Thou shalt not be kind

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By Jai Arjun Singh

FILM » PAYING GUEST
DIRECTOR » PARITOSH PAINTER
STARRING » SHREYAS TALPADE, NEHA DHUPIA, JAVED JAFFREY, AASHISH CHOUDHARY

THIS OVERWROUGHT COMEDY opens with three bachelors — Bawesh (Shreyas Talpade), Sukhi (Javed Jaffrey) and Daljit (Aashish Choudhary) — living in Bangkok as tenants in the improbable ‘Kiska’ mansion, until one day they simultaneously lose their jobs and accommodation. Along with a new addition to the group, a bumbler named Karan who’s just flown in from India, they contrive to become paying guests in the house of a Sikh restaurant owner Balluji (Johnny Lever in a performance that makes every role he has done in the past 20 years seem like an acting class in restraint) and his scatterbrained wife Sweety. Since this traditional-minded couple won’t have single boys staying in their house, Bawesh and Sukhi show up in drag as Karishma and Kareena, wives of the other two. Loud, forced, headache-inducing slapstick comedy ensues.

It’s a pity, for there are glimpses here of a certain economy of storytelling — an unfussiness about the direction and editing which suggests that a better script (or, for that matter, any script) might have resulted in a solid little film. Unfortunately, the technical competence is at the service of some eye-poppingly bad attempts at humour. This is a movie that tries to milk laughs out of a scene where a deviant with a speech impediment (played by Chunky Pandey, no less) pronounces “rape” as “lape”. In another scene, a wife tells her husband that they’ve been invited out for “foreplay” when what she means is that they’ve been invited to a stage production comprising four back-toback plays. Some of the attempts at setting up situation comedy would be embarrassing even for a school-level skit. (If someone straps you to a chair and forces you to watch this, don’t miss the tedious build-up to the scene where Sweety mistakenly thinks “Karishma” is pregnant.)

One thing that’s notable, given that this is screwball comedy with a line-up of pretty starlets — Celina Jaitley, Riya Sen, Neha Dhupia — is that it refrains from running its heroines through a gamut of demeaning, exploitative situations. But that doesn’t quite mask the fact that there is a lot of tastelessness on view, mostly reserved for Talpade and Jaffrey, dressed as women. Here is the unfortunate sight of two talented actors (noted for their mimicking skills) hoping gamely that the rest of the film will somehow catch up with them. But this is not a script that’s kind to performers — or to the audience.

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