There’s always a decent way to do the worst of things. Adaptations, for instance. While most Bollywood filmmakers sneakily just steal the idea without credit or sometimes hide it somewhere in fine print of rolling end credits (in spite of staying loyal not only to the plot, but to every frame from the original) Rohan Sippy’s Nautanki Saala seems to get most things right.
1. The crediting: Here was a film that credited the obscure decade-old French romantic comedy Apre Vous right from the trailers. A sure sign that the makers were fully confident of their film. While the French film was set against the backdrop of food, this film uses theatre as the perfect stage for the inherent drama in the plot of a director trying to play God, thus departing from the original considerably. Which earns Rohan our respect.
2. The adaptation: As Jean Luc Godard famously said, it’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to. The makers here find themselves an Indian context for the story. Not just in terms of form by paying homage to the tradition of the Indian theatre (the exaggeration of the nautanki) but also by giving it a post-modern touch of the pop culture surrealism (where the modern stage adaptation of The Ramayana is not only anti-thetically called Raavan Leela but is considerably Baz Luhrmannesque in colour and tone). It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on one of India’s best known stories (A Made-in-China Ramayan, as a character in the film calls it) that doesn’t quite interpret the conflict literally yet works. Not since the days of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, have we see an effective comedy of errors against the backdrop of an epic on stage.
3. The casting: Between Ayushmann Khurrana and Kunaal Roy Kapur, it is rather difficult to say who outshines who. It’s a close race between two insanely talented actors, clearly having a blast. Check out the audition scene. The leading men are so good that they make the women look weak and undeserving of a place in the cast, though they are certainly better than most Bollywood newcomers.
4. The music: This was going to be a tricky one. Rehashing retro hits and giving them a modern makeover doesn’t always work. Rohan himself came under a lot of fire for changing the lines of ‘Dum Maro Dum’ (though the crassness was intended in the context of changing times). Here, the remixes of ‘So Gaya Yeh Jahaan’ and ‘Dhak Dhak Karne Laga’ work magic. Though it can be argued that the film could’ve done with a little tightening, Rohan’s passion to give the film an authentic feel of a musical (given the backdrop) is commendable.
5. The drama: Nautanki Saala could be a meta narrative on the changing dynamics of drama itself. Often, our life turns more dramatic than the strangest of stories. Yet, the drama on stage seems more amplified and exaggerated than the lives we lead. More so in cinema. Most of the laughs in this remake come from the matter-of-fact, realistic slice of life depiction of the drama — the subtleties and not the loud histrionics. Which, in the Bollywood context, is a triumph. You are going to be smiling through this bromance. And tradition demands, we end with an applause. Well done.
Director: Rohan Sippy
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Pooja Salvi, Gaelyn Mendonca, Evelyn Sharma
Storyline: A compulsive do-gooder who saves the life of a jinxed suicidal actor finds his life turned upside-down as he acquires his friend’s rotten luck
Bottomline: A breezy, fun, romantic comedy about the drama that love brings to life