The heartland film has lost its bite. It’s a genre that takes all sorts, from the reckless banditry of Gangs of Wasseypur to the blockbuster-y romp of the Dabangg movies. Dilip Shukla, the writer of the successful Salman Khan franchise, has dashed off a new comedy in the space: Family Of Thakurganj. The film marks the directorial debut of Manoj K. Jha, and stars Jimmy Sheirgill as the charismatic crime lord of Thakurganj, a fictitious small town smack dab in the heart of Uttar Pradesh.
We begin, Salim-Javed-style, with two brothers starting on separate paths after a tragedy. Nannu (Jimmy) takes up bootlegging and extortion to support his younger brother Munnu (Nandish Sandhu), who becomes a coaching-class instructor. In a twist of Hindi film morality, the ‘Maa’ (Supriya Pilgaonkar, having a blast) ends up siding with Nannu, flicking on her sunglasses and cruising with his stormy wife Sharbati (Mahie Gill). There’s another boss in the family, Mannu and Sharbati’s daughter — queen of the schoolyard and beloved of her prissy uncle, whom she aptly calls a ‘side hero’. They live together in a big house, occasionally beset by cops.
The film gets the opening few beats right. Ahead of holding a man to gunpoint, Sharbati asks him about his water intake, lest he pee his pants. Saurabh Shukla is introduced as ‘Babasaheb’, a local big cheese who makes it a point to tackle one wrestler a year. Many Hindi belt veterans show up — Yashpal Sharma, Mukesh Tiwari, Pavan Malhotra — and are given individual quirks. For instance, Yashpal Sharma’s corrupt cop has a softness for the number nine. (He gets transferred towards the end, with nine days to vacate.)
Munnu’s white sheep/Michael Corleone arc is staid, yet I wish the film tracked him more diligently. There’s always a little more drama to be mined from the inner frictions of a criminal family. Instead, Dilip and Manoj spend long stretches reworking old setups, only to abandon them on the next whim. From gangster comedy, the film flips into a whodunnit — it becomes all about Thakurganj, and little about the family.
Red herrings or not, the tertiary characters are fun. Raj Zutshi plays a zonked hitman, a character out of a Far Cry game. Too often, someone gets walloped on screen, for faults as simple as breaking a sentence into parts. There’s also the bizarre subplot involving Babasaheb and his deceased daughter, another script choice that feels workable but builds to nothing.
With little resources, filmmakers like Prakash Jha, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Anurag Kashyap made our northern badlands cinematic. It’s the impostors that come now who are balling up the place. They exploit dialect for laughs, landscape for scenery, and violence for plot twists. It’s all so criminally wrong.
Movie: Family Of Thakurganj
Director: Manoj K. Jha
Cast: Jimmy Sheirgill, Mahie Gill, Nandish Sandhu