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Bheja Fry brought in the laughs 10 years ago

The surprise hit of 2007, directed by Sagar Ballary, was also the most profitable film of the year.

Sonal Pandya

A remake of the 1998 French film Le Dîner de Cons [The Dinner Game], Bheja Fry was the ‘little film that could’ of 2007. In a calendar year featuring Chak De! India, Taare Zameen Par and Om Shanti Om, not many know that Bheja Fry was actually the most successful of the lot. Produced at a tiny budget of Rs1.18 crore, it grossed Rs12.6 crore globally, for a whopping 739% return on investment.

Directed by first-time director Sagar Bellary, the film starred Rajat Kapoor, Sarika, Vinay Pathak and Milind Soman. The original French film, directed by Francis Veber, was adapted from Veber’s own play of the same name. Therefore, a large portion of both films takes place at single location.

Bheja Fry revolves around a wealthy music executive Ranjeet Thadani (Kapoor) who has a strange weekly ritual. Every Friday, he and his friends have a party where they bring ‘idiots’ they have met and secretly judge their strange ‘talents’. A ‘winner’ is adjudged from assorted ‘idiots’.

Ranjeet’s wife Sheetal (Sarika), a singer, is fed up with him prioritizing the dinner above everything else. She also believes the whole exercise is cruel. One day, while the couple is purchasing a second car, car salesman Jagdish (Ikhlaque Khan), who is also friends with Ranjeet and Sheetal, mentions a character he had met on the bus while travelling from Pune to Mumbai.

Rajat Kapoor and Vinay Pathak

That character is Bharat Bhushan (Vinay Pathak), an income-tax officer whose not-so-secret passion is to be a singer. When Ranjeet calls him up to invite him for dinner, Bharat believes his big break has arrived. He arrives at Ranjeet's house just as Ranjeet has thrown his back out and Sheetal has decided to leave him.

Within minutes of meeting Ranjeet, Bharat Bhushan proceeds to muck up every aspect of his life, all the while insisting that he will help him win back his wife. Bharat hilariously involves Ranjeet’s former friend, Anant Ghoshal (Milind Soman), from whom he stole Sheetal, his former crazy ex-girlfriend Suman (Bhairavi Goswami), and a music producer Keval Arora, with whom, Ranjeet suspects, Sheetal is staying.

This comedy of errors is much smoother in the French film which starred Thierry Lhermitte and Jacques Villeret. Villeret, as the simple-minded moron François Pignon, also won the César award (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Actor for his performance.

Strangely, there is no mention of Le Dîner de Cons or Francis Veber in the credits of Bheja Fry though it borrows large plot elements and scenes from it. The screenplay is credited to Sagar Ballary and Arpita Chatterjee while the dialogues were written by Sharat Katariya who went on to direct Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015).

Ranvir Shorey, Milind Soman, Rajat Kapoor and Vinay Pathak in a still from the film

Vinay Pathak and Rajat Kapoor are perfectly cast as the simple-minded wannabe singer and the arrogant executive, respectively. The film works because of their performances. The rest of the cast are hit or miss. Milind Soman and Tom Alter (as Ranjeet’s doctor) fit into the world while Ranvir Shorey (as Bharat Bhushan’s colleague and nemesis) and Bhairavi Goswami seem like cariactures.

A film remake has to account for certain cultural differences. In Le Dîner de Cons, Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) receives his comeuppance with the revelation of his mistress and inadvertently inviting a tax inspector to his home when he has been a long-time tax evader. These associations are distinctly European characteristics that are played for laughs in the Hindi remake.

In 2010, director Jay Roach remade Le Dîner de Cons into Dinner For Schmucks starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. However, where the American film failed and where the Hindi film worked was in incorporating those important elements that made the French film successful. Dinner For Schmucks failed to raise any laughs by deviating from the original template and creating unfunny situations for the actors to embarrass themselves further.

The profits of Bheja Fry and positive reviews by critics prompted the producers to make a sequel in 2011. Vinay Pathak’s character Bharat Bhushan was the only one retained from the first film. Bheja Fry 2, however, failed to replicate the success of the first film. The film did gross Rs9.13 crore in India. But since it was shot in Malaysia, the production cost had shot up to Rs9.5 crore! Naturally, the formula went kaput.