June 4, 2010

Well Done Abba

Title: Well Done Abba
Year: 2009
Cast: Boman Irani, Minnisha Lamba, Sammir Dattani, Ila Arun, Rajit Kapoor, Ravi Kishen + many more- you have to see!

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 :)
After the brilliant "Welcome to Sajjanput" (2008), Benegal emplys this old joke into another stunningly simple, lyrical, yet profound satire in "Well done Abba."

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.

Pros:

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.

Cons:

Why doesn't Benegal make movies more often? Why didn't he employ humor with this effectiveness earlier? I demand more Benegal!


10 comments:

bollyviewer said...

A big YES to everything you said! I've been nodding vigorously at every sentence. :-) Boman was brilliant. The only flaw in the whole film that kind of grated on me was the "Hyderabadi accent" of the characters - it was so fake and so here-now-gone-again all the time! If Benegal didnt want to bother with the accent, why not just let everybody speak filmi Hindi? And if he did want us to believe that we were in a small town near Hyderabad, why not make sure everybody did it right? But that is a very small complaint against a film that I loved.

"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)." - Have you seen Mandi? I think its his best satire, and not at all likely to make you weep!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Bollyviewer: You are oh so rite- The accent-on & off bit did bother me, especially wrt Minissha. Re: Mandi- I see your point that there was satire and even humor in the film, but it still leaves me sad. I have watched it several times, and concede that it keeps one engrossed throughout; but the underlying sadness, especially the end makes me feel the emptiness that the characters have to b feeling. I get too involved! :D

ram badrinathan said...

Came across your excellent review. Shweta we are working on a very interesting project with Shyam Benegal on enhancing Audio Visual literacy. It is an education project using interactive multimedia where everyone can learn from Shyam Benegal on the medium. It is like how literacy of textual paradigm is taught but nothing on the audio visual medium. The project is being done through project financing where six investors are each pooling in $ 10,000 k for 5% of the partnership. I can send you the information if i had your e-mail. We already have four investors.

About four years ago we organized a very interesting event with Shyambabu which is linked below

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Ram: Thank you stopping by. I didnt see a link in your comment, but wish you the very best in your endeavor. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh am so glad some one reviewed the movie. No one here has even heard of it ! :-|

I really loved this movie and movies like this have to be given better publicity !

-Aditi

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Aditi: I absolutely agree. It does deserve more love than it has yet received; now that the DVD is here and we are getting an opportunity to actually watch the film, perhaps it will gain more appreciation! Thank you for stopping by and come again!

theBollywoodFan said...

I'd missed this review, and I agree! Although I found Boman's evil twin really annoying (that might've been intended, but that wasn't it.)

Admired Minisha Lamba since 'Yahaan', and it's nice to see her take on a real role (as opposed to heavy on eye candy as in 'Kidnap'), she's so good! And that whole debt and text message-induced relationship was so cool, wasn't it? :D

thequark said...

may be its the times that are changing and the film maker is changing with the time too, so a movie which a wider set of audience can relate to and enjoy while getting a message without it getting preachy and with such brilliant story telling.

And it is this last part which was a little lackadaisical compared to Sajjanpur. Well Done Abba in the end to me looked a lot like RTI propaganda movie whereas Welcome to Sajjanpur was so radically diverse, I could not believe I could watch such a great movie with such a nice, well enmeshed story and brilliant characterization.

One thing I liked a lot in Welcome to Sajjanpur (and up to a limit in Well Done Abba) is that the protagonists are not painted as pure white, moral beings but people embedded in their normal lives and society and yet they transcend their own corruption with the goodness inside them.

thequark said...

may be its the times that are changing and the film maker is changing with the time too, so a movie which a wider set of audience can relate to and enjoy while getting a message without it getting preachy and with such brilliant story telling.

And it is this last part which was a little lackadaisical compared to Sajjanpur. Well Done Abba in the end to me looked a lot like RTI propaganda movie whereas Welcome to Sajjanpur was so radically diverse, I could not believe I could watch such a great movie with such a nice, well enmeshed story and brilliant characterization.

One thing I liked a lot in Welcome to Sajjanpur (and up to a limit in Well Done Abba) is that the protagonists are not painted as pure white, moral beings but people embedded in their normal lives and society and yet they transcend their own corruption with the goodness inside them.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Quark: Well said. I did enjoy Well Done Abba though, and found it immensly absorbing, end and all. Ive no diagreement on Welsome to Sajjanput tho- that can definitely be called some of the best of the decade.