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Is laughter way to money?

Comedies, few and far between, have survived the constraints of Mumbai?s formula filmmaking against odds, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Aug 06, 2003 16:46 IST

The simultaneous release of two out-and-out comedies – one cast in a largely romantic mould, the other of an unabashedly slapstick variety – has brought the genre back into the showbiz spotlight. Both Milan Luthria’s Chori Chori, a long-delayed film starring Ajay Devgan and Rani Mukherjee, and the riotous Hungama, directed by Priyadarshan, have managed an encouragingly strong opening weekend. Does David Dhawan finally have competition?

Dhawan has announced that he intends to move on as a filmmaker, but the strain of all-out slapstick comedy that he brought into the Bollywood mainstream in collaboration with the irrepressible Govinda seems ready to reinvent itself. Milan Luthria, a former Mahesh Bhatt assistant, seems an unlikely saviour of the genre. His debut film Kachche Dhaage, was an action-packed drama.

But it is no surprise that Priyadarshan, Kerala’s greatest gift to popular Hindi cinema, is on the vanguard of what could turn out to be a happy phase of transition. The maker of films like Muskurahat and Hera Pheri has a special yen for comic yarns and that trait is on ample view in the zany, if somewhat loud, Hungama.

In the early 1990s, Priyadarshan had revived the Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of screen comedy with Muskurahat, about a girl (Revathi) who feigns insanity to win over her martinet father (Amrish Puri). In the year 2000, he pushed up the comic pitch several notches with Hera Pheri, which revolves around four down-at-heels characters who get sucked into a plot hatched by the kidnappers of a rich industrialist’s son. Apart from extracting fine comic star turns from Akshay Kumar and Sunil Shetty, Priyadarshan gave the enormously talented Paresh Rawal a platform to display his wares.

Rawal is at the centre of the Hungama rigmarole as well, just as he was in last year’s Awaara Paagal Deewana, a comic thriller that set the cash counters jingling. Will Hungama replicate the same degree of success? If it does, comedies are bound to receive a major fillip in the Mumbai film industry.

What might work against Hungama, however, is its rather uneven pacing. For long stretches, the film tends to slip into deep slumber. But whenever it does spring to life, it delivers moments of rip-roaring hilarity. Needless to say, Hungama hinges primarily on Paresh Rawal’s uncanny comic timing for effect though the other principal members of the cast – Akshaye Khanna, Aftab Shivdasani and debutante Rimi Sen – are more than adequate foils.

Comedies, few and far between, have survived the constraints of Mumbai’s formula filmmaking against heavy odds. From the inspired lunacy of Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Half Ticket to the ‘common man’ comedy of Rajanigandha and Chhotisi Baat to the breezy humour of Chupke Chupke and Golmaal to the madcap antics germane to the David Dhawan-Govinda films, the genre has remained in the reckoning through the decades.

Its future, too, seems to be in safe hands. While Priyadarshan has demonstrated that he can handle the entire comic gamut – from the genteel to the robust – younger directors like Farhan Akhtar (who injected a nice, sustained touch of humour into Dil Chahta Hai) and Sujoy Ghosh (whose Jhankaar Beats is a more-than-competent comedy) have brought a whiff of fresh air, a new sensibility, into the genre.

Hindi film comedy is ready to prove that there is life beyond David Dhawan.

First Published: Aug 06, 2003 16:44 IST