There is a case to be made for songs in our films. It’s a unique part of our film grammar and while it is understandable that the need for songs can be thrust upon new age directors, it can also be used as a great tool to move your story, script. In recent times directors like Mani Ratnam and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra mastered it. They still grapple with it and it’s not an easy task but they do attempt it. But when it fails, it so gloriously fails. Like in Hawaizaada. For reasons best known to him, director Vibhu Verender Puri’s story – about Shivkar Talpade (Ayushmann Khurrana) who apparently built the first plane years before the Wright Brothers – breaks into a song every time there is some sort of a turning point. These are not even turning points. It seems like Puri has no idea how to get across the point and so decides to station a song at most inopportune moments. The first half deals with the most lame ducks of romantic tracks you’ll ever see on film and this is used as a propeller to Shivi’s flying machine building fantasies.
Shivi apprentices with Shastry (a hammy Mithun Chakraborty made to look like he’s participating in fancy dress) who, true to his name, is into the vedas and shastras for an answer to his flying machine ambitions. In this political climate with every nincompoop politician claiming that Indians discovered everything from zeroes to superheroes long before mankind existed, this whole thing is exhausting to watch. Puri doesn’t provide it with any energy or momentum to even keep us interested. The background score for the plane building and showcasing also consists of aartis, hare rama hare krishna, kaye navacha and vande mataram. There are token British governors and policemen to spit at Indians. And there is Pallavi Sharda, who is really the prettier version of Priya Gill, playing the love interest and an uninteresting character in a film full of uninteresting characters.
There are flashes of commendable staging from Puri. The photography and larger than life ship that houses Shastry and Shivi’s lab is very much from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali school. And the point about a flying machine being built in a ship that’s swept ashore is well made. But Puri doesn’t go beyond it. Everything else is generic and forced. For all this setup, we don’t get details about the machine being built. We get mentions of low tide, high tide, gasoline, mercury and why, even yajurveda but nothing substantial. Like many other films with the Indian freedom struggle background, Hawaizaada concludes with equal parts melancholy and hope. The journey is so ineffectual that what registers is not Shivkar Talpade taking off in his flying machine but the possibility that he and his Sitara could very well be the first ever members of the mile high club.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)