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Film review: Bangistan reluctantly tries to be both preachy and cheeky

Rahul Desai | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:34 IST
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Synopsis

  • Bangistan is a spoof, but repetitive look at Hindu-Islam rivalry
  • Riteish and Pulkit play two bumbling wannabe suicide bombers
  • Script takes itself too seriously after an innovative setup
  • Noble message falls prey to convention, spoon-feeding and formula

There are only so many ways to tell people that religious discrimination is humankind's most dangerous disease. Hindi cinema has ploughed through every one of them over the years.

But I'm not quite sure if satires are a natural fit in the current mainstream landscape; the point may be to increase awareness by reiterating stereotypes, but the framework already supports a heightened, operatic brand of storytelling.

Ill-placed songs and preachy finales would work as satirical devices, and even thrive as moments of self-aware cheekiness, in a cinematic culture that doesn't already consider loudness as the norm.

Bangistan, directed by ex-critic Karan Anshuman, is a classic case of overcooking the golden goose. Instead of reflecting the absurdities of reality, it makes reality look like an absurd madhouse.

The writers seem well aware of the most popular Hindu-Muslim caricatures - too aware, in fact - and have created a movie that attempts to tread the wafer-thin line between sarcasm and parody. It tries too hard, and almost becomes a satirical look at satires, which effectively makes it just another film loaded with gags that rarely land.

Fictional country makes for an imaginative platform

The setup is innovative, despite its cartoonish packaging. Creating a fictional (somewhat) world serves two purposes - it avoids controversies (somewhat), and gives the makers a free license. Therefore, Bangistan is a bomb-friendly and geographically challenged country divided into two warring parts - Muslim-heavy North Bangistan (Ladakh landscapes) and Hindu-heavy South Bangistan (Banarasi plains).

Topography aside, Bangistan is actually a rabid philosophy, one that has plagued the universe for centuries.

An introductory voiceover over an animated shot sets up the simplistic, almost slapstick visual tone - one that is designed to appeal to lower denominators and children - bolstered further by the filmmaker's choice of vivid imagery, self-explanatory music cues and clean composition.

One almost expects thought bubbles and bang-clouds to accompany the two lead characters' shenanigans; Hafeez Bin Ali (Deshmukh) is recruited by the Al-Kaam-Tamaam outfit as a suicide bomber to thwart the conference, and Praveen Chaturvedi (Samrat) travels to Poland for similar purposes, representing the Maa-Ka-Dal party.

These wink-wink-nudge-nudge references appear throughout their error-strewn journey; defective Chinese bomb parts, FcDonald food outlets, dial-phone call centers, fixer-upper Bangladeshi guides (Sanyal), Asians named Wai Kar Wong and Darth Vader brandishing his light saber as a 'religious' leader at the conference. The last touch is pretty neat; you'd imagine Tendulkar in that gang too.

That the two bumbling terrorists reach Poland disguised as their religious counterparts is an indicator of the chosen narrative, one that heavily relies on their ability to internalize epiphanies; not dissimilar to the kind of transition Paresh Rawal's Muslim-hating Gujarati experiences in Dharam Sankat Mein.

This sets the stage for a barrage of identity missteps, dramatic flourishes and verbose interpretations of the Gita and Quran. The writing almost intentionally lacks depth; only the superficial portions are retained to resemble its physical treatment - like a Tim Burton rendition of terrorism, where farce forms the overall background.

Switches inconsistently between dramatic satire and satirical drama

Much dialogue is exchanged between the two in Krakow as reluctant neighbours. The writers use these long-winding passages of camaraderie as an instrument for their eventual conversions. This liberation is driven by overdramatic incidents, and punctuated by an abrupt change in mood - Riteish goes somber-er, Pulkit hyperventilates further - but it looks too calculated, too planned.

The tonal shift makes the actors behave like they've entered another genre, which isn't quite the case even in slightly off-balanced Rajkumar Hirani templates.

The mandatory 'Maula' track, now a permanent companion to brooding introspective montages, doesn't help matters. Subplots involving two glory-hunting cops and a lamb are conceived to contrive more chaos, but these tracks are brief and awkward - like common sense at a censor board screening.

Jacqueline Fernandez appears as an ambiguous free-spirited bartender, whose sole purpose of existing is a 'Saturday Night' dance gig, which - catchy as it is - follows the exact template as the recent AIB party-song parody featuring Irrfan Khan.

I do hope this was intentional. And I do wish there was more to world peace than two simpletons on a foreign trip.

Bangistan loses itself in a haze of music, sermons and gags

One can't be selectively cheeky about a universal issue, and then constrain it within a sellable package. There have been numerous examples of this reluctance in the last few years - Filmistaan, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore, Yeh Hai Bakrapur, PK, OMG! and Dharam Sankat Mein.

To make their noble messages more accessible, they resort to self-serious grandstanding finales that end up reinforcing cultural cliches by mocking them.

Bangistan is an unfortunate - if visually striking - addition to this list.

It provides food for thought, but perhaps we're just tired of the same old food. Go the whole hog; give me a happy meal instead.

First published: 7 August 2015, 12:26 IST
 
Rahul Desai @ReelReptile

Rahul Desai is a full-time Federer enthusiast and avid traveller who absolutely must find a way to reach Europe once a year. In his spare time, he reviews films, aspires to own a swimming pool and whines about the lack of palatable food in Mumbai.

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