There is a scene in Farah Khan's Happy New Year where Boman Irani takes out a fully iced cake from a bag and says to himself, "I am going to have my cake and eat it too." Two seconds later his face is buried in the gooey stuff and when he faces the camera, a cherry is stuck to his nose. Moral of the story? You can either eat your cake or have it. A lesson that Farah Khan would do well to learn because you can't package an entire film around your disrespect for your audience even as you pretend to entertain them. Entertainment does not have to be logical. The master of divine madness Manmohan Desai knew that. Even Rohit Shetty knows that. But a film must stem from genuine humility and a desire to connect with the audience it is meant for. And it must be in good taste.
Even a commercial director cannot make one of her key characters point at a Korean and say something to this effect, "Chinese ho ya Korean... they all look the same!" Or turn chocolate -coloured vomit into a special effect. Or make Boman Irani, one of our finest actors, into a Parsi ham whose epileptic seizures are sometimes made fun of and occasionally integrated into dance choreography. A character who is hard of hearing is mocked too. And threatened that very soon he will go from 'mono' to 'mute.' Yes, really. What is Farah Khan going to make fun of next? Sajid Khan? Well, she really does and that is possibly the only funny part of the film because trust us, the sight of Abhishek Bachchan stripping and making a pile of his clothes to stand on and trying to cover his bare posterior from the camera with his vest, is not funny. And something reeks of dishonesty when a film first mounts a lavish item song in the imaginatively titled Chammiya Bar to present Deepika Padukone as a bar dancer and then calls her a 'bazaaru aurat' in the next scene. And puns like 'breasttaking'? Is that the kind of humour we need from one of our most successful woman directors?
Also by mocking a senior choreographer like Saroj Khan in a crass, 'in your face' sequence, the film unapologetically shows just how little regard it has for the legacy it pretends to celebrate. Padukone channels Madhuri Dixit's Mohini in the lovely sequence and Mohini is a cult cinematic icon today because of Saroj Khan.
You also have Charlie's Angels (Bachchan, Boman, Vivan Shah and Sonu Sood) in ballerina tutus trying to do the ballet, Boman Irani jogging to the beat of Eye of The Tiger, Vishal Dadlani and Anurag Kashyap in an orgy for two just to make you laugh. Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting plays on during a fight between a Korean and Shah Rukh Khan and that should tell you that Farah, the mistress of the art of referencing has lost her touch. From the rickshaw named Dhanno in Main Hoon Na to the Sooraj Barjatya and Govinda jokes in Om Shanti Om, she always got it right. Yes, she lost the plot in Tees Maar Khan but we blamed it on Akshay Kumar, did we not?
But as we know by now after studying our Yashraj and Karan Johar syllabi, when a maker begins to reference his or her own cinema, it is a sign both of arrogance and paucity of inspiration. Making Shah Rukh revisit Devdas, Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om falls flat. Though the always earnest Padukone shines in a corny spoof of the Chak De India prematch speech. RD Burman's stunning title song from Krishna Shah's 1978 caper Shalimar is played too during a sequence just to remind us that Farah Khan knows her Bollywood but again... the moment is more banal than nostalgic.
The film derives some inspiration from Mission Impossible and Soderbergh's Ocean Trilogy but it is like that Fevicol-aided thumbprint that opens a diamond storing safe in the film. A con that looks like a con. The premise of an elaborate heist to avenge a wronged father is written around a few caricatures, loads of gags, noise and fireworks with the hope that something will stick to the memory. And yes, a few things do. The sight of a bonafide superstar framed against the tricolour is a reminder of our composite Indian identity. There is Padukone trying to bring dignity and warmth to her underwritten character. Young Vivaan Shah smiling fetchingly into the camera.
But what was Abhishek Bachchan thinking while playing a character whose trump card is his ability to vomit that then spatters across the screen in projectile motion? Why would he choose a role like this considering, one of his biggest qualities as an actor is restraint? And a certain innate poise? And poor Sonu Sood. In an alternate universe, he would have been an actor and not just a shirtless joke from Dabangg. Remember that face-off he had with Abhishek in Yuva? Yes, that really was an alternate universe. Khan is allowed to keep his dignity through the film and is introduced like the star he is, with his eight packs drenched in hyperbole and chocolate mud. But he does nothing new as an actor. In one monologue, he keeps shifting from one heel to another till you begin to see double because the director, also his friend was perhaps too busy admiring him to correct him.
Going by the whistles in the hall, may be Farah Khan does know her audience. But then, maybe not. Regardless of what critics say, entertainment in commercial cinema is serious business. Irreverence is one thing. Disrespect is another. And maybe this time Farah Khan will find that when the line between the two is blurred, the joke is on the person who is cracking it.