Shaandaar is Vikas Bahl’s third film but it is his return after Queen, not only a sleeper hit but also largely considered the best from 2014. Where does a director go from something like Queen? The way reception to Queen shaped up it was as if no one – not even the people behind the film – envisioned a success of that nature. That is sure to put you in a tricky position. Do you now have a license to experiment? Or do you now have an excuse to go light and attempt the tested? The problem seems to be that Bahl has chosen to take the middle ground with Shaandaar. It is at once something that on the surface comes across as a bunch of disjointed but entertaining sequences within a colorful palette and also an experiment at the zany, a satire and a meta film rolled into one that never really works or even takes off.
Everything about this film screams could-have-been. Even the animation that sets up the plot. Wait. There is really no plot. That animation too is directionless because it seems to be telling Alia’s (Alia Bhatt) story but really leads to Jagjinder Joginder (Shahid Kapoor as a wedding planner). We see a matriarch (Sushma Seth), autocratic and marked by hubris and with the kind of affectation towards Alia that Seth’s character in Kal Ho Na Ho had towards Gia. For similar reasons. There are two women with jokes that go “Oh Em Gee, this is so K3G” and the likes throughout the film. They are like the Pintel and Ragetti of Shaandaar but without a hint of comparable imagination. We have these characters, there is a wedding coming up and there is the zanier groom’s family with Sanjay Kapoor mouthing off himself and his gold pistol. You’d think this is probably going towards a stoner Jamai Raja with Kapoor in the eponymous role, working towards rehabilitating this dysfunctional bunch and also teaching the matriarch a lesson or two. A good old taming of the shrew; what an interesting inversion it would have been for Bahl after Queen! But no, we are informed the ride is a straight up expensive wedding video. It’s Bahl channeling his inner Zoya Akhtar – following up a layered, nuanced film with a straight up post-Dil Chahta Hai Bollywood multiplex film catering to the upper middle class aspirations. At least that’s what we get at first with the palace like residence (only it sometimes looks like there are flowers over it or weed all over it; did I mention stoner?), the destination wedding, the film progressing in an episodic structure with elaborate dinner rehearsals, mehendi, sangeet night and so on. Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara is even explicitly referenced! But no, we would be wrong again. What if Bahl’s idea is simply to troll such films? A goofy mix of 90s ideas with the production quality of the multiplex era. We know he has tried it before – he along with lyricist Anvita Dutt Guptan (who’s penned the script here!). London Thumakda from Queen can be read as a spoof of everything Dilwale Dulhaniye Le Jayenge stood for. So we are in a film that gives you its structure all named as part of the wedding planning – as mentioned the rehearsals, Mehendi with Karan (Johar making a cameo that doesn’t really work like most ideas in the film), Sangeet Night, the Big Fat Wedding. Bahl and Anvita Dutt Guptan don’t mind some self deprecation either. We have another bride and a misogynist 8.5 packer idiot for a groom and a wedding that suffers the same fate with the bride flying away happily ever after. There is also an actual stoner sequence with brownies and mushrooms that’s richly imagined but incoherent like the rest of the film. There are some jokes that hit you a second or two late like when Joginder is spooked by ketchup on his mirror – a plot by Vipin (Pankaj Kapoor) – and when he walks off utters – “It’s different.”
A wheelchair that’s really a red velvet upholstered couch, a literal manifestation of a Chekhov’s Gun that goes off in the final sequence after arriving in a courier service called FedUp. Is it talking about the mood of the audience by then? Like most of the ideas tried in Shaandaar, one cannot tell. It’s like Bahl took his camera to different corners of a studio and shot parts of different films in their making. And tried to put them together. There is a meta film with flavors of satire inside Shaandaar somewhere. If only we could find it.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
(Image courtesy infomovies.in)