The Hindu (Mumbai)

Frisky comedy finds heart in excess

Kunal Kemmu’s debut directoria­l is a fun, freewheeli­ng ride, occasional­ly hobbled by slapstick excess

- Shilajit Mitra

In one of the funniest scenes in Dil

Chahta Hai, besotted rich kid Sameer Mulchandan­i (Saif Ali

Khan) gets a taste of real Goa. Christine, a fairfaced minx who caught his fancy on the shores, robs him blind and scoots. In a flashback, we see Sameer squirming on the floor of his hotel room, gagged and naked save for his cherrydott­ed shorts. Before she leaves, Christine plants a quick peck on his cheek.

One imagines Kunal Kemmu watching this scene as a young man and responding to its comic payoff. His debut directoria­l,

Madgaon Express, is indebted to Dil

Chahta Hai — literally, with Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani as his producers. Yet it’s equally Kemmu’s ambition to deflate the dreamy cult of Dil Chahta Hai. To risk your heart, his film winks, is also to risk your clothes.

Whether he realises that ambition is a topic for later. Pinku (Pratik Gandhi), Ayush (Avinash Tiwary) and Dodo (Divyenndu Sharma) have been friends since school. As with so many young folks in India, hamstrung by budgets and domineerin­g parents, their Goa plans have remained unfulfille­d, and once

Pinku and Ayush move abroad, it’s completely out of the picture. Dodo, who’s left behind (geographic­ally as well as on the social ladder), keeps in touch via social media, faking a persona to impress his welltodo friends. His photoshopa­ided charades stand to be exposed when Pinku and Ayush announce they are coming to Mumbai. Scared, Dodo suggests their longdeferr­ed Goa trip as an alternativ­e.

At the railway station — Dodo, who could not afford flights, tries to dress it up as the ‘real deal’ — there’s an accidental swapping of bags. It signals the barrage of comic hijinks to come: binges, cocaine, guns, criminals, cops. Marathi stalwarts Upendra Limaye and Chhaya Kadam are hilarious as a pair of rival gangsters with a past. It’s standard crimecomed­y fare, but Kemmu — who has also written the screenplay and dialogue — keeps an eye out for mundane details, like exorbitant carfare in the coastal tourist state. My favourite scene is Pinku, jacked up on coke, pouring his heart out to Ayush, telling him about his interfaith relationsh­ip; it’s just two friends sitting on nondescrip­t chairs on a heathazed beach, the kind of scene that would end up on the cutting room floor of a more expensive film.

There are times when the easygoing rhythm of Madgaon Express is derailed by slapstick excess. A belated gunfight followed by a climactic standoff needed the wit and precision of early Priyadarsh­an. Kemmu, a sworn cinephile, pays homage to every corner of popular cinema, from his own cult zomcom Go Goa Gone to The Hangover movies and The Godfather Part I. Like many firsttime directors, he succumbs to the need to accentuate every moment. Some of the visual ideas fall flat — the atrociousl­y choreograp­hed fantasy numbers come to mind.

It is tempting to hail Madgaon Express as a revisionis­t, drugaddled Dil Chahta Hai. But it’s .... not. Farhan Akhtar’s film was a beautifull­y calibrated drama, steadfast in its exploratio­n of male adult friendship­s over a long period of time. Madgaon, despite its pockets of genuine pathos and heart, is largely a frisky comedy in the Todd Phillips mould. Its characters are funnily drawn and Gandhi, Sharma and Tiwary strike a suitably spiky bonhomie, but emotional engagement is perhaps a bridge too far. This film is a party, not a trip.

Madgaon Express is currently playing in theatres

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