by Trisha Gupta
The screwball comedy is a genre characterised by farcical situations, escapist themes, plot lines involving courtship and marriage, and witty repartee. The film critic Andrew Sarris once defined the screwball comedy as "a sex comedy without the sex."
Housefull 2 might be described as a screwball comedy without the wit.
Sajid Khan’s new film, like its predecessor Housefull 1, involves a series of awful gags that manage to tick off every possible kind of low-life humour. A murderous pet crocodile with an evil glint in the eye and a strangely lion-like roar? Tick. A large snake that responds to verbal jeering by attaching its mouth to an unfortunate part of the male anatomy? Tick. Gag involving chloroform applied so that all parties involved – apply-er and apply-ee – pass out in perfect unison? Of course. A hero whose mode of attracting women – the appropriate term might be ‘mating call’ – is a weird sound that comes off like a combination of a leer, a sigh and a burp? Oh, totally.
Everything I’ve listed so far is only objectionable to the extent that it’s the lowest level of slapstick, or simply kind of gross. But Housefull 2 goes much further than that. It milks every situation for the possibility of misogynistic, racist and classist humour, the more far-fetched the better. So a prospective father-in-law (Rishi Kapoor) is reassured that the absent bridegroom-to-be is much fairer – ergo, better looking – than the dark and curly-haired father (Veerendra Saxena) who is described as “African”. This only allays the father-in-law’s fears for a moment before he launches into a bizarre tirade accusing the groom’s mother of having conceived her son outside of wedlock – because, of course, no matter how milky white her own complexion might be, sons can only take after fathers, and her son is fair-skinned!
Within this unexpurgated tribute to bad taste, it is hard to sustain much interest in a plot. The makers of the film seem to realize this, so they provide only the barest bones of one. This turns on two prosperous men (Rishi and Randhir Kapoor) searching for an even richer son-in-law for their respective daughters (Asin and Jacqueline Fernandes), a search made somewhat competitive by the fact that they are estranged half-brothers, with nothing but a barbed wire fence to keep themselves (and their obligingly warring wives and daughters) from leaping at each other’s throats.
This slender premise is then used to create a narrative in which a slew of imposters, each masquerading as the sole scion of a business magnate called JD, arrive to vie for their daughters’ hands in marriage. Add to the mix a supremely camp marriage broker (played by Chunky Pandey with untoward relish), a couple of other unmemorable milky-white girls to match up with the boys, as well as the real JD ka beta (Riteish Deshmukh) and the real JD (Mithun Chakraborty).
There are lots of weak filmi jokes about names, like Chunky Pandey’s faux-Italian-accented character, also in the previous film, who’s called Aakhree Pasta – some kind of un-understandable play on the Amitabh starrer Aakhree Rasta (The Final Road) – or the fact that the daughters of the real-life Kapoor brothers are named Bobby and Henna – the eponymous heroines of two major RK Studio films.
This attention to their names is all the attention that the girls in Housefull 2 get. For while this is ostensibly a film about the marriage of daughters, it’s really the fraternal bonds between men that make the plot turn. So we have the battling Kapoor brothers at the core, with ex-college bumchums Akshay Kumar and John Abraham given second billing, and JD (Mithun) and his old friend Batuk Patel (Boman Irani) coming in at a close third. Women and their relationships with each other don’t matter – wives fight or make up with each other as soon as their husbands do, daughters (even if they do make up with each other independently) don’t have a chance of influencing family politics. It’s also worth noting that in a country where the primary financial transaction in all marriages is the dowry demanded by the groom’s side, a film like this manages to quietly elide the subject by flipping the focus onto ‘greedy’ fathers – not of sons, but of daughters!
If you’re thinking that pop-sociological analysis is absolutely the wrong way to approach a film like this, and that it deserves to be seen as “pure entertainment”, let me just say that I tried and failed to be entertained. There was, however, a 3-minute segment in there which I enjoyed thoroughly, where Riteish Deshmukh explains to his friends that the reason he quakes in his shoes before his father JD is that he used to be a dacoit: JD stands for Jagga Daku. A charmingly silly piece of sepia-toned parody, this was a flashback that entailed a moustachioed and black-turbaned Mithun surrendering to his childhood friend Boman Irani, now an upright police officer. In a cinematic universe whose idea of humour is so horribly skewed and poisonous, those few moments of harmless ridiculousness felt like welcome relief. Why can’t more of our films be funny without leaving a nasty taste in the mouth?