When you set out to make a comedy that compares an unwelcome guest to a terrorist, don't change your mind halfway. Spare us the drama. It's a comedy. Don't take it seriously because we surely aren't. Certainly not a film that resorts to scatological humour and a background score that gives you cues to laugh like a desi sitcom of the early Nineties.
However unwelcome the guest is, treat him like God is what the film preaches right from the start in an awkwardly in-your-face scene where a Hindi teacher tells the parents that the kid does not know what Athithi Devo Bhava means. The Mom (Konkana Sen is a natural) does not know either and the father (Devgn) kindly explains for the benefit of those of us in the audience.
So right early on in the film, we know what to expect. A comedy that is trying hard and relying on its cast to deliver. And it's not even entirely original — Paresh Rawal, like the old lady from that Ben Stiller comedy Duplex, is equally annoying to the family with his oddball quirks and the writers (Stiller and Devgn here) find it impossible to write given this intrusion.
It is in the adaptation to the Indian context where Athithi departs from Duplex. Just as we settle down after the film's funniest sequence brilliantly performed by Paresh Rawal and Viju Khote (the former makes the latter play out the ‘Kitney Aadmi The' line from Sholay on an endless loop), the film turns all serious as the old man is yelled at and Devgn butts in — in support of the elder comparing him to his own father. Indian values. Something Stiller would've never done.
The film once again changes its mind post interval, painting the old man as the pain in the wrong place with an over-the-top song where the family fantasises about murdering him! These mood swings of the leading man (one moment he's compared him to his own father and the next, he daydreams of stifling him to death with a pillow) make this comedy a rather half-hearted attempt at political incorrectness.
But yet, despite the film's tendency to play safe and not offend the Indian sensibility of respect to elders (and in the end, the film teaches the urban nuclear family the importance of loving your own), Athithi works in bits and starts largely due to the stellar cast who give it their all.
And only they make our stay at the hall a bearable experience.SUDHISH KAMATH