Armaan Ali (Boman Irani), replete with a thick Hyderabadi accent, chaufferâ€™s a rich mans car in Mumbai. His family consisting of a brother and a perky young daughter languishes in the village without sufficient drinking water. One trip back to Chiketpalli, his village in Andhra Pradesh proves eventful for Armaan. To quench his familyâ€™s thirst, he avails of a government scheme to build a well in his backyard. Thus begins a black and funny tale of red tapism, â€˜babu-ismâ€™ and corruption that is so characteristic of India.
The story, unfolding like one of playwright Bashirâ€™s legendary village idiot plays, hooks you from the start. Meet characters like the henna haired rogue brother, Rahman, and his shallow partner in crime Salma (Ila Arun). A frustrated misfit cop (Rajat Kapur) and a corrupt official played by Ravi Kishen who feels no remorse as he sanctions 'wells' that will never be built. His incentive is a fat commission and believe it or not, his wifeâ€™s boob job.
Armaan learns of a state government scheme that is giving away money to build wells. The only condition is that the candidate should be living under the poverty line. Your heart goes out to the innocent Armaan as he explains how on the day of receiving his salary he is above the poverty line, but in a few days after he pays his room rent, he drops way below it. Armaan is soon caught in the infamous â€˜babuâ€™ web of India. He must pay big â€˜commissionsâ€™ to get due sanctions. And by the time he is done paying bribes to all and sundry, well, there just isnâ€™t enough to build the 'well'.
Enter Armaanâ€™s bright and enthusiastic daughter (Minishaa Lamba) who turns the plot around on its head. This clever turn of events is sure to surprise the viewer and keep him interested right till the end of the film. The length of this film is a downer. There are portions that are way too long and the pre-interval portion is laborious. Though Shyam Benegal clearly knows his stuff as a storyteller, his technical prowess donâ€™t match up to current film standards. The special effects are poor and the camerawork is average. Nevertheless, the film is an ejoyable experience. Like solid bricks around a deep well, the screenplay is wonderfully layered (except for a lazy slip where a letter conveniently arrives in the pre climax). The story exposes the 'termite like' bureaucratic corruption that eats into government schemes for the poor, leaving the country backward and weak. There are great one-liners by writer Ashok Mishra that make this bitter truth somewhat more palatable. Even though the story of â€˜Well Done Abbaâ€™ is new to Hindi cinema, it is ironically one of the oldest true stories of rural India. It isnâ€™t easy to take a serious subject like water scarcity and to make a light entertaining film of it. Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who seems to have re invented himself with â€˜Welcome To Sajjanpurâ€™ manages to almost hit the bulls eye with the good intentioned â€˜Well Done Abbaâ€™. Pia Benegalâ€™s costumes are worth special mention as is the production design by Samir Chanda. The performances are excellent and Minisha Lamba excels with a sincere performance. But this film clearly belongs to Boman Irani. His portrayal of Armaan is extremely restrained and heart warming. Watch out for his impeccable body language and natural dialogue delivery.