A poster of the film
A poster of the filmIMDb

All aboard the Laugh Express with Kunal Khemu

The actor turns director with his comedy of errors, 'Madgaon Express'

Way before Kunal Khemu earned himself a name as an understated actor with a penchant for comedy, he was the wide-eyed nine-year-old singing Hum Hai Rahi Pyaar Ke along with Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla. Over three decades later, the child artiste-turned-actor has scripted another success story with his directorial debut, Madgaon Express. Being hailed as the triumphant return of physical comedy on screens, Khemu’s freewheeling film joins the list of small-budget projects such as 12th Fail and Lapaata Ladies that have succeeded in their theatrical run.

Madgaon Express is the story of three friends—played by Pratik Gandhi, Avinash Tiwary and Divyenndu—who set off on their dream trip to Goa, only to get caught in a comedy of gross errors. The movie may be seen as a comic recall to the 2001 cult classic, Dil Chahta Hai, and is backed by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment, which has also bankrolled the Fukrey franchise.

Khemu broke out as an actor in 2005 with Kalyug, and also helmed the hit digital series Abhay, but his acting career has had its share of ups and downs. He has often been candid about the dearth of opportunities. Was that the reason he tried his hand at filmmaking? “It’s in my nature to never give up, although there have been times when I have cribbed about why things are the way they are. So, when the opportunities you get are not up to your standards, you need to create them. With this film, I did just that. I had written it and thought of acting in it too. But at Excel, once they read the script, they asked me to direct it. I am glad they let me make it just the way I had imagined,” he says. And, Khemu did do it his way: cast “sensible actors”, a couple of readings, and no workshops. “I don’t believe in that. I did want the actors to spend time together so that they are aware of each other’s temperaments. It helps one to instinctively respond in a scene without offending the other. So, we had prepped all that. Once they were in their looks, they took it from there”.

Having been part of hits such as the Golmaal franchise, the zombie-thriller Goa Goa Gone (2013) and Lootcase (2021), Khemu is no stranger to comedy, and his experience with directors, and on sets, was his training ground. “All the directors I worked with since childhood have been my teachers. I was subconsciously imbibing their process,” he says, adding, “When it comes to comedy, I have worked with Priyadarshan, Rohit Shetty, Raj & DK. They have such different approaches towards storytelling, and each has been inspirational.”

Ask him what was the turning point that made him think about writing professionally, and he promptly responds, “Go Goa Gone”, for which he had contributed to the screenplay as well. “Before that, I just wrote for myself, but seeing the response the film got, it made me take it seriously. But, I have not tried to emulate any of the greats I worked with, because if you copy, you would just have a lot of Priyadarshans and Rohit Shettys,” he says. The 2013 film is also the reason why Khemu chose Goa as the backdrop of Madgaon Express. “Goa is a vibe in every sense of the word. It is aspirational as well as inspirational, and resonates with every generation. It’s my lucky charm,” says Khemu, who will next be seen in the web series, Gulkanda Tales.

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The New Indian Express