Thank God movie review: Siddharth Malhotra leads a lifeless afterlife comedy
Thank God movie review: Siddharth Malhotra and Ajay Devgn star in sometimes funny, mostly disappointing comedy about afterlife.
The last time Siddharth Malhotra starred in a fantastical, whimsical movie aimed at learning the value of love and life, it didn’t exactly pan out too well. 6 years after the unfortunate Baar Baar Dekho, he stars in Indra Kumar’s Thank God. Malhotra plays Ayan Kapoor. Several years ago, Ayan was minting money as a top real estate tycoon in Mumbai. But after demonetisation, his black money-led business came to a grinding halt leaving him in crushing debt (because, of course, in this movie demonetisation was a very good, great, positive much-wow decision that was entirely and exclusively successful at teaching greedy rich people a lesson). (Also read: Maja Ma review: Madhuri Dixit's movie is the most Ayushmann Khurrana movie without an Ayushmann Khurrana)
Ayan’s debt-ridden predicament has left him irritable, self-centered, and with anger issues. That is until he has a sudden car crash and wakes up in a realm between life and death, where he is to be judged to determine whether he’s worth saving. It’s a world run by CG, short for Chitragupta (a suitably playful Ajay Devgn). CG examines each of Ayan’s weaknesses and faults (anger, selfishness, lust, and beyond), and creates a test for each, to allow him to prove he’s able to overcome his weaknesses. It’s an intriguing concept - reimagining the afterlife as a game show where each soul is a contestant given the chance to play the game of life to prove they deserve to live. But the film’s imagination stops there.
Dull narrative aside (the film is written by Aakash Kaushik and Madhur Sharma), Thank God is hampered by the limits of Siddharth Malhotra who just isn't able to carry a movie like this. Malhotra’s performance is a synthetic, strictly surface-level exercise as he seems to be far more focused on conjuring the right facial expression at the right moment rather than inhabiting Ayan as a lived-in character. His stilted stoic-ness ensures that he just isn't able to do justice to the film’s animated tonality. Comedy certainly isn't in his arsenal (how Raj and DK did wonders with him in their underrated action comedy gem A Gentleman, is a mystery). There's a fun little meta moment in the film where Ayan’s wife Ruhi (a charming Rakul Preet Singh, despite a wafer-thin role) is supposed to accuse Ayan of lying. She says something like “tumhari expression se toh nahin lagtha” - as if she was talking to the actor, not the character. I laughed out loud.
Tonally, Thank God takes place in a slapstick world where the blaring background score and squeaky sound effects are required to do most of the dramatic and comedic heavy lifting, respectively. But low-hanging fruit as they may be, I did enjoy some of the gags. Like when Ayan mistakenly tells a young boy that he’s adopted, or later when he’s stuck in a lift with a truly annoying man who’s barking down the phone to his wife. But perhaps my favourite comedic moment is a lovely little satirical sequence in which CG starts throwing oil and flowers at Ayan and forcing ladoos down his throat. It’s to teach him a lesson about going to a temple each week and paying thousands of rupees for empty, transactional offerings to God rather than using that money to help the poor or do some actual good. But aside from stray gags that land on target, the film’s humour falls flat.
Similarly, the world-building and rules of the afterlife are convoluted and CG’s entire system of judgment doesn’t seem to make any sense. For each shortcoming CG creates a hypothetical scenario for Ayan to prove he can be better. But some of these seem to be hypothetical and others, like one involving his sister, seem to take place in the real world (?). The one that really got me was Ayan’s lust being tested by having him meet and be seduced by Nora Fatehi (here playing herself). Despite almost cheating several times, Ayan musters all his willpower and manages to not be unfaithful for which he’s later celebrated as a hero. The bar is so low with men. So low.
The film also seems to act like all of Ayan’s flaws are new and not something he’s always had. Are we to believe his anger issues haven’t impacted his marriage? And while we’re at it, can someone please explain to me what on earth Rakul Preet Singh’s Ruhi (the textbook perfect, selfless wife) sees in a whiny insufferable man-child like Ayan? To make things easier to digest, after a point I started seeing Ayan’s character as a stand-in for every Hindi movie hero. There was something immensely satisfying about watching the typical romantic hero being put on the stand for just how entitled, obnoxious and self-obsessed they tend to be.
I liked many of the ideas at the center of Thank God - a call for self-reflection, a battle cry for change and the concept of our good and bad deeds coming back to haunt us as life comes full circle. But these are ideas built into a journey of transformation that's brought to life by an actor who doesn’t seem to feel any of this himself, let alone make us feel much of anything at all. Towards the film's end, as CG was listing out a new weakness with each round of the game (1st weakness: anger, 2nd weakness: greed, third weakness: jealousy etc), I couldn’t help but extend the list in my head. Sixth weakness: performances, seventh weakness: writing, eighth weakness: hit and miss humour (I could literally go on). While the film is watchable enough as simplistic mainstream comedies go, at a time when there's never been more pressure on Hindi cinema to offer up a substantial theatrical experience, Thank God is forgettable storytelling of the first order.
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