When Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to theme parks, he was paying them a compliment. I’m not sure what the American master would make of Pagalpanti, a film that indubitably resembles one of those shopping mall arcades with flouncing clowns, 7D horror houses, and stuffed lions.
You might find all this funny, but you might as well visit an actual fairground. There won’t be any animals, or Arshad Warsi making out with a female ghost, but at least cotton candy and carousels are still around.
Raj Kishore (John Abraham) is a jinxed Londoner who runs scams with Junky (Arshad) and Chandu (Pulkit Samrat).
The bumbling trio is hired to do odd, life-threatening jobs for a bunch of gangsters. Saurabh Shukla plays Raja Saheb, a limping lord living with his daughter (Kriti Kharbanda) and brother-in-law (Anil Kapoor as ‘Wifi Bhai’).
There are a few more players, including the mama-bhanji duo of Brijendra Kala and Ileana D’Cruz, and the plot tries to connect these tracks with the manhunt for fugitive embezzler Niraj Modi (name mildly changed and drolly caricatured by Inaamulhaq).
Director Anees Bazmee once knew his madcap terrain. More than a decade ago, he churned out comedies like Welcome and Singh Is Kinng—equally inane and scatterbrain works yet exhilaratingly goofy.
In 2019, though, he seems content with tooth extraction jokes and driving a delivery truck off a bridge.
Several scenes play out as though written on the spot. We bounce abruptly from palatial lawns to narrow streets to mist-shrouded country.
The director who could whip up a song sequence at will (using everything from film sets to art galleries as locations) now uses lazy dream transitions to work in a middle-eastern-themed item number. Except for the Nirav Modi bit, there isn’t a single original thought, with old crime-comedy tropes like robbing-the-mob-bank and dating-the-mafiaso’s-daughter played up for laughs.
When the jokes aren’t funny (which is almost always), they are offensive: Uganda spelled out as ‘U… Gende’ or someone cribbing about farm-loan waivers.
Arshad Warsi can walk into a corporate audit and enliven proceedings. John Abraham, a bit out of touch with comedy, sticks to showing off his wardrobe. And Pulkit Samrat is what remains if you strip a young Salman Khan of all Hello Brother-ish comic grace.
Which brings us to Anil Kapoor, playing essentially a Majnu Bhai redux from Welcome but given far less feed to chew. Once, he cracks a joke about a ‘gadha’ (ass), and I was reminded of his infamous—and forever memefied—painting from the 2007 film. It’s also admirable how gamely he commits to Anees’ skits (this is their sixth outing together), though the results have been on a steady downward trod.
With a title like that, Pagalpanti might try to hide behind its professed brainlessness. But it’s a desperate defence at best, not self-aware or honest.
There’s nothing lazier than a film pleading insanity at the get-go, barely bothering to make sense of the chaos. Madness, more often than not, leads to intriguing art. It rarely shelters imposters.
Cast: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi, Pulkit Samrat, Kriti Kharbanda
Director: Anees Bazmee