Corruption has made deep inroads in every sphere of life and Shyam Benegal focuses on it in his new endeavour WELL DONE ABBA!. Like his previous film WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR, WELL DONE ABBA! is also set in rural India and has characters you either know or observed in the course of your journey.
Adapted from 'Narsaiyyan Ki Bavdi' by Jeelani Bano, 'Phulwa Ka Pul' by Sanjeev and 'Still Waters', a screenplay treatment by Jayant Kripalani, WELL DONE ABBA! is a simple story about simple people and is told in the most simplistic manner, like all Benegal movies.
There's certain honesty about Benegal's movies and this one is no exception. It defies the stereotype and makes you smile without resorting to buffoonery. But there's a flip side too: Unwanted scenes, lethargic pace and the unending length for a waferthin storyline are three factors that go against it. In fact, it takes away from the film what was so beautifully created in its first hour. Bluntly put, the post-interval portions play a spoilsport.
When you weigh the pros and cons, WELL DONE ABBA! is an average fare from a maker who has made much better films in the past.
Armaan Ali [Boman Irani], a driver working for a Senior Executive in Mumbai, goes on leave. He wants to find a match for his teenage daughter [Minissha Lamba], who stays with his brother Rehman Ali [Boman Irani; dual role] and his wife Salma [Ila Arun]. When Armaan returns to work after three months, his young employer wants to sack him.
But Armaan Ali has a story to tell. The story he tells is a humorous account of the events and happenings that delayed him from returning after a month. He avails a government scheme to dig a well in his agricultural patch. Things spiral out of control, so much so that the government is about to collapse.
Like most Benegal movies, WELL DONE ABBA! has a story to tell with a message. Although the issue [corruption] isn't new and has been attempted in various movies before, the interesting characters and the way the story moves ahead make the effort watchable, in the first hour mainly.
But the writing goes haywire in its post-interval portions, when the 'missing' baudi becomes the topic of discussion, so much so that the government and the opposition party trade accusations and counter-accusations. These portions look farcical and are far from convincing.
Even otherwise, the story loses its sheen in this hour and the sluggish pace and unnecessary sequences only add to the woes. Just when you think that the film would conclude, a marriage song ensues, followed by a sequence in the police station. Not required, for sure!
The by-now-famous Benegal stamp is evident is several sequences. But the length and pace go against it. Shantanu Moitra's music is decent.
The casting is perfect and the performances, super. Boman Irani is the lifeline of WELL DONE ABBA!. You can't imagine any other actor enacting the part. He is incredible, handling the two roles differently and of course, impeccably. Minissha takes you by complete surprise. She's fantastic in a role that you never thought she could carry off. This film should make people notice this talented actor.
Samir Dattani is another revelation. The role gives him ample opportunity to showcase his talent and he does it with great restraint, without going overboard. The film has a number of actors in key roles, but the ones who stand out are Ila Arun [fantastic], Ravi Kishan [excellent] and Rajendra Gupta [first-rate].
On the whole, WELL DONE ABBA! has some wonderful moments, but they're few and far between. It holds appeal for a tiny sect of viewers, mainly Shyam Benegal fans.