The last few years have proved that 'small films' [in terms of costing] have big stories to tell. Recall films like DELHI BELLY, KAHAANI, PAAN SINGH TOMAR and VICKY DONOR. Also, one of the strengths of the recent success story, JOLLY LLB, was its absorbing storyline, which was so well presented on celluloid by its creator, Subhash Kapoor. It's alright to be greedy when it comes to high-quality content, right?
Rohan Sippy, who has worked with formidable names in his earlier endeavors, casts several relative newcomers in his new outing, NAUTANKI SAALA!. The focus, like the films listed above, is on telling a story that's fascinating and enthralling. I am told, NAUTANKI SAALA! is Rohan's lowest budget film so far. But this thought hardly crosses your mind as you embark on this voyage. For, this one's armed with a fascinating premise that's nourished with care by the raconteur, magnificent act by its lead actors, dollops of humor [wicked, sparkling, smart] that's punctuated so well in the scheme of things and eye-filling production design. NAUTANKI SAALA! is, without doubt, Rohan's most accomplished work so far!
While returning from work one night, Ram Parmar [Ayushmann Khurrana] rescues the luckless Mandar Lele [Kunaal Roy Kapur] from his suicide attempt and inexplicably takes on the responsibility of rehabilitating him. Mandar has failed at every job... worse, he's also lost the love of his life, Nandini [Pooja Salvi]. Ram decides to reunite Mandar with his sweetheart, but, in turn, falls in love with her...
An official remake of the French film APRES VOUS , NAUTANKI SAALA! is *not* another slapstick comedy that uses every trick in the book to make you laugh. On the contrary, the humor here is tailored for spectators who love new-age cinema. At the same time, comedy is serious business and very few film-makers have the knack of making people chuckle/giggle at the right places/episodes and Rohan gets it absolutely right all through the first hour. To give the credit where it's due, Rohan steps into a new terrain with NAUTANKI SAALA!, but the plot as well as the situations are so unfussy and uncomplicated and the characters so convincing [and timid too!] that you start taking to the goings-on without much struggle.
The promotional material may give an impression that NAUTANKI SAALA! is yet another bromance saga, but there's a love story -- a love triangle, in fact -- that's ingeniously integrated in the premise. While the first hour is thoroughly amusing [a few episodes are howlarious actually!], the post-interval do a somersault. Rohan and his team of writers [screenplay: Nipun Dharmadhikari, Charudutt Acharya and Rohan himself] introduce certain complications in the lead characters' lives, which take the familiar route and dilute the impact, albeit faintly. Also, a few episodes don't work, the pacing gets slow, the narrative is prolongedâ€¦ till it gathers steam towards its resolution. The film never gets into the serious zone or melodramatic, but remains lightweight all through, which is a plus. In short, Rohan has cleverly adapted and modified the French film to suit the Indian sensibilities, which works exceedingly well for the Indian spectator.
With a music company backing the film [T-Series], the soundtrack ought to be lively, with the songs holding tremendous recall value. The tracks are smart, trendy and seeped in melody. 'Mera Mann' is the pick of the lot, while 'Saddi Gali' is equally soothing. The yesteryear hit, 'Dhak Dhak', too finds a place in the narrative in a new avatar [towards the end credits]. The DoP [Manoj Lobo] captures the theatre backdrop, indoor look as well as locales of South Mumbai with zing. I'd like to make a special mention of the one-liners, which are soaked in wittiness and most importantly, devoid of double entendres. The production design is eye-catching, especially the setting in the theatre.
The camaraderie between Ayushmann and Kunaal is magnificent and the best part is, the roles are clearly divided. Situations such as trying to outdo the other, therefore, just don't arise. Ayushmann gets yet another demanding role and the actor, who impressed us with his acting skills in VICKY DONOR, casts a spell yet again. Kunaal is tremendous too. The actor, who scored brownie points in DELHI BELLY, is incredible as the goofy, hapless, good-for-nothing guy.
Of the leading ladies, Gaelyn Mendonca [as Chitra] is sprightly and most confident. Pooja Salvi could do better if she spruces up her acting skills, though she flaunts the vulnerable look well. Evelyn Sharma's presence is restricted to a few sequences only. Rufy Khan is serviceable. Sanjeev Bhatt [as Chandra, the theatre producer] is a riot. He brings the house down every time he appears on screen, especially during the sequence when Kunaal is being auditioned. Sulbha Arya [as Kunaal's grand-mom] is super. Abhishek Bachchan appears in a cameo.
On the whole, NAUTANKI SAALA! is uncontaminated, witty and amusing, offers an interesting premise with plenty of good laughs. A lightweight fare that caters to cineastes with an appetite for contemporary cinema, this movie ought to be on your 'to watch' list for sure!