Shoojit Sircar disappoints. Even in the opening shots of the film you realise that Big B is making a huge effort to make a character out of Mirza Chumman Nawab. There is nothing of the famed one-liners or the light-heartedness that Sircar and Big B shared in Piku.
Everything here is happening around Fatima Mahal — a dilapidated building that has seen better and prosperous days. Its owners are the very old but spirited Begum (Farrukh Jaffer) who is more than a decade older to her husband Mirza (Amitabh). While the Mahal has multiple tenants, the guy who Mirza is always picking on is Bankey (Ayushmann Khurrana) who lives with his mother and unmarried sisters, including Guddo (Srishti Shrivastava).
The constant bickering, the look at life in a chawl, the conflict between the cantankerous landlord and the impoverished tenant, constitutes the two-hour story that has screenplay and dialogues by Juhi Chaturvedi. She, too, takes her own sweet time to put the characters in place and yet ends up leaving cardboard pieces rather than flesh and blood humans.
Everyone is a loser is this sad tale of one-upmanship. The hidden message, if any, seems to say that if you contrive to gain the upper hand, you may well loose what you have. Also that the goose that lays the golden egg can revolt instead of just dying and put the beneficiary to more harm than expected.
The film out there has one character totally out of place in the chawl — mouthing the latest human rights parameters. You have a ‘walk in at pleasure’ trouble maker Pandey ji (Prakash Bajpai), the lawyer (Brijendra Kala) and the archetype government official from the Archaeology Department. All the characters are grey and leave no space for any fresh air.
In so far as an old person being exploited by the younger generation and using the property, one can think of Aparna Sen dealing with Miss Stoneham (brilliantly portrayed by Jennifer Kapoor) in 36 Chowringhee Lane. Yes, the milieu is different, the polity far removed. Yet, the central character is one for compare — nay, contrast.
Amitabh Bachchan in the character of Mirza is back to the days of total reliance on the director. Shoojit Sircar fails him and the audience and does singular damage to his reputation. Farrukh Jaffer is one positive element in the film. Her character, however, is reduced to nothing in the midst of the need to make the script claustrophobic.
Again, it is a measured performance from Ayushmann Khurrana that nearly saves the day. Given this script with anyone else playing Mirza, guess Khurrana would have let go of it. In the eagerness to share cinematic space with Big B and with trust in the repute of his Vicky Donor director, he moves along to give the film some chance. Thin chance.
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