Bollywood movie review: ‘Nautanki Saala!’ is a riot

After being overfed on a diet of over-the-top slapstick comedies, Rohan Sippy’s ‘Nautanki Saala!’ tweaks our sensibilities and treats us to incredibly clever theatrics.  Evidently, reiterating our faith that good humour does not necessarily translate into shameful buffoonery.

Rohan layers it with side-splitting comedy, some great lines and incredible performances.

His story, although borrowed from 2003 French movie ‘Apres Vous’, has been aptly adapted to fit into the Indian psyche, with the Indian epic ‘Ramayana’ being framed in.

While Rohan acknowledges the French movie, he and writers Nipun Dharmadhikari and Charu Dutt Acharya don’t merely piggybank on the original but texture it effectively to make it their own.

Of the innumerable hilarious moments, the most outstanding is during the audition for the main lead of the stage show, where an unsure actor banks on his director-friend to dumb-charade the dialogues for his part. 

It’s followed, seconds later, with a hand-voice modulation exercise, that’s simply hysterical.

Apart from exploring love, ‘Nautanki Saala!’ predominately focuses on how the destinies of two men get locked in the most unusual way, leaving them immensely attached and their loyalties constantly tested through quirky challenges and undesirable temptations. 

Ram Parmar aka RP is a theatre actor, who emulates the evil-minded Ravaan on stage but nurtures a good-natured soul off-stage.

It’s RP’s immense generosity that links him to the awfully depressive Mandar Lele, who he saves from attempting to commit suicide.

RP is so determined to help his friend regain his confidence and win back his ladylove that he even sidelines his girlfriend Chitra and dodges her incessant need to be pampered.

And, in his pursuit to find happiness in his pal’s lonely life, PR loses himself and, ironically, finds himself broken.

Rohan sets RP and Mandar’s trials and tribulations against the cobblestoned bylanes of the charming Mumbai. It’s aesthetically captured by cinematographer Manoj Lobo, who obviously had to cut down on indulgent city shots to frame in the stiff indoors. It’s the requirement of the tone, one would presume.

Rohan also styles the play ‘Raavan Leela’, which takes centrestage in ‘Nautanki Saala!’, like the lavish costume drama displayed in London musicals.

If anything it's Rohan’s unimaginative placement of music tracks that makes the narrative sluggish.

Despite that minor setback, Rohan’s laugh fest deserves applause for not just its talented, and fairly non-celeb lead cast, but its extraordinary supporting cast as well.

From the MohanLal-Mammooty worshiping Malayalai hospital receptionist who rambles on in Hindi in the same twang like her mother tongue, to the blinded but hugely affectionate granny who willingly confesses to ruining her grandson’s love story, to the madly-in-love beefy Loli who mouths Cheel for chill, each character is peculiar and their quirks adeptly designed. 

While veteran Sulbha Arya plays Mandar’s grandma, Rufy Khan plays the dumb Loli with aplomb.

But, the most notable is the stout and boisterous stage-show producer Chandra, who believes he’s got the acting chomps and willingly steps into the spotlight when a role goes abandoned. 

Of the three ladies, Gaelyn Mendonca is the most delightful as RP’s nagging sweetheart Chitra. She’s a natural, and it’s her misguided late-night hanky-panky affair that’s fairly amusing.

Barring a funny wine-spitting scene, curly-haired Evelyn Sharma is fairly poised and barely given many scenes to cause any major distress.

However, Pooja Salvi is unable to hold her own as the female lead. She does construct an attractive Nandini with her gorgeous physicality, but her dull personality ruins the desirability quotient drastically.

Nevertheless, this movie owes much of the credit to Ayushmann Khurrana and Kunaal Roy Kapur.

Despite being just one-comedy old, both the actors show extraordinary comic timing and insight, ensuring they don’t slip into caricatures.

Ayushmann captures the dichotomy intensely, as his character battles his inner good and bad. The contrasts are evident as he portrays the nuances of the evil-man on stage, and a goody two-shoes off it. The lines, however, begin to blur when the stage lights go off and he begins to fall in love.

Kunaal moulds Mandar with affectionate charm, dressing him in eclectic-printed shirts and displaying outlandish expressions that will leave you in splits. Whether it’s silently listening to his granny confessing about how she ruined his love affair or when he miserably watches his ex-lover side-profiling another man, Kunaal nails every moment with finesse.

Chances are you’d crack up just by looking at him!

If, it’s clean, intelligent fun that you are looking for, then ‘Nautanki Saala!’ is where you need to be headed.