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Phamous review:  Pankaj Tripathi’s fine evil act not enough to earn respect for this cliched drama 

Release Date: 01 Jun 2018 / Rated: A / 01hr 55min

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Mayur Lookhar

Director Karan Lalit Butani’s attempt to serve old wine in a new bottle unlikely to find many takers.

Power can corrupt even a sage. But when the corrupt and criminals get in a position of power, it only breeds terror. Political goondaism is a blot on Indian democracy, and sadly, the malaise still exists in many parts of the country, especially the Hindi hinterlands. The 1980s and 1990s were littered with films that dealt with this subject. Most of them had suffered from poor production values, but they appealed to the target audience nevertheless.  

Fast forward to 2018 where such subjects have fallen in the cliche bracket. But if political goondaism still exists, a filmmaker is well within his/her rights to delve into the subject.

Filmmaker Karan Lalit Butani gives an impression as one who is fascinated by guns, girls and power. His inclination to gangster dramas is clear when seen in the larger context that he started out as assistant director on Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia. Butani's earlier works include Valmiki Ki Bandook (2010) and Bull Bulbul Bandook (2013). He didn’t achieve much fame then but the filmmaker is now eyeing fame through Phamous, a rural play on the word 'famous'.

Phamous is set in the region of Chambal, that falls both in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Traditionally, the land has courted infamy for its notorious dacoits. In Butani’s world of Phamous, the region is reeling under the terror of corrupt, lustful politician Ram Vijay Tripathi (Pankaj Tripathi) and his hired gun Kadak Singh (Kay Kay Menon).

Shambu (Jackie Shroff) has a bone to pick with Kadak singh, while Radhe Shyam (Jimmy Sheirgill) despises Tripathi, the man who had raped and killed his teacher Rosy (Mahie Gill) seven years ago. Tripathi has now set his roving eye on Radhe Shyam’s wife Lalli (Shriya Saran). Eventually, the drama leads to the central characters on a collision course. The final tussle takes a cliched Ramayan-esque turn.

Jackie Shroff as Shambhu

While Phamous stays clear of the crappy drama that plagued such subjects in the 1980s and 1990s, the story telling in Phamous is not refreshing either. Butani attempts to serve old wine in a new bottle that fizzles out quickly. Butani and Puneet Sharma's shoddy screenplay drags the film down early on. The director does conjure up some fine moments in the film, but overall, the weak, dull drama puts you off.

Weak in plot, the film earns some respectability through the fine performances of Pankaj Tripathi, Jimmy Sheirgill and Jackie Shroff. Tripathi is head and shoulders above his co-actors. There is nothing to like about a corrupt, lustful politician, but Tripathi brings down the house with his rustic and sleazy sense of humour. The cheesy dialogues may not be pleasing to most ears, but Tripathi stays true to his character. No sane man would condone their hedonism, but the likes of Ranjeet, Prem Chopra brought a sense of humour to their many shady characters. The humour has gone missing in such antagonists today. Tripathi’s show is an ode to the villains of past.

Apart from his sexist pun-ridden conversation with Kadak Singh, Tripathi's exchange with the Armani suit-wearing, English speaking Delhi industrialist Mr Mehra is hilarious. The illiterate politician wonders whether Armani (Italian designer) is actually a Sindhi. If it wasn’t for Pankaj Tripathi, Phamous would have ended as a boring drama. While film is largely disappointing, Tripathi can walk away with his head held high.

Jimmy Sheirgill aces the look and tone of a Chambal man and he is more than competent as Radhya Shyam. Often teased as the man who never gets the girl, Sheirgill is seen as a married man in Phamous. Radhe and Lalli have a fine chemistry going between them. But more than the romance, it’s the confrontation with Tripathi before interval that's arguably the best scene of the film.

Jimmy Sheirgill and Shriya Saran as Radhe Shyam and Lalli

As a school boy, Radhe crushed on his teacher Rosy. While that is innocent, Radhe’s school mates teasing him with their sleazy jokes sets a bad example.

Shriya Saran looks gorgeous as the village belle, and she is competent in her act. However, there is a needless back story to Lalli that is riddled with melodrama.

Jackie Shroff doesn’t have too much screen space, but he makes his mark in the business end. The horse shoe moustache doesn’t quite suit Kay Kay Menon, but the actor, though not brilliant, is fairly impressive as the feared don Kadak Singh.

Kay Kay Menon as Kadak Singh

Apart from the neat peformances, Phamous scores for its soundtrack. 'Titri', 'Bandook song' and 'Dil Beparwah' are enjoyable numbers. Sadly, gone are the days when a film could click for its songs. The weak, predictable screenplay makes it impossible for Phamous for achieve fame, but more worryingly, it struggles to gain respect. Butani makes a bold attempt to revive a cliched subject, but he misses the target badly.

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