There is an old joke in India, in which a poor man applies for a government loan. There are multiple steps to have the loan sanctioned, and as the man goes through the process, he has to provide bribes to all the greedy officials at each step. So much so, that in the end, he gets the loan, but has no balance left- the entire amount goes towards the bribes. Frankly, this would only pass as a joke in India and a few other similar nations :)
The film opens in Bombay (I still refuse to call it Mumbai, say what you will). Boman is a driver to a executive. He was off on vacation, which he overextended by 2 months, and has therefore been kicked out of the job he is trying to win back. He begs the boss to let him drive on the trip he (the boss) needs to take to Pune (a couple hours), during which Boman would explain to him all the issues that prevented him from coming back to work in a timely manner. The boss agrees, Boman begins the drive, and the movie begins as well.
Boman plays an immigrant worker from a village near Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) in Bombay. His wife is dead and his only child, Minnisha, lives with his rascally twin brother and his wife Ila in the village. His twin and Ila cant handle Minnisha anymore, and so Boman goes back to find a suitable boy for Minnisha.
Of course, nothing goes as planned. Boman gets to his village to find an immense water shortage in the area, his brother and sister-in-law in jail for theft, and his daughter trying to cope with everything with remarkable strength. Meanwhile, young women in the village are being sold to Sheikhs in the Arab Emirates, and the government has a loan program for the villagers, to build wells for combating the water shortage.
And while all this sounds terribly grim, it isn't at all. In Benegal's hands, the very real issues of a corrupt government system, water shortage in villages and human trafficking are treated with glib satire so that the viewer is made aware of these issues and encouraged to resist them, and yet be entertained by this gem-like, brilliant film.
1- Boman, finally plays the main protagonist in a film. Away with the conventional, pretty heroes- even though Sammir has romantic interest with Minnisha in the film, for once, the romantic pair isn't the lead. This is really fantastic, and Boman chews up the scenery beautifully and well. I just wish his evil twin had more footage- he is utterly hilarious and keeps you glued to the screen. His nuanced mannerisms as both brothers are so integral to his characters and so well mastered, that he can be called without doubt one of the best actors we have ever had.
2- Benegal is, once again, brilliant in his concept and vision. With his employment of humor as a working arm, I find his work in his latest 2 films far more engaging than his cinema in the 70s-90s (which made one weep, but never smile). He has talked about extremely difficult issues in all his work, but in "Welcome to.." and now "Well Done...," he kicks up his game and teaches the viewer with laughter instead of tears. He captures the flavor of Andhra Pradesh, playing with the uniqueness of the local patois and culture without pandering.
3- Benegal also brings back theater to cinema, and this film has all the rasas balanced beautifully. The songs are comparable to spoken word; they are not memorable, but do their job in helping thread together the narrative.
4- Thank goodness for Rajit Kapoor and the league of supporting actors- every individual plays their part brilliantly, and does not overshadow anyone or lets anyone else overshadow them. Most of the cast is repeated from "Welcome to...," and so perfectly tuned to the director that the viewer can feel this cohesion. Aside: I love rajit- always have, always will. Thank goodness (again) for Benegal recognizing his brilliance.
5- And lastly, can enough be said about the effectiveness of cinema as a medium of mass communication? If anything, this film proves that movies do not have to be preachy or sad or violent to carry a message for the masses. And that intelligent cinema can be entertaining and compelling enough for the viewer to want to watch it multiple times.
Why doesn't Benegal make movies more often? Why didn't he employ humor with this effectiveness earlier? I demand more Benegal!