Cast: Riteish Deshmukh, Pulkit Samrat, Kumud Mishra
Director: Karan Anshuman
Rating: 1 star
When you see a film like Bangistan, it's hard to believe that it's been made in 2015. Film critic turned director Karan Anshuman's debut offering on the big screen seems to boast of all traits and tropes that Bollywood realised it was not proud of and therefore corrected over the past decade. Then we see the film’s production banner Excel Entertainment, and at the end of two hours we are left wondering what could have prompted Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani to fund something that starts off as a satire and then somewhere along the way seems to suffer from an existential crisis and ends up being exactly what it was trying to make fun of.
So, you have Riteish Deshmukh's Hafeez Bin Ali who works in the 'BPO of the mountains' in the northern part of the fictional land of Bangistan. He loathes being called a terrorist by every American he dials and then becomes a terrorist himself. It's a completely different matter that the talented actor barely even looks like a Pathan. But then the rest of the story requires him to look like a Hindu, so perhaps that's okay. Also, the film is a satire, remember? So let us leave these quibbles aside. Please note, there's no eastern or western part of Bangistan. Only north and south, and Pulkit Samrat's Pravin Chaturvedi is from the south. A Ram Leela actor and a blind follower of the leader of the Maa Ka Dal extremist religious outfit, played by the delightful but underutilised Kumud Mishra, in a double role --- he also plays the leader of the northern Bangistan terrorist organisation Al-Kaam-Tamaam who picks Riteish for a suicide mission. So both Pravin and Hafeez set off to Poland with the plan of bombing a peace conference in Krakow. The conference will be headed by the two religious leaders of Bangistan --- the Imaam (Tom Alter) and Shankaracharya (Shiv Subramaniam), they are like bros, who have peace talks with each other on Skype on their respective iPads.
Pravin and Hafeez disguise themselves as people from their opponent religions in order to further conceal their identities. We know their mission is doomed to go wrong, suspense is hardly an element of satire. But sharp writing is. That's the only thing that can save the ludicrous turn of events. Bangistan has not one but three writers, so we don't know if too many writers spoiled the plot or was there even a plot to begin with. The material on paper was solid. Satires on terrorism are not new to Bollywood but the subject still holds immense potential. None of the actors are average either and the production banner is superlative. Which is why the end product is furthermore excruciating. The superbly comic Riteish Deshmukh has to wear a deadpan expression throughout, and a hammy Pulkit Samrat is given a stage to ham some more. In the two-hour long film there's only one sequence that stays with you, when we have the two terrorists trying to explain the virtues of their own religion only to end up eulogizing the opponent religion. A bit stretched yes, but point well made.
The credits define Jacqueline Fernandez as a 'special appearance'. With not much going on for the film, the pretty waitress indeed makes things special for a few minutes. She even mouths a few lines about how meaningless religion is blah blah. And gets to dance on the streets of Krakow with the two boys, two days before their mission.
The final nail in the coffin is when the so-far satire takes a preachy turn (perhaps after a few shots of Polish vodka, we don't know). Blame bartender Jacqueline. Everyone breaks into a pravachan, the dead come back to life, Pulkit leaps around like a hyperactive child, tears roll from Riteish's bloodshot eyes and some of us wish the suicide bomb was strapped to us. Bangistan stands on ground zero. In T.S. Eliot's famous words, the film begins and ends 'not with a bang, but with a whimper'.