Starring: Manoj Pahwa, Seema Bhargava, Vinay Pathak, Dolly Ahluwalia; Written
and Directed by Harsh Chhaya; Rating: *** (3 Stars).
It was John Donne who warned Death not to be proud. In our popular arts we tend to get intimidated by Death, we sing and recite poems about how powerful Death can be. We are scared.
But guess what? Lord Yama can be quite funny too, specially in the way he brings out the avaricious opportunist in the relatives of the one at Death's Door.
That fine actor Harsh Chhaya has boldly gone where hardly any director has gone before. Recently there was the Marathi film "Ventilator" that went down the same path of mortal salvation but got lost in an atmosphere of escalating self-importance, including an unnecessary guest appearance by the film's producer Priyanka Chopra.
In "Khajoor Pe Atke" the film's director Harsh Chhaya, once a well-known television actor makes a self-deprecatory appearance questioning the validity of fame, and hence the meaning of mortality, a theme that runs through the film in shudders and giggles creating for the cornucopia of characters a carnival of outrageous emotions right there in the hospital lobby.
Two brothers played with wise witticism by Manoj Pahwa and Vinay Pathak have descended with their families at the hospital. The family has other things in mind. Mumbai is a place associated with easy dating and harmless flirting by the youngsters in the family. They behave with an inappropriateness to the solemn occasion that would make Varun Dhawan's character in "October" cringe in protest.
Sensitivity is not a big plus-point for Harsh Chhaya's characters. These are relatable middleclass characters totally immersed in self-fulfilment feigning concern for the dying. It is not an unknown scenario in our working class atmosphere where self-concern comes before any other concern. While the two brothers and their melodramatic sister played with screechy candour by Dolly Ahluwalia (every family has one of those) try to behave with suitable solemnity oneA mother(Seema Pahva, delightfully scheming and harassed) gets into fixing a suitable match for her daughter right there in the hospital corridor.
All the while the ailing man's wife seeks comfort in food, nibbling on cakes and sandwiches with a vigour that onlookers find distasteful, given the circumstances.
But who is to decide what is wrong and what is right when someone is dying?
Chhaya milks the satirical potential with relish. At times the mood of mirth and social critique threaten to fall apart as a dark underbelly to the tone of ongoing respiratory bacchanalia reveals itself. At one point a daughter of the family (Sanah Kapoor) almost gets violated by a man she has befriended on the internet.The boys in the family stare at the girls on the streets and even get beaten up for it.
This a world devoured by a cheesy self-interested and salvaged by a humour that only the outsiders can see. Harsh Chhaya provides a singeing view of the rapidly-degenerating entity known as the Indian Middleclass Joint Family.
Sooraj Barjatya's dreamscape of an idyllic "Hum Saath Saath Hai" lies writhing on the ground as this small jagged-edged but enjoyable film tells us that the Hum in the Saath Saath Hain could be the sound of cash emerging from a pay machine.