'Phas Gaye Re Obama' (Hindi, Comedy, 2010)
Director: Subhash Kapoor
Cast: Rajat Kapoor, Neha Dhupia, Amol Gupte
Like all industries, even the film industry suffered during the economic slowdown of 2008-09. Two years later, filmmakers have found ways to capitalise on that lean phase — by developing stories built around events of that time, or fabricating scenarios of how the recession might have impacted different people and their professions.
Writer-director Subhash Kapoor (who wrote and directed 'Say Salaam India: Let’s Bring the Cup Home' in 2007) sets his sophomore effort 'Phas Gaye Re Obama' in some-town UP, where crime is commonplace and not immune from the vagaries of the recession.
In this scenario, circa 2008, an NRI businessman Om (Rajat Kapoor), bankrupted in the recession, returns to India after seven years to sell his ancestral property in UP to pay off his bank loans.
Different gangs of local goons, also affected by the economic downturn, see the goose that will lay the golden egg. Hearing an NRI is in town, dollar signs sparkle in their eyes. First off the blocks is Bhaisaab’s (Sanjay Mishra) gang, which includes Ani (brilliantly played by Manu Rishi) a small-towner who daydreams the American dream and has prepared for his migration by watching Hollywood movies and learning broken English in a local coaching class. The scene at the English class is hilarious as a teacher in a suit impresses the ignorant students with his broken English.
Bhaisaab is a soft-hearted leader who rues that business is so bad they don’t even have money for bullets and or to top up their prepaid mobile phones. Yet he feeds his hostage the best food from town. The competing gangs try to capture Om unaware of his true financial condition, enamoured only by his NRI status which, in their ill-informed opinion, translates to a hefty bank balance and the possibility of a lucrative ransom.
They also do not bargain for a street-smart, quick-thinking, desperate victim who ends up spinning all the gangs along on a merry ride.
Like many of our films, the writers and directors do not know when to stop. So the plot is eked out, especially with the entry of the third gang under Munni (Neha Dhupia), a man-hating leader of an all-girl gang of miscreants who calls herself ‘Female Gabbar Singh’ and in act of largesse, hands over Ani to her girls for a little ‘fun’.
Om plays his trick card repeatedly so that it becomes a tiresome twist. You wish Kapoor had stuck to a quicker pace, sacrificing at least one gang, getting to the punch-line faster.
Eventually it is all about how, when you have nothing to lose, men make strange and risky choices, some of which might just pay off. There are surprises aplenty, and enough humour to keep you engaged. And the message, fortunately, never gets preachy or bitter. It retains a fine balance between satire and fun.
The script stacks up some gems like the clever and opportune way in which Kapoor weaves in Obama’s campaign slogan of ‘Yes we can’. And the sequence where local politician Dhananjay Singh’s (Amol Gupte) systematic kidnap-ransom collection business is depicted, complete with bureaucracy, receipt and one year surety, is ingenious.
Of the actors, Dhupia is the weakest link followed by Rajat Kapoor who brings nothing new to his performance. The usually annoying Mishra as the leader of the gang of kind thugs is impressive, but the scene-stealer is Manu Rishi who breathes life into an extremely well-fleshed out character. As the kind, conniving and sympathetic Ani he is one of the primary reasons to watch 'Phas Gaye Re Obama'.
The dialogue is glib and often delivers a message using humour, such as America creates the problem and then spreads it out across the world so that an illness often becomes an epidemic. Subhash Kapoor has become an indie voice to watch out for. This weekend, this film would be your best bet at the movies.