Any of you guys headed towards Khwaish, that fictional state created by Sujoy Ghosh and his wonderful visual effects team? Stop by at the Ancient Thing Store for me, will you? And get me one of those ancient lamp … Rub well before you buy it so that we don’t end up with one that doesn’t work. (Psst: If a man who looks like Amitabh Bachchan does not show up, it means the lamp doesn’t work.)
After watching Aladin, you would want one of those lamps too, just so that you can ask the genie to set a few things right in Sujoy Ghosh’s ambitious fantasy film that doesn’t seem to know what things to wish for, with a burdened sense of responsibility of making a politically correct film for kids.
What happens when you add a genie and a magic lamp to the straightforward boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy gets girl story?
The film begins with great promise, the effects leave you in awe and before you know it you have willingly suspended your disbelief and completely surrendered because anything is possible in the city of Khwaish. You smile at all the references to “Arabian Nights” when a song erupts with those ubiquitous carpets - that could transform into the official mode of transport, barrels that Ali Baba’s 40 thieves would hide in and those quaint lamps of course - ones that you will not find in antique stores (only in the Ancient Thing Store).
It’s a nice touch that Aladin (Ritesh Deshmukh) here is the butt of all jokes because of his name and hates the very sight of lamps because of years of ridicule. So when his rival Caasim makes Jasmine (the girl he likes, Jacqueline Fernandes) get him a lamp for his birthday, he reluctantly rubs it and there he is - Amitabh Bachchan with a funny beard a.k.a Genius.
Aladin works well as a musical and kids are bound to be delighted with all those tricks Genius comes up with prove to Aladin that he isn’t just a magician or a conman. Meanwhile, an evil Ringmaster (Sanjay Dutt playing a comic-bookish sorcerer and leader of a circus troupe) finds out from his Google-equivalent mirror that Aladin is in possession of the lamp. With the little we’ve seen of him, we love this villain. So far, great going. Then, the tricky part.
Now, what three wishes can Sujoy make Aladin ask for? He can’t really stick to the “Arabian Nights” version where Aladin asks to be rich, marries the princess, builds a palace bigger than the emperor’s and lives happily until someone at the door tricks his wife into giving “new lamps for old”.
Such a story today would glorify shortcuts, undermine the importance of hard work and not be the kind of film parents would want to show their kids. So Aladin’s conflict here really is whether or not he should use magic to woo his dream girl. It hurts that the villain Ringmaster has nothing to do with this conflict in the film. So Sujoy makes up a convoluted back story that somehow requires Ringmaster to kill Aladin (strange considering that Aladin has already asked for his three wishes and none of them being of any consequence to him) and further burdens Aladin with superhero responsibilities of saving the world.
Why so serious? The romantic comedy portions work rather nicely, even if inspired, thanks to the charm Ritesh brings to this character and Jacqueline Fernandes does look like one of those Persian princesses.
Sujoy has a natural flair for comedy and you can almost see the filmmaker wink when Aladin bumps into a pole staring at Jasmine and explains: “Khambe ki yehi problem hai ki kahin bhi khade ho jaatey hai” (the problem with these poles is that they just pop up anywhere).
It’s a children’s film, Sujoy. Good old Amitabh Bachchan is simultaneously eccentric and wise, playing father-figure, friend, philosopher and wingman (or should we just say Bro?) to Aladin, though he could’ve gone easy on the “Yo Brother”. You wish the plot had more meat for Ringmaster to bite into, you wish Aladin wished for something more fun and relevant to our times, you wish this good-looking film also thought smart… Never mind, just bring me that lamp, will you?
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Cast: Ritesh Deshmukh, Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Jacqueline Fernandes
Storyline: An introverted loner called Aladin falls in love with new student Jasmine and gets help from Genius (the genie in the lamp) to make his wish come true
Bottomline: Strictly for the kid in you