It’s hard to imagine a comedy film premise less sexy than: “A middle-aged chauffeur returns to his village to build a well.” But Boman Irani’s comedic skills make Well Done Abba an enjoyable, if overly long, movie.
Irani stars as the titular abba (“dad”), Armaan Ali. Armaan returns to work two months late from his month-long vacation to the village and attempts to explain the circumstances to his boss. The story of Armaan’s extended holiday is told in flashbacks with occasional returns to the modern-day. This framing device is one of many unnecessary elements in Well Done Abba.
Armaan’s vacation takes him from Mumbai back to his village near Hyderabad. He intends to find a husband for his daughter, Muskaan (Minissha Lamba), who’s being raised by Armaan’s twin brother and the twin’s wife, a pair of small time grifters. Muskaan is only interested in continuing her studies and flying kites.
Shortly after settling in, Armaan gets talked into applying for a government grant to build a well on his property. However, the grant application process turns out to be a bribery scam run by village bureaucrats. After all of the inspectors, contractors and permit officers are paid off, there’s no money left to dig the well.
Muskaan concocts a scheme to get their well built once and for all. Using the Right to Information law, she discovers how many other village families were conned out of their well money. Armed with the fake photos and contracts the corrupt officials submitted to the government, she demands that the police start an investigation: someone must have stolen all of the village wells.
Muskaan gets help from the cute mechanic in town, Arif (Sammir Dattani). He’d be an ideal marriage candidate for Muskaan, but Armaan’s too distracted by the well debacle to notice.
Well Done Abba is a great showcase for Irani. His performance is perfectly subdued as Armaan wavers between confused and irritated. The movie’s highlight is a scene in which Armaan poses for a photo. The photographer struggles to get a good headshot as the slightest muscle twitches change Armaan’s expression from goofy to dour to homicidal.
Lamba and Dattani are an adorable onscreen couple. Their relationship blooms from annoyance to friendship to love, all under the oblivious gaze of Armaan, who can’t understand why Arif goes out of his way to be nice to him.
But the strong performances by the leads can’t disguise the fact that the movie is in serious need of an editor. There are so many ideas, subplots and side characters that Well Done Abba would have been better off as a TV miniseries.
There’s the honest police inspector whose wife wishes he was corrupt, the permit officer who wants his new bride to get breast implants, and Muskaan’s friend who gets married to a sheik. At the last minute, Arif’s father reveals that the boy isn’t his son by birth. Soap operas are less convoluted than this.
Armaan’s identical twin brother, Rehman (also played by Irani), is also superfluous. Apart from one brief and predictable gag in which Armaan is mistakenly jailed instead of Rehman, the fact that the brothers are identical is never brought up again.
For all the aspects of the movie I liked, this excess plot isn’t acceptable. Trim about 44 minutes off of the 144 minute runtime and it might be a great movie.
- Well Done Abba at Wikipedia
- Well Done Abba at IMDb
- Right-to-Know Law Gives India’s Poor a Lever (NY Times)