Review: 'Mumbai Xpress'

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

imageFilm: "Mumbai Express". Starring Kamal Haasan, Manisha Koirala, Hardik, Om Puri, Sourabh Shukla, Sharad Saxena. Directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao.

If you like Kamal Haasan's timeless comedies, this one will make you scratch your head.

The too-clever-for-its-own-good screenplay (by Kamal Haasan) subverts the un-organized crime of kidnapping into a situational comedy.

But the humour never rises above the murmur of mirth created by the plot. Unlike "Pushpak" or "Appu Raja", where the leading man's mythic proportions as a cerebral hero of the masses was used to create protagonists who were rooted to a poignant ground-reality, here efforts to locate the everyman-hero into a middleclass milieu are fully farce-sighted.

Protagonist Avinash (Kamal Haasan) is a hard-of-hearing and slightly daft but sensitive soul who halfway through a kidnapping ploy, changes his mind, takes off with the kidnapped boy (Hardik) and gets into a dizzy comedy of errors that Shakespeare would have written - if only he was familiar with the ruthless violence of Quentin Tarantino's cinema and the senseless chortles of pea-brained Hollywood comedies like "Dumb & Dumber".

To its credit, "Mumbai Xpress" is an original ha-ha-thon. If only Sourabh Shukla's dialogues were more sly and provocative! The plot and narrative depends largely on the spoken word. Most of the film's looming verbiage over-rides the characters and situations, creating a kind of extended lowbrow stand-up comedy act that fulfils none of the lofty cinematic aspirations which Kamal Haasan's cinema usually strives to achieve within its given parameters.

For about 30 minutes of the narration, all we see are Kamal Haasan and his partners in crime (Vijay Raaz and Kannada star Ramesh Arvind) running around in sweltering circles creating a verbose and claustrophobic vista that leaves the audiences thirsting for visually liberating avenues in this riotous roadblock of a movie.

It isn't as though the actors let the plot down. On the contrary, they try hard to enjoy the material provided by the screenplay. Some characters are notable for their spirit and spunk, and never mind if they're constantly weighed down by the volley of oscillating witticism which lurches sinisterly between the scatological and the profane.

Om Puri is particularly effectual as the harassed father of a bride whose mistress (Manisha Koirala) suddenly demands his attentions when their illegitimate son is kidnapped.

The cruellest and most savagely funny lines ensue between Puri and Koirala. When he offers to pay her Rs.1.5 million to get rid of her, she retorts: "Achcha! The kidnapper of our son gets Rs.1 crore (Rs.10 million), while the woman who bore your son gets just Rs.15 lakhs (Rs.1.5 million)!"

Koirala, looking slim, sensitive and luminous, is a treat to watch. Why so little of her very interesting character in the roomy plot? And why so much of Vijay Raaz, who almost walks shoulder to shoulder with Kamal Haasan in the plot. Raaz creates an illusion of hilarity through his deadpan face and anxious body language.

The film, in fact, has a gallery of worthy players choking on the welter of wordiness that the screenplay so lavishly provides.

A large part of the narrative is about the growing bonding between the hero Avinash and the boy whom he kidnaps. Lamentably the child actor Hardik playing the key role is neither very cute nor a capable actor.

As usual, it's up to Kamal Haasan to hold up the doddering comedy of errors. He brings into play a furiously reigned-in quality to his scattered character's restless manoeuvres that take him on a motorcycle ride in wells and on rooftops - and crane rides across compounds filled with precocious school kids gaping and gawking at the unbelievable goings-on.

Wish we did the same. What a bumpy ride...for the actor and for the character he plays this time. Unlike his last Hindi film "Abhay", which was an expertly executed piece of hallucinogenic art, "Mumbai Xpress" relies much too heavily on stock shots of motorbikes and cars in studios creating an illusion of speed through back-projections.

The purported mood is that of a Laurel-Hardy or Crazy Boys flick. But the world that we've inherited has no place for misapplied parody. Finally, jokes about the kidnapping industry can evoke mild amusement only if you're willing to follow Kamal Haasan blindly.

But beware, he plays a deaf man.