Let us do a survey of sorts – to keep matters simple, start from mid 90s – to find out which actor can convincingly play a tapori? A local gunda. This is also a film that is unabashed in its silliness so we don’t need a powerhouse performance. But we still need enough acting chops to make it believable. At 1995 mark, you could even pass off Anil Kapoor thanks to his on-screen pedigree. But that’s the very reason he is already here playing the aged don, unmarried and also looking to mend his ways. Govinda? At one point he was our go-to guy for exactly this purpose. He tried to remind us of it in last year’s Kill Dil and was the second best thing in the film. Sunil Shetty? Maybe. With an enviable experience in 90s action films, stuck in the 70s but without any of that myth-making, sure. Sanjay Dutt made a career out of it playing it at every emotional level possible. Akshay Kumar is a lock in for this but he is disqualified because he was in the first film and this is a sequel featuring only its two veterans. From the last decade of multiplex invasion we may have a problem. Count out the Khans trio. Only Ranveer Singh seems like a perfect fit. To borrow from Anthony Horowitz, nobody is “street” enough to accomplish this. But at least the crop of Hrithik Roshan, Shahid Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor et al, while at it, will have you know that they believe in it no matter you do or not.
But which boneheaded person in this Anees Bazmee camp zeroed in on John Abraham as Ajju Bhai? He’s a man blindfolded and let in on a minefield. The most competent action he does in the film is leaping around holding Shruti Haasan with him when exploding helicopter drones are let loose on the bunch. Exploding helicopter drones controlled with an iPad is the coolest thing in Welcome Back. But staying with John Abraham, there isn’t a more unwieldy performance you’ll find this year. It’s probably the film unit inside joke to make him mouth the “Bangkok wala feel deke Haridwar wala touch na de” line to another character. Any actor who can overwhelm Shruti Haasan’s bad acting with his own deserves a shrine. Welcome Back also has Naseeruddin Shah and Dimple Kapadia doing some things. I am not sure what. They are probably trying very hard to pretend to be bad actors to give the younger ones some company. To their credit they even pull it off. Welcome Back is that kind of a film. Paresh Rawal gets the best lines. Or I suspect he makes the best of what he’s given. Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar though, reprising their roles from the earlier film, have no such pretensions. They are in for this ride and are completely self aware of the ridiculousness all around. Playing Majnu Pandey and Uday Shetty, they are comfortable through everything – the reluctant non-actors occupying the same room as them, the overflowing decolletage, the jokes that don’t land begging them to step in and save the scene. One image signifies this film and Anil Kapoor can join it. Nana Patekar sitting in the sidelines on a table as all hell breaks loose at his sister’s engagement, making faces so as to suggest to the rest of the cast, “Why so serious? Please be in on the joke!”.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)