Monday 24 August 2015

"All is Well" (Guardian 23/08/15)

All is Well **

Dir: Umesh Shukla. With: Abhishek Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor, Asin, Supriya Pathak. 126 mins. Cert: PG

Hindi cinema has become as hung up on families as Hollywood now is on superheroes, which poses a problem: while immensely relatable and profitable when done right, the formula permits only finite variation, and may lead to projects that proceed from the same idea. All is Well is this summer’s second road movie to cram squabbling relatives into the back of a car: that set-up ignited May’s low-key but transporting Amitabh Bachchan vehicle Piku, and now drives Umesh Shukla’s much broader comedy-drama, which follows a similar narrative route with one erratic hand on the wheel and another Bachchan travelling upfront.

Here, it’s junior scion Abhishek playing Inder, a mopey rockstar recalled home from touring to settle his irascible father’s accounts – and, inevitably, unresolved tensions. Papaji (Rishi Kapoor) hoped his boy might someday take over the family bakery, and rightly rues the missed opportunity: if Inder’s chapattis were as flat as his love songs, he’d be set for life. More recently, he’s packed Inder’s befuddled mother (Supriya Pathak) off to a home. Yet given 24 hours to assemble the funds required to repay loan shark Chima (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), dad and lad are forced to grit teeth and fake an affection that – inevitably – becomes the real deal.

Why, you ask, doesn’t the vaunted rocker just write a cheque to settle the matter? Much torturous exposition fills in this plothole – it’s inherited stubbornness, apparently – while attempting to make disparate elements take. With his dandyish topcoat and moustache, Ayyub is a colourful dash of cartoon villainy, but there’s a tonal mismatch whenever Shukla frames him next to the confused mother. Also jostling for attention is Inder’s childhood sweetheart Nimmi (Asin), although her continued devotion seems downright peculiar upon sustained consideration of the stolid Bachchan: the Noel he recalls is Edmonds, not Gallagher.

Once on the road, All is Well gains some energy, yet it’s hardly subtle, and pretty episodic: reaching for loud, cuckoo sound effects whenever a gag isn’t working, Shukla leaves us pottering around anonymously dusty backroutes, awaiting the next diversion before the climactic declaration that all is, indeed, well. In one such stop-off, Bachchan trips the light fantastic with diner siren Sonakshi Sinha, but the number has as little bearing on events as Kareena Kapoor’s guest slot in last week’s Brothers – and I’d like to believe that if a man were so lucky as to dance with Ms. Sinha, it would alter the course of his existence forever.

Elsewhere, Shukla veers between mild toilet humour (like Piku, it’s a film compelled by old men’s ablutions) and low-octane stuntwork, but there’s no real internal motor: the quieter character work of Piku and Dil Dhadakne Do is missing, or gets drowned out. Inder eventually gathers that solving dad’s problems will also solve his own, yet that realisation first requires us to navigate ninety minutes of tepid knockabout. It passes relatively quickly, no more inane than, say, recent multiplex-filler Hot Pursuit – but you’d be foolhardy to take that as a recommendation, let alone drive the whole family to see it. That’s how these rifts start.

All is Well is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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