Director: Fuwad Khan
Cast: Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Annu Kapoor
Ratings: 2.5 stars
It is impossible to not draw parallels between Dharam Sankat Mein and Oh My God. The former is the official remake of British comedy The Infidel and the latter, an adaptation of a Gujarati play Kanji Virudh Kanji. Both the films have Paresh Rawal playing an atheist, forced to follow religion by society, who eventually goes on to unmask fraudulent religious babas. But if you liked OMG, you may feel a little underwhelmed this time around. Fuwad Khan, the director of DSM hasn’t been able to pull off a satire as smoothly as Umesh Shukla, but his attempt at exposing religious extremism may have been a bolder one given that the story is set in Ahmedabad, known to have had its share of communal tension over the past few years. The dialogues mince no words when it comes to making some pointed remarks about religious stereotypes. That it stars the city’s BJP MP Paresh Rawal as the main lead, only adds to the plot, albeit off screen more than on it.
The story revolves around Dharampal (Paresh Rawal), an Ahemdavadi Hindu Brahmin who wears his sacred thread with as much pride as he downs his scotch or occasionally eats chicken. He finds out at the age of fifty that he is adopted, and was originally born into a Muslim family. But that is not his biggest quandary — it is to convince a certain Imam that he is a devout Muslim, so that he’ll be allowed to see his dying biological father. This, apart from winning over his son’s to-be in-laws who are followers of a certain Neelanand Baba (Naseeruddin Shah). Hence, an otherwise indifferent Dharampal finds himself bending backwards to soak in as much Islam and Neelanand brand of religion as he can, to please those around him. He learns his Urdu pronunciations from a Muslim neighbour (Annu Kapoor) over a drink while Hindu lessons pour in from a certain pujari deployed by the family. Like a kid studying for his exams at the last minute after wiling away the entire year, Dharampal finds himself overwhelmed by the portion of life lessons he’s confronted with. How he grapples with two extreme identities is endearing and Paresh Rawal, the veteran that he is, lends the character a very affable quality. “Dharam koi bhi ho, topi zarur pehnate hai,” he says mocking the very fanatics he is trying to please. How he half-heartedly, yet whole-heartedly tries to understand the nuances of the religions he was born into and brought up in, makes for an entertaining effort.
Standing by his side through the ordeal is Muslim neighbor and lawyer Annu Kapoor. The second most prominent character in the film, Annu helps his friend take a crash course in Islam, stressing on the ‘Kh’ from the epiglottis among other things. Played flawlessly, the character points out some uncomfortable facts and acts as the voice of the ‘minority’.
The third most important character is Baba Neelanand (played by Naseer) who enters a satsang on a super bike wearing loud, flashy costumes, sporting facial hair that could endorse a shampoo brand. The rock star baba avatar could well remind you of some off screen, self-proclaimed god men in no subtle terms.
The film overall takes a light-hearted look at a grim reality ruled by religion and raises some very pertinent questions. While the story line is interesting and the film boasts of some very good actors, the treatment given to the film is a little amateur. It resorts to clichés and a very caricaturish style of filmmaking that you’d associate with a not-so-well written Indian television sitcom. The comedy isn’t exactly smooth and rides on the performances and face values of the veterans who are part of the cast because nobody apart from the three main men, makes an impression.
However, a bold attempt and some very good performances by the lead cast may make it worth your while....