By Hindustan Times
Pappu Can’t Dance Saala
Director: Saurabh Shukla
Actors: Vinay Pathak, Neha Dhupia
Survival’s a full-time job in Mumbai. Anybody who’s struggled their way through the city’s innards, always on the move, will know this. The makers of this movie do too. Their empathy constantly shows. Be that as it may, the hero here seems to be having a rather rougher day than usual.
Roadside hawker refuses to serve him lunch because he complains too much. BEST conductor instructs him to get off the bus because his currency note’s soiled, or torn. Boss yells at him in public over a missed deal. Eventually, when he reaches home, he figures, his neighbour, a tenant next-door, has moved into his place, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
The last occurrence is outrageously odd, even by bizarre standards of what mucky Mumbai could throw up on your face. Possibly the best line I’ve come across to describe this city is of course a pithy couplet from Javed Akhtar, which roughly goes: “Iss sheher mein ek hi gham hai. Har ghar mein ek kamra kam hai (This city has only one stress. Each home is a room less).”
Vidyadhar, our protagonist from Benares, it turns out, has not even that solitary room left anymore. The girl from opposite his apartment has planted herself on his bed, relegated him to sleep in the couch. She was an illegal tenant at a place marked for government servants. Which is currently true for Vidyadharji as well.
He doesn’t know the girl from anywhere. She couldn’t care less about him, is abrasive, aggressive, pretty much blasts him every time she sees his face. Why this guy would tolerate this absurdity is beyond me. It’s still mildly endearing, entertaining thus far.
This couple couldn’t seem more chalk and cheese at the outset. He’s completely asexual, a religious sort: always in shirt and tie, with a boring day job as medical rep in a pharma company. She’s a Bollywood backup dancer, walking around in various states of undress, who finds herself a lead role in a music video. She could’ve found a place of her own with the kind of money she spends later, doing up her neighbour’s illegally rented place, where she’s herself a squatter. But that’s another matter. You’d like to know where this film would go from here. Unfortunately, it appears, the filmmakers don’t know either.
The girl’s profession offers them fair excuse to slip in an item song or few. It gives the writers a chance to discuss the sanctity of all arts. Which is all good. Except, you can't remember the guy having much of a problem with the girl’s profession. Or the girl (Neha Dhupia, spunky in parts), being pissed off by his prudery, if at all. When they fell in love is harder to tell. A stone-faced psycho (Rajat Kapoor), the girl’s colleague (not sure: a choreographer or a music video director), meanwhile, hits on her sleazily.
Vinay Pathak plays Vidyadhar Acharya, of course. The actor could rival RK Laxman's pocket cartoon for the number of times he's appeared as the supposed Common Man. A lot of those movies have starred the same repertory company as the one before us (Dhupia, Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla).
Watching pontifications like these, sitting on some metropolitan ivory tower or the other, you can’t help but wonder what we make of the quintessential “chhote shehar ka (small-town) middle class” common man sometimes. The one here lectures us on virtues of sanskar over sex. The ‘item girl’ calls him Pappu, which is an affront that all men with Pappu for a nickname are used to: whether in songs, ads, or films, and their titles.
Pappu finds his girl in an agitated mode once. He quickly diagnoses her condition to be pre-menstrual stress, gifts her sanitary napkins. Is Pappu an imbecile? Or, wait; this is supposed to be funny? Okay, then.