Mayank Shekhar's Review: Phas Gaye Re Obama


By Hindustan Times

Director: Subhash Kapoor
Actors: Rajat Kapoor, Sanjay Mishra, Mukesh Rishi
Rating: ***

Kidnapping and ransom (K&R) is evidently an organised industry in parts of one of India's Bimaru states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, UP), where the film is set. The top office of this trade has an assigned accounts section; a receipt issued by one of the clerks here protects you against another kidnapping attempt for a year. The guarantee is compete.

The gentleman who administers this industry is himself a minister (of animal husbandry) in the government. He (Amol Gupte) owns a farmhouse and drives around in Mahindra Scorpio -- the two symbols of semi-urban power.

What he doesn't know is his latest hostage, Mr Shastri (Rajat Kapoor), is sheer bad debt. He has no money to pay, and in fact is there to make money off him instead! The said gent is a non-resident Indian (NRI), abducted first by his neighbourhood don, Bhai Sahib (Sanjay Mishra: an actor who truly makes this film work. As he has, several recent comedies: Rohit Shetty's All The Best, in particular).

The myth of the wealthy NRI may have weakened lately. It endures still in this hinterland. People here imagine America as land of the free, where money is aplenty, "every kid talks in English", and women are loose. An America-return perks up everyone's ears, especially the Bhai Sahib's, who's been waiting for his target for seven years.

Bhai Sahib wants to "make it big in life, enter politics, get into the gentry, break chairs in Vidhan Sabha!" You can't fault his ambitions. The means are hard to come by. His mobile phone awaits recharge; guns have no bullets. If he steps out to collect hafta (weekly protection fee), his clients ask for credit. Ransom demand is a Dutch auction. He negotiates downward.

His much-awaited NRI catch, it turns out, is now equally broke, jobless, and back only to sell his family home off. A poster of Obama, for some inexplicable reason, hangs as backdrop at both the don's den, and his hostage's American living room. Recession has screwed them both. Given they're in the same mess, they plan a potentially fatal move to get out of it together. The outcome is hilarious!

Bhai Sahib passes the hostage on to a second set of abductors, in lieu of an advance. This Mohammedan mafiosi intends to make more off the victim, until he also realises the truth. He hands him over to the next don (Neha Dhupia, unnecessarily caricatured), with promises of greater return. The cycle continues. Bad debt merely gets passed around. The victim plays along, splits the advances, remains usually calm. This is surprising. We know this is a comedy. The lead character doesn't.

Yet, these transactions of the K&R industry subliminally work the same way home loan foreclosures that caused the American recession did. The parallel is supremely placed, the black comedy, superbly written (Subhash Kapoor). Better budgets could've allowed for more filmic width. But then, you could blame that on recession too, right? This one seems well worth your money though.