Attempting to write seriously about a film belonging to a franchise that thrives on puerile, infantile humour is like trying to review a theme park ride that made you want to throw up. Only you didn’t because you’ve been on this ride before many, many times.
Housefull 3, the third installment in the hugely successful series started six years ago by repeat cinematic offender Sajid Khan, has been directed by the duo Sajid-Farhad, among the most commercially successful writers in Bollywood right now. A somewhat disturbing question enters my mind: are they the Salim-Javed of our times?
Because these guys, having written the likes of Singham, Singham Returns, Bol Bachchan, Golmaal 3, Golmaal Returns, Entertainment (which they also directed), and Chennai Express — multi-starrer comedies that play like a never-ending string of SantaBanta.com jokes — have turned blockbuster-making into an art form, just as Hindi cinema's foremost screenwriting duo did back in the '70s. Their movies have earned hundreds and hundreds of crores. We could argue all day about whether audiences actually love them, or whether is it all just a result of a combination of star power, wall-to-wall marketing, and choc-a-bloc shows at multiplexes that gets them the success they enjoy currently.
Housefull 3 is another product from their factory that ticks off all the mandatory boxes. A story about three men-children trying to land into some money by pataoing three nubile young women and hoping to inherit big time? Check. Non-disabled people acting like they’re disabled, for humour at the expense of the disabled? Women who are scantily-clad, both coy and coquettish, and, ultimately, damsels in distress? Some casual racism on the side? Yep, it’s all there.
(L-R) Lisa Haydon, Jacqueline Fernandez, and Nargis Fakhri in a still from 'Housefull 3'
Like many Hindi films, it’s set in London, making one wonder if the London Eye is now a more common sight for viewers than, say, the Gateway of India (although they both appear in this movie). Batuk Patel (Boman Irani) is a rich Gujarati businessman with three daughters named Ganga (Jacqueline Fernandez), Jamuna (Lisa Haydon), and Saraswati (Nargis Fakhri) who are oh-so-sanskaari. This obviously means that they kiiindaa aren’t, simply because at night, they slip into itsy-bitsy dresses and paint the town red in a manner that would make Cyndi Lauper proud.
Their father, for superstitious reasons, doesn’t want them to get married, and Housefull 3, at one point, nearly fools you into thinking that it’s going to be somewhat progressive: an advocate for live-in relationships and some sort of statement on the dangers of blind faith. Then, three buffoons enter the picture: Sandy (Akshay Kumar), a football player who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder and turns into ‘Sundy’ every time he hears the word ‘Indian’ (there’s more than a touch of xenophobia in the way this is depicted); Teddy (Riteish Deshmukh), a race-car driver who is apparently famous enough to get a wax statue of his own in Madame Tussaud’s; and Abhi (Abhishek Bachchan), a ‘rapper’ who thinks it’s still the ‘90s.
The usual mayhem ensues, wherein the men have to act silly and the women merely have to look hot (since acting doesn't seem to be an option). Characters have idiotic quirks, ranging from a tendency to translate literally from Hindi to English (“Naukri neechey! Mera matlab hai… calm (kaam) down!”) and indulge in repetitive, lame wordplay (although I’ll admit I guffawed at Irani saying “Insaan ko akal honi chahiye; Surat toh Gujarat mein bhi hai!” — totally gonna use that IRL the next time I'm having a discussion with someone about the pros and cons of using Tinder).
I know what you’re thinking: ”Oh, of course he hates this movie. In related news, there’s ice in Antarctica, water is wet, and Ross and Rachel were definitely on a break.” But it isn’t just about the genre. Silly comedies are a must, and, honestly, I’d rather watch Housefull 3 than heavy-handed embarrassments like Sarbjit.
There are a few moments in this film displaying what I thought was self-awareness, and therefore enjoyed. Kumar’s transformation into Sundy, although completely ripped off from sundry Jim Carrey movies, was done well enough to satisfy the side of my brain that likes stuff on Adult Swim. At one point, Fernandez’s character literally, it seemed to me, poked fun at her own acting by rhetorically asking “Am I a doctor?” after clubbing her own boyfriend/patient in the head. Oh, and Chunky Pandey returns as Aakhri Pasta, this franchise’s most enduring character, who is perhaps enjoyable to watch only out of familiarity.
If only the jokes would really hit home and punch up rather than punching down. Again, as usual, Sajid-Farhad take aim at disabled people and although they try to make up for it with a hastily inserted ‘moral’ towards the end, the film continuously pushes forth the idea that the disabled are freaks to be pitied and laughed at. An entire sub-plot revolves around a father not wanting his daughters to marry the three boys because they’re, as per his knowledge, not ‘normal’.
Perhaps the most bizarre and offensive portion is the part where three black women, who are hired help in the Patel household (slow clap for ignoring centuries of human history, you guys), threaten to file false rape charges against three obnoxious Indian men as part of a plan devised by Sandy. It’s a little complicated (and pointless) to explain why, but suffice to say that in one fell swoop, the film manages to be both racist and infuriatingly regressive.
Predictably, it all ends with an imbecilic climax that, within the Universal Spectrum of Silliness, lies between 'Scooby Doo' and 'Priyadarshan'. But then, it seems that Sajid-Farhad are content to stay in this space: it’s clearly working out for them. Meanwhile, the search for a truly good silly comedy from Bollywood continues.
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