3 Stars (out of 4)
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I try not to prejudge a movie before I see it, but I was sure I wasn’t going to like Bol Bachchan. Based on the trailer and promotional poster, I expected nothing but tacky gay jokes and dumb, goofball comedy. I was pleased to discover that my fears were unfounded. Bol Bachchan is genuinely funny.
Mistaken identity comedies seem to be a dime a dozen in Bollywood, but few are executed as well as Bol Bachchan (which translates to “A Bundle of Lies,” according to the title track’s lyrics). It helps that the film has a good template to work from. It’s a remake of 1979’s Gol Maal, which is unrelated to the three Golmaal movies from the last decade, all directed by Bol Bachchan‘s director, Rohit Shetty.
Bol Bachchan‘s story concerns the unlucky fate of Abbas Ali (Abhishek Bachchan). When Abbas and his sister, Sania (Asin), lose their house in Delhi, a family friend named Shastri (Asrani) offers to get Abbas a job with his employer. The employer is Prithviraj (Ajay Devgn), the richest guy in a small town.
While on a sightseeing tour of town with Shastri’s actor son, Ravi (Krushna Abhishek), Abbas sees a boy fall into a walled-in reservoir. To save the boy, Abbas — a Muslim — breaks open the locked gate to a Hindu temple.
When Prithviraj arrives and demands details of the boy’s rescue, Ravi panics and introduces Abbas with a made-up Hindu name: Abhishek Bachchan. Since there’s nothing tough-guy Prithviraj hates more than a liar, the lies about Abbas’ identity snowball until he winds up with multiple fake mothers and a pretend identical twin named Abbas Ali.
Some background knowledge of Hindi cinema is helpful for understanding some of the jokes — such as the fact that the Abhishek Bachchan is the name of both Abbas’ fake identity and the real actor playing him — but it’s not essential. References to the original Gol Maal are woven in nicely to the new film as a way to move the action forward, not just for nostalgia’s sake. For example, Prithviraj’s sidekick, Maakhan (Neeraj Vora), becomes suspicious of Abhishek after he sees a pertinent scene from Gol Maal on television.
The film’s PG rating is well-deserved. The kids in the audience at my showing laughed in all the right places, particularly at Prithviraj’s repeated mangling of English sayings, such as: “A brother in need is a sister indeed.”
I read an interview with director Shetty in which he said that he includes car-stunts in his films because he knows kids like them. The reactions of the kids at my showing prove that quality writing is just as important. There are plenty of movies with better stunts than the ones in Bol Bachchan — a van full of people is suddenly (and obviously) empty when it launches over a ramp — so they only serve to pad the film’s runtime unnecessarily.
The song-and-dance numbers are similarly forgettable filler material. The songs themselves lack pep, and the choreography suffers as a result.
Only one dance number stands out: Bachchan’s performance as Abhishek’s pretend gay identical twin, “Abbas.” In his audition to be the classical dance instructor for Prithviraj’s sister, Radhika (Prachi Desai), Abbas writhes mock-seductively, repulsing — and in one case, enticing — Prithviraj’s henchmen. It’s really funny, and not as tacky or offensive as I feared it could be.
Bachchan’s performance on the whole is very strong, as is Devgn’s. I think both actors are at their best in comic roles, and their performances in Bol Bachchan confirm my feelings. Neeraj Vora and Krushna Abhishek are also entertaining in their supporting roles. Sadly, there’s little for either of the female leads to do apart from act virtuous and mildly annoyed at Abbas’/Abhishek’s antics.