direction you take.” As an audience, you’re aware both will happen. This is a film -- with its own notions of redemption and poetic justice -- after all.
You’re also somewhat ready for this ‘Catch Me If You Can’ ride. The kid chucks his MBA entrance preparations. His friends join in. An idea strikes him. He scores a bronze. Another idea hits his head – supplying useless leather gloves to an import firm, and scramming off with the loot. He scores silver. Yet another scheme – a silly mortgage-foreclosure swindle in the American real estate. He picks up gold again.
But he’s still at this point a small-time scam artiste. The film suddenly assumes it’s time to get self-seriously preachy, lest its intentions be misunderstood. The group breaks up. The father shows off his honest achievements. The hero, ascribed the “bada aadmi” (big man) is deserted, desolate, and done with. The thrill’s over, already.
We sit through reels contemplating the corrupting nature of dishonesty, over-ambition, greed, arrogance and sundry other hungry beasts -- not very different from the other Shahid Kapoor film (John Matthew Mathan’s Shikhar). And you forget why this ride had started out being so much fun in the first place.
Well, here’s why. The year’s the mid ‘90s, the opening curve of India’s liberalising economy. Shahid Kapoor and Anushka Sharma play the typical Bunty and Babli pair: girl wants to be "top model"; boy, the richest dude in town. This is the time, the film superbly captures, when FM meant a certain minister, and not the radio. Cellphones were a figment of science fiction. Two TV stations entertained an entire country. You even had a piddly $500 limit on how much of your own money you could spend abroad. You could barely shop in dollars if you made your money in rupees.
Indian Customs protected us from the pleasures of a good life. It was their duty. And that's what they applied -- a duty on everything from a watch to your shoes, sometime about 120 per cent.
The factory outlet those days (if you knew someone at the Customs) was the Custom House that auctioned seized stuff at dirt-cheap rates. Anyone would turn smuggler on such terms. So does the hero, his girlfriend, and two loyal friends -- one’s a slick womaniser (Vir Das); the other, a northeastern lad who, like everyone from the north-east, has to bear Chinese jokes, being Indian (Meiyang Chang, sweetly inspired character).
They import un-wearable shoes; reject their own consignment; pick it up from the Customs auction later. The picture’s premise is strong. The setting is solid. The scam’s quite awesome. The friends make for quite a foursome. All are equally endearing. As are their antics. And then the screen flashes, Interval. Everything dopily goes down a slope thereafter, and onward to America, arrogance and all that jazz.
You can tell when a script's half-written. But up till that point, written phenomenally well. Shriram Raghavan’s Ek Haseena Thi remains the finest example. From Yashraj (the producers of this film), Siddharth Anand’s Bachna Ae Haseeno is a decent instance. This one’s really quite a case study as well.