Rohan Sippy’s Nautanki Saala! is about a good Samaritan, Ram Parmar (Ayushmann Khurrana), and a self-loathing neurotic, Mandar Lele (Kunaal Roy Kapoor). The two men meet on a Mumbai street just as the heartbroken and teary Mandar is about to hang himself from a noose tied to a tree.
Ram, the actor and director of Raavanleela, an ongoing popular play, is in a relationship with a shrieky go-getter, Chitra (Gaelyn Mendonca), almost under duress, and he decides to take charge of Mandar’s life—to change him and make him understand his worth. The set-up has enough absurdity and comedic potential.
Beginning with a trip to the home of Mandar’s grandmother, Nautanki Saala!, adapted from the French film Après Vous, begins as a farce. There are some hilarious situations, and although largely overacted both by Khurrana and Roy Kapoor, the comic timing of some of the initial scenes is bang on. Ram’s attempt to enrol Mandar in his drama company in the role of Ram, while he plays Raavan, produces some knee-slapping moments.
The film loses steam as Ram tries to redeem Mandar’s love life with Nandini (Pooja Salvi), a florist and an unmitigated bimbo. The jokes fizzle, and towards the overwrought, yawn-inducing, cliché-ridden climax, the premise of the story itself seems to topple.
Khurrana and Roy Kapoor are capable and entertaining for the most part. Roy Kapoor’s whiny Mandar is overall funnier perhaps than the know-it-all, chaos-gatherer Ram whom Khurrana lends an unjustified smugness to. Salvi and Mendonca deliver insipid performances.
The memorable part is the art deco theatre (it was shot at Mumbai’s Liberty cinema) in which Raavanleela takes place. Cinematographer Manoj Lobo films it lustrously. Sippy efficiently uses the green room, theatre costumes, richly-lit stage and gloriously descending curtain to add atmospherics to his story.
In production value and aesthetics, Nautanki Saala! is a hotchpotch. Some sequences smack of the mediocre and some are competent—it eventually plummets into a vapid romance.