Dir: Anees Bazmee. With: Anil Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ileana D’Cruz, Athiya Shetty. 156 mins. Cert: 12A
The Hindi comedy specialist Anees Bazmee made his name with a series of broad, knockabout romps. 2007’s Welcome and 2015’s Welcome Back cemented a commercially successful partnership with Anil Kapoor; between these two projects, he was linked with a never-realised Indian remake of The Hangover. Subtlety, you’ll gather, isn’t Bazmee’s forte. Rather than tickle his audience with a feather, he prefers smacking us round the head with a saucepan, usually while jabbing hard at the sound effects button. Yet he also revels in insanely complicated plots – curiously, this frantic gagman seems as influenced by Shakespeare in this respect as the elegant classicist Vishal Bhardwaj.
Mubarakan, Bazmee’s latest and most expansive endeavour, hinges on identical twins dispatched to opposing corners of the globe at a formative age. While Karan (Arjun Kapoor, Anil’s nephew) grows up in London, gaining a Westernised attitude and haircut, Charan (Kapoor again), raised in the Punjab, is obliged to don the turban and shrug meekly towards arranged marriage. Those arrangements cue a globetrotting back-and-forth in which no farcical avenue goes unexplored. Charan almost ends up hitched to Karan’s beloved Sweety (Ileana D’Cruz). Talcum powder gets mistaken for hard drugs. Two weddings are booked for the same day – December 25th, as if Christmas weren’t tricky enough.
To some degree, Bazmee’s manic style makes sense here: even with a generous running time, there’s a lot of ground to cover. (Hopping between England and India every other minute, the production’s carbon footprint must have been monstrous.) Yet whole stretches of Mubarakan are garbled beyond comprehension. This plot just begs to be lost, and its thread isn’t suddenly regained when one character attempts to explain everybody’s movements using ketchup bottles. Bazmee doesn’t think in straight narrative lines so much as ball up ideas like rubber bands to toss around his sets; the approach generates zippy, unpredictable rhythms before everything disintegrates.
What’s becoming clearer, and could even resemble a redeeming feature if you were in the right mood, is that he adores actors: one reason he takes on these teeming plots is to accommodate appreciably different personalities. Anil Kapoor, prone to over-emphasis elsewhere, fits Bazmee’s design to a tee: spritely in the Welcomes, his wayward yet good-hearted uncle here serves as a presiding spirit, if not the organising figure Mubarakan needed. Several amusing sequences find him lording over what he calls his “Mini Punjab”: a small Home Counties farm, tended to by a white manservant. (It’s Bazmee making widescreen that now semi-legendary Goodness Gracious Me reversal about going out for an English.)
Of all this weekend’s Dunkirk-countering comedies, Mubarakan will likely disappear from memory first, yet it’s the first Bazmee movie to maintain its energy well into its third act, nudged onwards by amiable performances and unusually strong songs. Discount the sappy ending, and you might even take its momentum for a slyly satirical mirroring of the absurd, lunatic contortions involved in getting an arranged marriage in place. Then again, it’s also a film in which someone leans out of a window for better phone reception and promptly plummets, with thumping sound effect, upon his posterior. You pays your money with Bazmee, and you continue to take your choice.
Mubarakan is now playing in cinemas nationwide.