Roti Kapda aur Makaan
Some Bollywood movies deal with a variety of social themes, but a few gems actually tackle this sensitive concept with humour and laughter By SHRADDHA ARJUN
Lately, it’s been one scandal after another on the Indian landscape. First was the CWG circus, then the 2G Spectrum scam, followed by the Adarsh Society scandal and now, the rising price of food and basic necessities. The common man in India seems to be bearing the brunt of it all.
There have been many films made on a very serious note reflecting these realities of society, but only a few films talk about these issues in a lighter vein. Here’s a countdown of films that take a comic look at the problems faced by the common man.
Do Dooni Char (2010)
This film by Habib Faisal starring yesteryear’s sweethearts Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, is a family entertainer that is genuinely heartwarming. Middle class family man Rishi Kapoor does an honest day’s work as a teacher and a private tutor after hours. His dream is to buy his family their first piece of luxury – a car. While touching upon many pressing issues such as match-fixing, corrupt policemen, unaffordable prices of commodities, this simple film does not point fingers at anyone. It also addresses several other issues such as outsourcing (call centres), consumerism and the deteriorating value system that exist in Indian society today. The film is well written and even the grimmest situations are presented with a sense of humour. The best part is the happy ending, where the family is seen cruising the streets in their brand new car.
This is one of those timeless Hrishikesh Mukherjee classics which can be watched often and yet have the same effect at every viewing. (Ask me – I’ve seen it so many times that I can now roll off mouth the dialogues by heart!) It stars Amol Palekar, Hindi cinema’s quintessential ‘common man’, and touches on many issues such as unemployment, generation gap, undue influence of western values, and the disparity between rich and poor. The story as we know it is about an accountant who is willing to do anything to keep his job – to be able to provide for his sister and her wedding. What he does in the process, and the consequences he faces as a result of his actions, are what makes the film funny. There is no dull moment in the film. The comic timing of the characters, especially that of thespian Utpal Dutt and Amol Palekar is impeccable.
Khosla ka Ghonsla (2006)
Building a house of one’s own is a dream for many. This film directed byDibakarBanerjee is a humorous take on the difficulties that the common man in India faces in the process. Issues such as corruption and bribery, a failing legal system, the deterioration of ethics, brain drain and that alluring “American Dream”, make up the backbone of the film. Hilarious from start to end, even the direst situations like death, imprisonment and injustice are portrayed in a lighter vein. Veteran actor Anupam Kher is at his comic best; and Boman Irani is equally convincing as the bad guy, and both are immensely entertaining. The manner in which the family makes use of loopholes in the system to turn the situation around in their favour, will have you in splits.
Peepli Live (2010)
This film has been a wonderful example of how a commercially successful film can also gain critical acclaim. The grim topic of farmers’ suicides is presented with a whacky sense of humour, but the message gets home loud and clear. The film also lampoons news organisations for their sensationalism and tendency to blow issues out of proportion. Issues facing rural India are brought fair and square to the forefront, hopefully to the powers-that-be. With Satyajit Ray-like courage, first-time film-maker Anusha Rizvi chose to cast unknown or lesser known actors, and to keep the dialogues raw and unpolished to add to the humour. The film is definitely worthy of the appreciation it has received on the international film festival circuit.
Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983)
Thislaugh-riot is a satire about the “system” which is crumbling. The lead characters Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Baswani are honest and simple photographers seeking work, who get entangled in a sting operation that backfires. There are impediments to the system galore, such as manipulative politicians, lobbyists and dishonest builders and industrialists who cause damage to the nation and its people. When the media, the fourth pillar of society is misused as well, it makes things worse for the people as they have no other means of gauging the truth. The film captures the sentiments of underpaid and unemployed youth and the helplessness of the man on the street. So how does one make such a dismal subject so engaging and most importantly funny? In my opinion it’s the combination of the right people at the right time, with the likes of Pankaj Kapoor, Nina Gupta, Om Puri and Satish Shah adding to the cast. An absolute delight.
One man who has the audacity to break clichés and stereotypes in cinema, and goes to great lengths to experiment, is Kamal Hassan – an excellent example of an actor who is capable not only of charming the masses, but also stimulating their minds. Having grown up on a staple diet of Kamal Hassan’s films, I’ve seen him try to outdo himself each time. Here he teams with director Sangeetham Srinivas (with whom he’s always created magic) and music director Illayraja. The film is special not only because it has many well-known faces and names, but also because it is a silent film of the genre of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (albeit minus the texts). The film deals with the common man’s aspirations as opposed to the issues he faces. Kamal’s character, an educated unemployed youth, is in dire straits but gets the opportunity by chance to live the life of a rich man. However when he experiences this lifestyle, he turns skeptical, and gives it all up! The bit in the film about a beggar on the street showing off his wealth accumulated by begging to an educated unemployed young man, is a slap on the cheek to the government. Apart from being a comedy, this film also has a romantic track running parallel to the rest of the plot, which is equally interesting. A must watch indeed!
Khatta Meetha (1978)
This film belongs to an era when films were made with small budgets and had simple and interesting storylines, and beautiful hummable songs. The movie has the veteran Ashok Kumar in the lead with Pearl Padamsee, Rakesh Roshan and Bindu. The story of two middle class families which unite as a result of remarriage of the parents, there are plenty of laughs as chaos rules in this strange blended household. Yet the issues of unemployment, rising prices and dreams of aspiring to higher levels in society, all crop up, and at one stage, homelessness looms large as well. But the family stick it out through thick and thin, managing to maintain dignity in a manner that is truly heartening. This film is undoubtedly one of the finest films made by Basu Chatterjee.
Munnabhai MBBS (2003) and Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006)
Raj Kumar Hirani is often called the Hrishikesh Mukherjee of the 2k-generation of films. Who else would have had the courage to cast Sanjay Dutt – with his bad boy image – as Munnabhai? Both films are about a menacing thug and his transformation into a humane and generous individual. This image makeover did wonders to Sanjay Dutt’s career. The character of Munnabhai is definitely “filmy” so to speak, however the film deals with issues of the man on the street. In the first film we catch a glimpse of the appalling situation of the healthcare system and the tyranny of moneymaking private hospitals and medical institutions. The second film takes a step forward and delves into other issues faced in society such as inequality, corruption and unethical practices. It manages to remind us of the Gandhian philosophies and principles that are lacking in today’s modern India. Benevolence, compassion and honesty are values propagated by the protagonist throughout the film. The humour is situational, but sometimes philosophical. With the childlike charms of Circuit played by Arshad Warsi, this is one film that’s worthy of yet another sequel.
Well Done Abba (2010)
Shyam Benegal is known for excellence in cinema and is well respected as a filmmaker. He has been quite successful at telling stories to audiences of all ages. Though this film was not commercially successful, it brought out many sensitive issues, again presented in a lighter vein. A director of his calibre is more than capable of making such a simple and effective work of art. Boman Irani’s talent and potential is fully exploited in his role of a driver who hails from a small town in Andhra Pradesh. The film is about a government scheme that provides for digging wells for the residents of the impoverished village. Corruption and bribery at every stage of the process seems to squeeze out the best in him and his daughter (Minisha Lamba) with no outcome at all. So they decide to go on a hunger strike until they are given what they are rightfully entitled to. A positive and engaging film.
All these films have hardship and problems, but the underlying message is that there is also hope! These films bring that message across and tell us not to take life’s obstacles too seriously, that we should not dwell upon them but take them with a pinch of salt and face life with a smile!