Friday 11 September 2015

"Welcome Back" (Guardian 06/09/15)

Welcome Back **

Dir: Anees Bazmee. With: Anil Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Dimple Kapadia, Shruti Haasan. 152 mins. Cert: 12A

2007’s Welcome – about a gangster forced to look beyond the underworld in order to marry off his sister – was one of those broad-brush comedies that occasionally catch the public’s imagination. Smashing together criminals and civilians, it was the sort of movie de Niro shrugs through every few years to fund his restaurants; you can get a sense of its rambunctious tone from the fact its co-writer/director Anees Bazmee was subsequently linked to a Bollywood remake of The Hangover. With that follow-up project having stalled, Bazmee has retraced his footsteps and made Welcome Back. It’s not quite as terrible as a Hangover sequel, but then very few things in life are.

With the original’s lovers Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif having fled the scene, the sequel airdrops the survivors into Dubai, that most cartoonish of locations, where we rejoin made men Uday (Nana Patekar) and Majnu (Anil Kapoor) running a hotel, and attempting to go legit. During an insanely busy first act, they will discover that Uday has another unmarried sister (Shruti Haasan); furthermore, that their associate Dr. Ghunghroo (Paresh Rawal), who provided the groom first time round, has a previously unmentioned son going spare. (Well, why not?) It’d be handy, were not Ajju (John Abraham) even more ruthless than Uday and Majnu in their prime.

Such conspicuously slapdash plotting has been known to amuse, and the actors whizz through it, maintaining a winking eye on their audience: they know it’s silly, we know it’s silly, and it is very silly. (The English subtitlers’ insistence upon spelling the word “decent” as “descent” feels vaguely appropriate: here’s a comedy that aims low, and for ninety of its 150 minutes, mostly hits.) That everyone on screen ends up falling for the wrong person, or pretending to be someone else, or both at once, suggests Bazmee has been schooled in Shakespearian methods: matters peak before the intermission at a wedding where the truth outs, leading Ajju to declare war.

Alas, Bazmee is not the Bard, and the second half here exposes how his particular brand of bubblegum can only be stretched so far before it snaps back in an awful mess. During a punishingly over-extended gravedigging sequence – more Shakespeare – you can feel Welcome Back losing both the plot, and its audience’s goodwill. Bazmee has to cobble together a film-within-the-film in a flailing bid to tie up his flimsy chicanery, and the final segue into action, stranding everyone in the desert amid skydiving gunmen and stampeding camels, is little short of disastrous, burying any residual charm beneath an excess of shoddy stunt and effects work.

The actors display the spirit you’d expect from individuals handed a paid holiday in a 5-star Dubai hotel: it’s fun, until it becomes clear how little there is at stake. For once, Kapoor’s blustering suits the material, and his tendency to skip arm-in-arm with Patekar into the least plausible developments is winningly Eric-and-Ernie-like. You’ll want to see more from the husky-voiced Haasan, ideally in a role that doesn’t require her to be traded between men like so much property; and wily veteran Naseeruddin Shah enjoys his chewy cameo as a blind don whose minions affix bullseyes around his stray shots. Would that someone could do the same for the film: swapping zingers for duds, it registers only as a welcome overstayed.

Welcome Back is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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