Queen helmer Vikas Bahl’s latest offering, Shaandaar, boasts of a unique sequence that may be the key to understanding what this film is all about.
In this, members of two impossibly rich business families, the Fundwanis and the Aroras, in the midst of wedding madness, mistakenly pop mushrooms (purportedly of the 'magic' kind) and brownies that seem to be laced with marijuana. A helpful animated sequence arrives to show us the effect this is having on their bodies.
Following this, the characters start tripping out like wild twenty-somethings on a ‘quiet weekend trip to Kamshet’, as Bahl continues using animation and VFX to tell us what they’re all going through. Once the nasha has worn off, they sit in a lavish English mansion and watch a video of the whole thing on a big screen, clapping and laughing at their own antics.
This sequence almost plays like a behind-the-scenes video from Shaandaar, a fairytale rom-com that seems like it was written, shot, and directed in a similarly drug-induced haze. This may seem like a great idea on paper but it’s important to note that chances are the audience watching it is probably going to be sober. In which case, all they’ll see is a bizarre spin on Hum Aapke Hain Koun...! that worships too long and too sincerely at the altar of self-referential quirkiness.
The large cast includes three real-life members of the same family — Shahid Kapoor, dad Pankaj Kapoor, and sister Sanah Kapoor, who makes her debut here — as well as Alia Bhatt. There’s also veteran actress Sushma Seth, subverting her own Dadiji act from beloved TV shows like Hum Log and Dekh Bhai Dekh to play the evil, business-minded matriarch of the Arora family. Oh, and somewhere in the mix is an over-the-top Sanjay Kapoor, playing the blinged-out Harry Fundwani, forever toting a pistol made of pure gold. Sindhis are loud, eh? You don’t say.
With the destination wedding, which is between the plump Isha (Sanah, who is credibly sincere) and the eight-and-a-half-pack-abbed dolt Robin (Harry’s ‘bro’), serving as a backdrop, we are privy to a brewing romance between Jagjinder Joginder (Shahid Kapoor) and Alia Arora (Bhatt). The two of them are insomniacs. Jagjinder counters this by riding his Triumph around the English countryside (where the wedding is taking place); Alia, stuck in Genius Of The Year mode, reads all night and prances about all day. Dark circles are not a real thing in this movie, of course.
A lot happens in the film, which I won’t reveal, but none of these events really flow very well even though we’ve been told they’re all part of a wedding. The proceedings are often disjointed and having nothing to say aside from ‘Look, we spent money!’ (the biggest offender is a random sky-diving sequence which is just another excuse to have a scene that allows the Kapoor father-and-son duo to indulge in some tedious verbal sparring).
The biggest let-down is the loosely-written script, credited to Bahl and Chaitally Parmar with dialogues written by Anvita Dutt Guptan. Despite having worked on last year’s breezy and winsome Queen, the trio’s work here is shockingly trite. For instance, too much screen-time (by which I mean ‘more than zero seconds’) is spent on an inane joke on the number 36. There are a few genuine chuckles here and there (such as one involving a wedding ‘pandit’ making a confession), but only after you really disengage from the silliness being depicted on screen.
Bahl throws everything he can at the screen to give the audience some sense of ‘paisa-vasool’: animated flashback sequences (which are, at best, not terribly executed), self-aware cleverness, over-choreographed and over-stylised dance numbers, and even a feminist qawwali to win over his Queen fans. But with a script as scattered as this, there’s not much that can be done.
Still, weirdly enough, Shaandaar isn’t entirely unbearable — at least it saves itself from descending to Welcome Back-level garbage status courtesy a few performances. Alia is as watchable as ever, for instance — so what if the role literally only asks her to be herself? Shahid is affable enough to pass muster while his father valiantly fights the good fight even though his bewildered expression often seems to say ‘What have I gone and done this time?’
Don’t be too hard on yourself, Mr Kapoor. That’s the question Bahl and his writers should be asking themselves, not you.