Finally. After more than a month of hype, re: glowing reviews, Bollywood’s A-list joining the Twitter bandwagon to praise the film [yes, KJo’s on my Twit-List], and abysmal torrent downloads [‘HQ DVD rip’ – not!], Tere Bin Laden makes its way to your local DVD shop.
It seems India’s just woken up to the concept of political satires, but given the critical and commercial success of both Tere Bin Laden and Sundance darling Peepli Live, India seems all set to give competition to, say, Wag The Dog or [dare I say it] Dr. Strangelove.
I’ll be honest: I had incredibly high expectations from the movie as I popped on the passable camera print on my DVD – and 90 minutes later, I have this to say: fans of the genre, rejoice! Not since David Zucker’s 1980 cult-classic Airplane! has a satire played out with such ferocious sophomoric glee. Mindless Akshay Kumar farce this is not [and thank God for that: after Chandni Chowk to China, Kambakkht Ishq, De Dana Dan and the recent horror-show Housefull, I was ready to write off Bollywood]; lampooning the world’s most infamous personality was always going to be an uphill task, but director Abhishek Sharma and his motley crew emerge triumphant with a satire that is subversive and yet features subtext [Osama-phobia, anyone?] galore.
The Plot, or Hum Sab [Bin Laden ki] Umeed Se Hain: Ali Hassan [Ali Zafar], an ambitious young news reporter from Pakistan and licensed Ullu Da Pattha, is desperate to migrate to the US in pursuit of the American dream. His repeated attempts to immigrate [with help from Jamal Bhai – head of immigration consultants ‘Lashkar-e-Amreeka’ – major LOL] are shot down as his visa is always rejected. Just when he thinks he’s going to be stuck at a dead-end job at ‘Danka TV’, reporting nonevents [case in point – Man at vegetable stall: ‘Iss mooli ne to mere saare khwaab hi poore kar diye’ / Ali: ‘Kese?’ / Man: ‘Bass..kar diye’] he comes across a [woman-ogling, irreverent, kanjoos poultry farmer – poor Osama must be writhing in his grav- well, wherever he is] Osama bin Laden lookalike, Noora [Pradhuman Singh]. The reporter then hatches a scheme with unlikely [and quirky] allies: an aspiring stylist Zoya [Sugandha Garg], affable sidekick Gul [Nikhil Ratnaparkhi], a USA-bashing RJ, Qureishi [Rahul Singh], and office-temp Lateef [Chirag Vohra] who’s fluent in Arabic, to produce a fake Osama video and sell it to news channels as a breakthrough scoop. Unfortunately, there are serious [not My Name Is Khan or New York serious: think ‘Operation Kick-Ass’] ramifications as the White House gets involved and dispatches a overzealous secret agent [Barry John and his coordinated carrot-munching cronies] on Ali’s trail.
The [extremely fast-paced] film pays homage to the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker school of comedy right from the onset: the airport announcement(s) are reminiscent of Airplane!’s opening sequence; of course, with a desi tadka. The prelude, a laugh-out-loud deportation sequence, that segues into the opening credits [hello, wildly popular Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy track ‘Ullu Da Pattha’!] sets the tone for the hilarious scenes that follow. And boy, do they.
Ali Zafar is to Tere Bin Laden what Ranbir Kapoor was to Saawariya: definitely the find of the season, the roguish superstar-in-the-making moves onscreen like a seasoned pro, with impeccable comedic timing to boot. The paidayshi glass-half-full critic in me waited for him to drop the ball/ham it up à la Govinda of yore, but his performance was consistent throughout. Pradhuman Singh was another revelation: be it in Noora or faux-Osama avatar, the man brought on the laughs, and then some. Post Omi Vaidya [Silencer/Chatur – 3 Idiots], Bollywood is introduced to yet another firecracker of a performer. However, it isn’t fair to single out an actor: it’s the whole ensemble that works in the film’s favour. For example, Ali’s scenes with his TRP-hungry boss at Danka TV, Majeed, played by the pokerfaced-yet-priceless Piyush Mishra, are absolute gold: his character makes for a clever dig at the news industry; the politics, the power struggle. From Sugandha’s no-nonsense portrayal of Zoya [I’ve liked this girl since Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Naa! – note Noora’s wickedly ‘suggestive’ scenes with her], Rahul Singh as the ‘voice’ of Osama [after a wonderfully restrained performance in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Jail, he’s back with a bang]; heck, even to Majeed’s wife [your typical nagging housewife], everyone pitches in fine performances.
However, it’s writer-director Abhishek Sharma who’s the real hero of the enterprise; from slapstick to sardonic, audiences get the full monty, far as humour goes. Sample this sequence: Majeed ‘dealing’ with a Burqa-clad Gul over ‘Osama’s’ video: ‘Ab dikhao naa!’ / Gul: ‘Oye, bola na, maine sirf Burqa pehna hai, baqi cheezen wahi hain jo tumhare paas hain.’ / Majeed: ‘Array bhai jaan, maine kaha tape dikhao naa!’ Bludgeoning innuendo; crude even? Definitely, but then, it works so beautifully because no actor goes over-the-top in their delivery.
My favorite sequence in the film, however, has got to be secret agent Ted describing the wacky ‘Operation Kick-Ass’ and the details of their Osama-hunt; the series of comic-book style images storyboarding their each move is priceless. A close second, though, is the entire penultimate sequence at the Danka TV studio – think hand-grenade, think martyred murgha, think chase sequence a la Andaaz Apna Apna, think ‘Habibi George Bush – Tuaadi Maa Di -‘; its madcap mayhem through and through.
The only downer was that despite some wonderful production design [recreating Karachi in Hyderabad sets], almost all male characters [read: extras] are, rather stereotypically, shown with white prayer-hats on their heads – but at least India’s moved on from the Veer-Zaara representation of Pakistanis [seriously, who says ‘Adaab’ as a form of greeting – it’s Pakistan, not a Devdas set!] Oh, and umm, regarding Barry John’s accent, I’ll just let The Hollywood Reporter do the talking: “..a transplanted Brit with a garbled American accent so atrocious that one wonders if this is India’s revenge for decades of bad American characterizations of South Asians.”
There’s always going to be the ‘high-brow’ critics that’ll dismiss the film as a prolonged public-access comedy sketch, but then, the film is unabashedly mainstream; with an inventive script, politically incorrect yet riotous humor, and entertainment value aplenty, the film’s global terrorism and paranoia, the lighter side of. However, I’ll let you be the judge.
As for me, I’m a certified ‘Ullu Da Pattha.’ – Osman Khalid Butt
Year – 2010, Genre – Comedy, Country – India, Language – Hindi, Producer – Pooja Shetty Deora, Aarti Shetty, Director – Abhishek Sharma, Music Director – Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, Loy Mendonsa, Dhruv Dhalla, Cast – Ali Zafar, Barry John, Chirag Vohra, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Piyush Mishra, Rahul Singh, Seema Bhargava, Sugandha Garg, Pradhuman Singh, Chinmay Mandlekar