Shall we blame a slapstick comedy for sticking to the slaps? There’s little that’s freshly funny about Total Dhamaal — the third in the franchise, directed by Indra Kumar — but this familiarity looks intentional. The audience isn’t going in expecting more, or so the makers think.
As a mindless rehash, Total Dhamaal serves up foolish fun for its target viewership: casual audiences, parents and children, the kind of crowd that’ll laugh at an accent. It’s a cartoon film shot in live-action, with nothing more to prove.
Or maybe not. For this is also a film that brings up demonetisation, makes light of divorce and dowry (there’s an opening disclaimer flagging this), and cheers on the greatness of Gujaratis in the face of a charging tiger — even though the actor on screen is a Punjabi speaking in a Marathi overtone.
All the villains are predictably (and exaggeratedly) South Indian, apers of ‘Rajinikanth’ and fans of ‘Kattapaa’. You see, herein lies the toss-up: should we unsee a film’s politics just because it comes cloaked in punchline? How fair is that to other movies, competent or incompetent, that don’t present themselves as comedies?
The first hour is a drag, squandered on introductions. Adi and Manav (Arshad Warsi and Jaaved Jaaferi) make a return; the latter looks worryingly tanned, with several minions stickered onto his suspenders. Riteish Deshmukh swaggers in as a Bhojpuri fireman, accompanied by Pitobash Tripathy. Caught in the act of accepting bribes, they are ‘fired’ from their jobs.
In parallel, Sanjay Mishra keeps new entrant (and co-producer) Ajay Devgn company — they are both thieves, chasing after lost loot. Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor team up as a bickering couple en route to meet their son, hoping to convince him about custody, but make a detour to join the rally.
Boman Irani fills the Sanjay Dutt/Kabir Nayak gap, while Johnny Lever makes a walk-on appearance as a Bengali pilot (Wife’s name? Moon Moon Sen).
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The set-up returns to the first film: the prize is bigger this time, the elusive ‘W’ replaced by an assertive ‘OK’. The chases are clumsily done
. The toy-store efficiency earns a few laughs, as cars pile up on cars or come rolling down a bumpy slope. Private planes and helicopters glide through the sky, but — in the absence of Vijay Raaz’s deliriously deadpan voice to guide them to absolute wreckage — never whip up a storm.
I was relieved to see the film wind up quickly to its final destination: ‘Omkar Zoo’ in Janakpur, where the climax unfurls. The ending gags in Total Dhamaal, featuring trained animals or neatly rendered fakes, are presentably fun, and I’ll admit to smiling when Ajay Devgn looks on wonderingly at a cub named ‘Simba’.
The performances are hammy and unremarkable; even then, there’s rarely a delight like watching Madhuri Dixit brighten up a dry line with... something. Given the screen-time, I wish Sanjay Mishra had more to do than call Ajay Devgn ‘Bro’, brilliant as he is at pulling jokes out of thin air. (In one skydiving sequence, he is the joke out of thin air).
The soundtrack takes the cake for featuring two of the sloppiest remixes of our times, Paisa Paisa and Mungda, performed in glittery exclusion from the main storyline.
In fact, the only time the film comes alive is when Jackie Shroff’s voice blares out of a car’s HUD panel.
As a hip AI giving directions to the treasure seekers, he rightly advises them — in his distinct style — to head over to Goa instead, where all the “booze and babes” await.
Given that the first Dhamaal (the only worthy entry in the franchise so far) had folded up in a Goan park, this was advice the makers should have heeded. Total Dhamaal is exactly the sort of sequel that needed to jump tracks midway.
Film: Total Dhamaal
Director: Indra Kumar
Rating: 2 stars