When an actor of the calibre of Naseeruddin Shah decides to perch on the director's chair, you track the directorial debut with interest. It's an instant reaction since Naseer is one of the finest actors in the country who has been associated with qualitative projects since the past three decades.
In his very first outing, Naseer decides to narrate four parallel stories in those 2.05 hours. Of course, several storytellers have made an effort to narrate multiple stories in one film, notable among them being Mani Ratnam [YUVA], RGV [DARNA MANA HAI, DARNA ZAROORI HAI], Khalid Mohamed [SILSIILAY] and Samar Khan [KUCHH MEETHA HO JAYE].
However, YUN HOTA TO KYA HOTA WHAT IF? is the first Hindi film that makes an effort to present the 9/11 tragedy that struck America and had repercussions the world over. Although the penultimate portions of the film may appear similar to UNITED 93 [released in the U.S. in April this year], the fact remains that YUN HOTA TO KYA HOTA WHAT IF? is a genuinely different attempt as it packs in a lot in those two hours, besides the devastating tragedy.
The vital question is, does Naseer's directorial debut make a solid impact as a movie? Yes and no! YUN HOTA TO KYA HOTA WHAT IF? works because three of the four stories are interesting to watch, but the film runs out of steam towards its climax. The ending looks so abrupt that you are taken aback when the end titles start rolling.
The director has worked extremely hard on building the drama and the moment the camera zooms to September 11 and stays focused on the date for a good 30-45 seconds, you expect a nail-biting, hair-raising culmination. But the film ends in the next few minutes, making you wonder whether the director was in a hurry to end the film or was a substantial footage scissored on the editing table.
Another aspect that goes against the film is that portions of the film have been treated with a touch of realism and at times, the commercial aspect takes over. Agreed, the stories are identifiable and the characters are those that we encounter in our day-to-day life, but it's the treatment that has its limitations.
Story 1: Tilottima [Konkona Sensharma] is married to Hemant [Jimmy Shergill], who she met through the Net. Their honeymoon is cut short because he has to return to his job in the U.S. Tilottima is desperate to reach U.S., but has to face an irate mother-in-law [Carla Singh] in the process. She manages a visa and heads for L.A.
Story 2: Salim [Irrfan Khan] is the stockbroker son of a Godmother [Saroj Khan]. He's besotted by the much older but sensuous Namrata [Suhasini Mulay]. Even as he involuntarily gets involved in a killing [Boman Irani], he discovers that she has been cheating on him. Before the shattered man can gather his wits, his mother forces him to pack his bags and flee the country before he's implicated.
Story 3: Rahul [Ankur Khanna] is a brilliant but poor student who's already got admission into a prestigious university abroad. But he's hardly excited, nor appears to be too keen on going because of a lack of funds and an incapacitated father. Almost overnight, almost magically, all his problems get sorted out thanks to a friend [Ayesha Takia] and he finds himself flying out to a brighter future.
Story 4: Rajubhai [Paresh Rawal] is a small-time organizer of foreign shows. To be a part of his show will cost an aspiring dancer/singer a few cool lakhs. Old flame Tara [Ratna Pathak Shah] mortgages her house so that Rajubhai would include her only daughter [Shahana Goswami] into his show. And so the seasoned and hardened Rajubhai finds himself fathering a wide eyed, innocent girl on her first trip abroad.
Tilottima, Salim, Rahul and Rajubhai from four disparate worlds, with distinct hopes and diverse motives, encounter something drastic.
Of the four stories, the ones that stand out are the Jimmy-Konkona and Paresh-Ratna tracks. The constant bickering of the mother-in-law [Carla] and her dislike for the new bride [Konkona] is smartly depicted. The portion at the U.S. Consulate -- Konkona's interview for a Tourist Visa -- is another noteworthy twist in the tale. But the culmination to this story is unclear. Why doesn't Konkona make a phone call to her husband, clarifying that she couldn't board the ill-fated flight and that she's very much alive? Also, didn't the director feel it's important to show that the newly-married couple has reunited? That's a glaring loophole!
The Paresh-Ratna story is by far the best segment in the film. The simple story appears straight out of life and that's one of the prime reasons why it strikes a chord. With a drunkard-husband abusing her constantly, the trauma and hardship that the woman [Ratna] goes through to raise funds to run her kitchen as also send her daughter to the U.S. for a better future, is deftly depicted. The sequences involving Paresh and Ratna are the highpoint of the enterprise. Also, the sequence at the U.S. Consulate -- when Paresh and the girl break into a song to convince the Officer [Rajat Kapoor] -- is expertly enacted.
The Irrfan-Suhasini chapter is alright, in terms of writing and also execution. The twist in the tale -- when Irrfan catches Suhasini cheating on him -- holds your attention. Resultantly, Irrfan walks out on her and flies to the U.S. However, the man is still in love with the woman and makes calls to her. But how and why does Suhasini have a change of heart? Why does she suddenly beg for forgiveness when the fact remains that it was she who had closed the door on him with her actions?
The weakest link in the film is the Ankur Khanna-Ayesha Takia-Sameer Sheikh-Imaad Shah part. The story could've been interesting had the writer spelt out the true feelings of the two main characters [Ankur, Ayesha] for one another. Is Ayesha in love with Ankur? Or is she not? Is that one of the reasons why she sponsors his travel to the U.S.? And why does Sameer constantly ridicule Mumbai/India? Agreed, every city has its share of plusses and minusses, but to come down so heavily on the city leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Directorially, Naseer works best when he tackles drama. He has executed a number of sequences with flourish, not making you feel even once that the film has been helmed by a first-timer. But the rough edges do show as the script [writer: Uttam Gada] leaves a few questions unanswered. There's no scope for music [Viju Shah] in the film, yet the theme song has a haunting feel to it. Cinematography [Hemant Chaturvedi] is consistent. The D.O.P. captures the bylanes of Mumbai with as much flourish as Manhattan.
The film has an ensemble cast, but the characters you take home are in this order: Paresh Rawal [superb], Konkona Sen Sharma [brilliant], Ratna Pathak Shah [first-rate], Jimmy Shergill [efficient], Irrfan Khan [competent], Carla Singh [proficient], Sameer Sheikh [able] and Saroj Khan [a complete natural].
The remaining cast -- Ayesha Takia, Boman Irani, Rajat Kapoor, Ankur Khanna, Karan Khanna, Shahana Goswami, Imaad Shah, Ravi Baswani, Suhasini Mulay and Tinnu Anand -- are passable. Makrand Deshpande and Ranveer Shorey feature in inconsequential roles.
On the whole, YUN HOTA TO KYA HOTA WHAT IF? is a well-intentioned film, but the sudden ending and the missing links in the script make things go awry. At the box-office, the film caters to the multiplex crowd only, but even this segment wouldn't feel completely satiated.