Mumbai, 17 May 2018 10:04 IST
Updated: 18 May 2018 15:15 IST
Despite a very talented cast, Harsh Chhaya's directorial debut fails to inspire any confidence through its tenuous plot and forced humour.
Black comedies can work. Especially when placed in context, garnished with local flavour, and delivered with subtlety. In Khajoor Pe Atke, director Harsh Chhaya has all the ingredients, but fails to create a satisfying serving.
The story begins with Jeetender Sharma (Manoj Pahwa) receiving a phone call about his brother, Devender, going into coma. A hyper-anxious Jeetender soon packs his entire family into a flight and heads to Mumbai. He is closely followed by his other brother, Ravinder (Vinay Pathak), who hesitantly puts his big business contract on hold.
Back in Mumbai, Devender's son Alok (Vicky Arora) and eternally hungry wife, Kadambari (Alka Amin) struggle to get through their trouble as the over-dramatic family creates a ruckus. As Jeetender tries to cope with his brother's life-and-death situation, his wife, Sushila (Seema Pahwa) has her eyes on her daughter's wedding, and a secret flat that Devender has set aside.
Ravinder's wife, Anuradha (Sunita Sengupta) meanwhile finds all this gauche, and simply wants to head back.
The story swerves between the hilarity of a middle-class family trying to carry on with their lives, while putting on the pretense of being family to the suffering ones. The hypocrisy, the pretext, and the hyper-drama are relatable elements to anyone who has spent a couple of days in a hospital.
Chhaya's film has a story that has potential for comedy, performed subtlely. The plotline echoes some elements that were last seen in the National award-winning Ventilator (2016).
Where this film fails is in its inability to strike the balance between drama, comedy, and humanism. For an actor known for his subtlety, Chhaya delivers a film that is high on hyperbole, drama, and a lot of forced humour. The situations often appear stereotypes of middle-class families from small towns, and fail to echo a connect.
Despite this, there are some moments that are graced by the good performances from the cast. Manoj Pahwa and Seema Pahwa are very good as the elderly heads of the family, trying to maintain the facade while holding their own crumbling fortress together. Seema Pahwa displays some very subtle comedy, and a natural presence which is difficult to ignore.
Alka Amin is another actor who manages to create comedy by saying little, or nothing. Dolly Ahluwalia makes an appearance and attempts to convince with her efforts to no avail. The actress looks wasted in a part that is a parody.
Vinay Pathak, meanwhile, disappoints as the hyperbolic younger brother. A good actor, Pathak fails to deliver the subtle shifts of emotions convincingly.
Of the rest of the cast, little is worth mentioning, except for a special appearance by the director himself. The piece of self-referencing felt a little forced, and Chhaya himself looked like he wanted to be elsewhere.
One of the film's weakest points is its screenplay. While there are moments of situational comedy that keep coming through the plot and story, the tenuously stretched screenplay makes the film feel long. Situations keep getting forced to create comedy, reducing their impact. The poorly written dialogues do not help either.
In all, when the end arrives, like the family, the audience is left frustrated, tired and wondering if they should have pulled the plug earlier.
Watch the film's trailer here:
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