A slap to slapstick
In the 3 hours that the ear-splitting histrionics of Priyadarshan’s De Dana Dan hammer into your eyes and ears, there are many incidents of mistaken identity (so many, that I lost count), some pointless plot twists and mishaps, punctuated by songs and the mandatory item number. The Akshay Kumar-Sunil Shetty-Paresh Rawal trio, which became famous following the success of Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri, returns. But there’s no magic in De Dana Dan.
After Hera Pheri in 2000, Priyadarshan’s brand of slapstick has degenerated into schmaltzy, sexist, vulgar drivel. This one is no exception. I burst into a chuckle only once, when Johnny Lever, in a half-paralysed state of intoxication tried to say, “7013”, many times over.
As in most of his comedies, the lead characters of De Dana Dan are the exact opposites of the conventional hero; they are the archetypal losers, seemingly with no hope of redemption. Almost everybody in the film is a money-minded profligate (that Shakti Kapoor plays a slimy, lascivious man, a role that he became identified with in the 1980s, is just one of the indications of how regressive this film is).
It’s an interesting premise to begin with: nobody is either successful or nice in the conventional sense; it’s a universe where money is everything (one of the best things in the film is a song titled Paisa, picturized with Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, with kitschy, imaginative art direction and visuals). If the humour was clever, the story could have been a smart, if farcical, satire. But Priyadarshan chooses the easy way out by doing what he has been doing, badly, for almost a decade now.
The story begins with the loser. Nitin (Akshay Kumar) is a battered domestic help to Archana, a shrill, rich woman (Archana Puran Singh) who owns a mall, and her furry dog (Moolchandji). She kicks him into the swimming pool every time he fumbles in his errands or makes a mistake. Slaps and kicks abound in the film—in one scene which is intended to be funny, a man slaps his daughter and wife one after the other. Nitin is in love with Anjali (Kartina), a rich man’s (Tinu Anand) daughter. In another part of Singapore, where the story takes place, Ram (Sunil Shetty) works as a delivery man for a bizarre local don who wears kimonos and talks about beheaded bodies like they were recreational drugs. Ram is also in love with a rich industrialist’s daughter, Manpreet (Sameera Reddy). Both the girlfriends give the poor sods an ultimatum—either they do something with their lives or forget about marriage. Both girls have tyrannical fathers who want them married to rich men for all the wrong reasons.
Nitin and Ram meet by chance and become friends because both of them are miserable and on the verge of killing themselves. They plot to kidnap Moolchandji and ask Archana for a huge sum. Because of mishaps that occur while trying to kidnap the dog, things snowball into a point where almost every character in the film becomes an impediment to obtaining the ransom. A large part of De Dana Dan takes place in a big hotel where four families, a police office, the Indian ambassador in Singapore and some insignificantly rotten men and women land up during Manpreet’s wedding, about to be solemnized in two days.
After about 3 hours of confusions, fainting spells, chases and hysterical outbursts, the film ends with a bomb blast inside a swimming pool. Water comes gushing in to the hotel and all the characters are washed down in a gargantuan whirlpool—an exact replica of a scene from the 1970s’ Hollywood film The Towering Inferno, with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.
Can Nitin and Hari finally get the money, and subsequently the women? You’ll have to endure a headache to find that out.
Slapstick always works at the box office. In India, every regional language film industry makes money from slapstick. In Hindi as well as in South Indian languages, Priyadarshan’s films have done exceedingly well, commercially, in the past. But this is an age of multiple choices and genres; audiences used to smarter, more well-written comedies will find De Dana Dan unhumourous, tedious and regressive.
Among actors, Kaif and Reddy are plastic and have little to do except smile, pout and purr. Kumar and Shetty had distinctive roles etched for them in Hera Pheri and its sequel, but here they are lost in the film’s overall noise. Rawal is good in parts as a brazen, unapologetically greedy man. The rest of the actors have the difficult job of pulling off caricatures in a convincing way, which they can’t do. The Kumar-Shetty-Rawal trio hardly appears on the screen together; Kumar is locked up inside a closet for about one hour of the film, during which he is entirely cut off from the action. The camera work by K. Ahambaram, has some flourishes, and some scenes are imaginatively shot. For example one of the last scenes is that of a masked Nitin limping his way to meet Archana to fetch the money, inside an enormous car park—it’s one of those shots completely at odds with the profanity of the film, but judged on its own, it has scale and breadth, and an original edge.
In the end, even if Nitin and Ram manage to get hold of the wet suitcase filled with money, you would be thankful not because the lovers will finally unite, but because the film is finally over. De Dana Dan is a colossal waste of money.
De Dana Dan released in theatres on Friday.