Some people believe that if you save a life, you are responsible for it. Nautanki Saala is a film that is built on that concept. Rohan Sippy, the director of movies like Bluffmaster, Kuch Naa Kaho, Dum Maaro Dum has returned with Nautanki Saala. It stars the talented Ayushmann Khurana, Kunal Roy Kapur, Pooja Salvi, Evelyn Sharma and Gaelyn Mendonca in pivotal roles. The film is a remake of the French film, Apres Vous, which I haven’t watched and hence have no comparison to make.

Ayshmann Khurana is Ram Parmar a.k.a RP, director of a successful play, Raavanleela and also an actor in it. He is living with his girl friend, Chitra (Gaelyn Mendonca) in Mumbai and if the way his pad is decorated, his car and his penchant for pulling 500 rupee notes are anything to go by, he is a pretty rich man. On a night, while returning from his play, he encounters a man committing suicide. Being a man who cannot look away from things happening around him, he saves the man. The man is Mandar (Kunal Roy Kapur) and his entry into RP’s life thanks to RP’s belief in the mantra that I’ve stated at the beginning of this article, there’s no other go for RP but to take in this unknown man and try to make him see the light of the day. Mandar is a man who has no respect for himself and considers himself to be useless and a burden on the earth. Naive, whining for attention and bumbling, Mandar is exactly the anti – thesis of RP, the cool, confident, assured young man.

The film starts promisingly enough with the way it sets up the two primary characters and Ayshmann Khurana is delightful from the word go. He does everything he can to light up the screen and divert our attention from how mediocre the script is and he almost succeeds. Yes, the script is mediocre. The script lands itself somewhere in between a farcical comedy and a deep philosophical movie and it never knows which side it wants to lean towards. It’s indecision to take a clear path and say where it stands makes it lose a lot of ground.


Ayushmann Khurana as 'RP'

Ayushmann Khurana showed us he is a talented actor in Vicky Donor and he builds on that promise in Nautanki Saala. He has a fine timing for comedy and his body language is excellent. He doesn’t have much to do as Ravana in his play but as RP, he brings light to this film. Kunal Roy Kapur’s character is a good mix for Ayushmann Khurana and the actor does a good job but there are a few moments were over-acting ensues. Also, it doesn’t help that after a point of time, Kunal Roy Kapur’s whining seems forced and makes the character less interesting and rather irritating.

The female characters barring Gaelyn Mendonca’s Chitra are poor. Pooja Salvi looks beautiful but otherwise does nothing that can be remotely called acting. Evelyn Sharma is a competitor to Pooja Salvi in terms of how wooden one can be on screen. The two actresses don’t do anything that can be called acting but I’ll lay blame not only on them but also the script which offers them nothing. Pooja Salvi has a little bit more than Evelyn Sharma but nothing satisfying and completely one dimensional. But it is not either of these actresses who pick up the award for worst acting performance in a movie but the ludicrous Rufy Khan who plays Nandini’s (Pooja Salvi) ex- boyfriend. Talk about irritating and Rufy Khan takes the prize.

The movie isn’t without its fine points and one of the fine things about the movie is its visual design. Rohan Sippy makes the visuals bright and catchy but they can’t really be a substitute for the frustration that the movie otherwise offers. An eclectic soundtrack does help to lessen the anxiety and frustration at the ensuing drama on screen. It is rather very uncommon of Indian movies to have comedy on screen without typecasting a community or taking cheap shots by making unnatural assumptions. Nautanki Saala has none of it. The brand of comedy that we see here is more intelligent than what we are generally used to Indian in movies but the movie doesn’t make up its mind if it is going to be a comedy or a deep philosophical outing. I am not saying that comedy and dark philosophical conversations can go hand in hand, they can but it depends on how you handle both together. If you can have it like we see in the Kamal Haasan starrer Anbe Sivam, everything is good but otherwise it comes out as a neither here, neither there film which isn’t able to set a mood and ends up frustrating people and making the film appear longer than it is.

Pooja Salvi as 'Nandini'

Rohan Sippy tries to draw a parallel between Ramayana, the stage play and the life otherwise unfolding in front of us on the screen and it would have worked had he been able to make the characters more interesting. When Nandini is nothing like Sita, it comes out hard to accept that such a parallel is being drawn.

I badly want to like this film because there’s some amount of intelligence in the film and a bit of maturity that is usually never found in mainstream Hindi cinema but there’s a lot of frustration amounting from the film. It has its problems. Some people will really like this film because they’ll love the brand of comedy. It will be enjoyable for them but when you sit back and think about it, you’ll hardly find anything memorable about it barring Ayushmann Khurana’s ability to perform admirably.

This is a missed opportunity, an opportunity to make a intelligent entertainer. Rohan Sippy can take heart though. This is an indication that he is moving along the right lines and if he continues to make films of this nature, he’ll one day end up doing an intelligent entertainer.

Hithesh Devasya