Shaandaar: Royal Blues

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Many years ago, I had a “lucky” shirt. Royal blue in color, I came to realize in hindsight, that this was one of those statistically superstitious artefact that proved itself time and again of how much I needed it, and not for sartorial reasons. You know how this works. You wear a shirt (or a ring, necklace, or any other ornament or clothing that gets your fancy) and it makes any situation work for you. An interview, you impress. A first date and it goes all roses and chocolates.  An examination, and you score really well. Results day, and you get an above average percentage. You get the drift here.

Then there are those superstitions that are enforced in just one, traumatic, life-altering incident. Take the movie, “Mausam”, for instance. This 2011 enterprise got the father-son duo of Pankaj Kapur and Shahid Kapoor together – the father behind the camera and the son in front. For those who didn’t get a chance to see this effort or who took medication to forget it altogether, the script of “Mausam” was based on Newton’s  First Law of Motion – a body (or story) continues to remain at rest until an external force acts upon it. There was no force there to cause that happy effect.  There were rumors that, after the movie ended, some members of the audience were in a similar state of rest until the ushers employed substantial force.

It was with some trepidation, this statistic, and experience that I entered the cinema hall for “Shaandaar”. My Royal Blue shirt was director Vikas Bahl, he of the superb “Queen” fame and heft. Surely he could turn this superstition on its head for me and deliver yet another insightful and entertaining take on whatever he chose to? Written by Anvita Dutt Guptan (screenplay) based on a story by Chaitally Parmar and Bahl, and produced by among others, by Karan Johar and the Phantom team (Anurag Kashyap, Vikramditya Motwane, Vikas Bahl, and Madhu Mantena), this movie starts off on a high promising note. Using extremely expressive animation, you are taken into the world of the royally rich Aroras who live in an expansive mansion somewhere that looks like Scotland. Bipin Arora (Pankaj Kapur) brings in a small girl to live with them. “Them” being Bipin’s wife (Niki Aneja Walia), his mother (Sushma Sheth), and daughter. The mother and wife combination look at this action by Bipin in askance, but do not see anything amiss. They keep the young girl, named Alia, at a distance, but she’s accepted by the sweet daughter. Time flies, the girls grow up, and Alia is played by Alia Bhatt and the sweet and heavy-set daughter, Eesha (played by Sanah Kapoor), is all set to get married to a rich, Sindhi businessman’s son. The son’s only ambition and love in life are his eight-pack abs, while the father, Harry Fundwani (Sanjay Kapoor) is obsessed with gold and his gun (the man with the golden gun, get it?) Plus, of course, the gregarious wedding planner, Jagjinder Joginder (Shahid Kapoor), who will eventually be Alia’s love interest.

Add to this mix Bipin’s limp-wristed brother (we all know what *that* means), the fact that the Aroras are bankrupt and this marriage is only a deal for them to continue to live the royal life, Bipin’s past on why he brought Alia home (we all know what *that* means too), the romancing lead’s insomnia problem, and you pretty much get the plot. That’s it folks. You can go back to your medication. Because what happens in “Shaandaar” is just about these plot contrivances that seem to go nowhere, and yet the movie completes only at 2 hours 45 minutes.

Shahid and Alia horse around, but not more than a trot.
Shahid and Alia horse around, but not more than a trot.

Director Bahl seems to be constrained by something, what I cannot fathom. Money, it cannot be, because plenty’s been splurged here for richly decorated sets, locales, and costumes. Story and idea? Probably.  “Shaandaar” is a knit-up of situations that make for a very ill-fitting sweater.  The movie had tremendous potential, but none of it is realized. There could have been tender, moving scenes between Pankaj Kapur and Alia Bhatt, and Bahl skims it in one scene involving Karan Johar (cameo role,  playing himself), Kapur & Kapoor with Alia. You see a flash of what could have been and that moment fleets by much too soon.  “Shaandaar” could have been a laugh riot, but again Vikas Bahl trades it for a combination of loud and flat comedy that leaves you unaffected.  The scene where all guests get unintentionally high on mushrooms could have been a highlight; the climactic wedding scene could have been a cracker, and there’s one place you almost guffaw, but the director reins you in quickly and you simper down.  To me, “Shaandaar” tries to be too many things and succeeds in none of them. There’s a moving message of fat people that’s weighed down by its own righteousness. There’s an attempt at black comedy a la “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron” that could have brought the house down, but it’s buried before you can say “dead body”.  Plus, there’s just too much animation and tacky special effects that dilute the already watered down situations.

Alia and the superb new find, Sanah Kapoor.
Alia and the superb new find, Sanah Kapoor.

This restriction, then, extends to the cast as well. Shahid Kapoor dances like a dream and he’s amazing in the catchy “Gulaabo” number. Apart from that, he oscillates between being charming to romantic to tough guy to family chappie, not knowing where to anchor. Usually, the actor who adds a semblance of volume to flimflam roles is Shahrukh Khan, who pulls it off with oodles of charm and self-deprecating fun. With this material, one doesn’t know. Shahid, in the meantime, just about manages to stay afloat. Alia Bhatt is absolutely winsome and likeable and shines in parts, while trying to remain straight-faced in other ridiculous situations. The scene where the in-love couple shares a chair and a glass of milk and a wad of biscuits is more a dull parley-g than romantic. Pankaj Kapur is superb in the scene where he sees his own video where he’s having a drunken soliloqual conversation about Alia. He’s such a good actor waiting for meat, but all he gets is cold feet.

Even the superb Pankaj Kapur can do only so much.
Even the superb Pankaj Kapur can do only so much.

As for the rest of the cast, Sanjay Kapoor does an Anil Kapoor-high-decibel-in-Parinda, Sushma Seth hams haughtily and ostentatiously almost through and through. “Shaandaar” does introduce us to the very, very talented Sanah Kapoor (Shahid’s sister in real life), who, as the victim of a deal and her own weight, faces some choices that she doesn’t even want to think about.  Sanah is someone to look out for in the future, hopefully in roles that will concentrate on other facets.

And then there’s the music. The background is loud and tries very hard to be funny, where some subtlety and minimal touches would have done nicely. Rahul Dev Burman isn’t around to lend zing and zaniness, as he did to comedy projects that ranged from the superb to the sad. (Check “Padosan” – ensconcing madcap fervor in beautifully melodic Hindustani and Carnatic roots; “Do Phool”, which had some superb zingers unmatched in comic movements, rhythm, and catchiness; “Ek Se Bhale Do”, where Pancham laid out some madness embellished with rich orchestration and amazing panache, to name a few.) For “Shaandaar”, Amit Trivedi scores at least partly. Apart from the aforementioned “Gulaabo”, he dishes out the absolutely lovely qawwali, “Senti Wali Mental”. Unfortunately, the lyrics collapse into a seat-squirming attempt at comedy toward the end. (Note to lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya: to get the men to rescue the women in qawwalis, there’s a dignified route too – as in Roshan’s  “Na to karawa ki” from “Barsaat Ki Raat.”) And was it really necessary to parody/remix/re-version Kalyanji-Anandji’s lovely “Neend Na Mujhko Aaye” or C. Ramachandra’s rocking-rolling “Eena Meena Deeka”?

Questions, questions. In any case, I’m off to hunt for a royal blue shirt this week. Just in case Pankaj Kapur and Shahid Kapoor plan to get together for another movie project.

Watch the trailer of Shaandaar here:

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