Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bheja Fry–An Idiot Comes to Dinner

Sagar Ballary's Bheja Fry reminded me of the title of the Academy Award winning 1967 film - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Mind you, it only reminded me of the title and not the film itself. The Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn-Sidney Portier starrer was an attempt at debunking racial stereotypes, through a tale of interracial marriage. The story of Bheja Fry doesn't have anything even remotely racial about it (except one small bit which I found highly objectionable...I'll come to that). It's just the 'dinner' bit that's common.

If you really look at it closely, there's another small bit of similarity between the two films. The dinner invitees in both the films are clearly not what the other dinner hosts might have expected of them. Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is an African American who goes against the image one had of a typical black person in the US in the 60s - he is highly educated and 'civilized'. In Bheja Fry, Bharat Bhushan is supposedly an 'idiot' called over for a dinner so that others could have fun at his expense. But by the time the film gets over, his host realizes that he is certainly not the harmless 'idiot' he expected him to be. Rather, his idiocy leads to completely unanticipated turn of events.

But the inspiration behind Bheja Fry lies elsewhere - it is based on a French movie, Le Dîner de cons (English Title: The Dinner Game), which in turn was based on a stage play. The director (Sagar Ballary) has openly admitted this inspiration, but why did the filmmakers have to conveniently ignore this in the credits. They could've easily avoided the accusation of plagiarism simply by putting a line in the credits - "inspired by..." (I watched the credits carefully, but if I missed it, I take back these words)

Plagiarism or inspiration - Bheja Fry is hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. It's not the kind of movie where you get impressed by technical virtuosity on display or 'cool' directorial touches. It's not meant to be. Most of the movie takes place in the living room, giving it a stage-play kind of feel, and there's no room for flashy cinematography or glitzy editing. It's by sheer power of the written word that this film succeeds; and how!

It's been a while since I had such a hearty laugh at the theatre. All the so-called comedies one has watched in the last few years tried to extract a few laughs from the audience through crude slapstick or downright vulgarity. Bheja Fry is so brilliantly written, that not even once does one see an 'effort' to make the audiences laugh. It is naturally funny. And so true to life! I'm sure everyone has met a character like Bharat Bhushan at some point or the other.

A lot of why the film works is due to Vinay Pathak. Who would've thought that by his sheer comic talent, he could carry a film entirely on his shoulders? I can't think of any other actor who could've carried off this role of an 'idiot' with so much conviction and believability. Through his idiosyncratic mannerisms, expressions and dialogue delivery, he gets completely under the skin of the character he portrays. His Bharat Bhushan is a 'singer' who is completely obsessed with Hindi film music. There are some subtle touches in his character that everyone would not be able to see. When Bharat Bhushan sings Aadmi Musafir Hai from Apnapan (1977) while traveling on a bus, I could see more than just the thematic applicability of that song to the situation. The original song is also picturized on a bus. Then there is this truly funny moment when Bharat Bhushan boasts of his knowledge of the number of time the word 'Aayega' appears in the song 'Aayega Aanewala' or the word 'Chalte' in Pakeezah's 'Chalte Chalte'. This was a very personal moment for me, because my obsession with Hindi Films has manifested itself in things equally 'outrageous' (believe it or not, I have actually counted this).

If one were to look carefully, one would find many flaws in the film but who cares for them when the film keeps you thoroughly entertained all through its 90 minutes duration. But there is still one thing that the film could've done without. It's the character played by Ranvir Shorey - an Indian Muslim who supports Pakistan in India-Pakistan cricket matches. It seeks to carry forward a stereotype of Indian Muslims that the Hindu fundamentalists have been perpetuating for some time. I found it objectionable, offensive and completely unnecessary. What's more, Ranvir Shorey's portrayal of this character is surprisingly over the top and utterly un-funny.