A coaching camp at Lords; a cricket-crazy little boy who’d give anything to go; a father who’d do anything to send him but doesn’t have the money; a grouchy grandfather who thinks his son is filling the child’s head with useless fantasies. Add to the mix a wedding planner called Babboo Didi, a goonda-politician, his stupid son and a Ferrari that must find its way to the stupid son’s wedding—and you have the ingredients of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s new production.
The makers of the Munnabhai films have managed to produce another crowd-pleasing moral tale, cleverly wrapped in a cloak that’s all sweetness and light. At the centre of Ferrari ki Sawaari‘s charmed (and most of the time, charming) universe is Rusy Deboo, the sort of good guy who when faced with a particularly bad traffic jam, doesn’t honk or lose his temper or even try to take another route out—he gets off his little scooter and helps clear the road himself. When Rusy distractedly cuts through a red light while listening to his 12-year-old son Kayo’s excited account of a cricket match, he drives to the traffic cops to pay the fine. “But why have you come here when no one saw you?” asks the bemused hawaldar. “Someone did see me,” says Rusy. “My son.” As he explains it to the almost irritated havaldar, “Jo dekhega, vahi seekhega na (What he sees is what he’ll learn, no) ?” there is a quiet belief that shines through his gentle, bespectacled eyes, an inherent sense of right and wrong which derives its strength from the purest, simplest desire in the world—to be an example to his son.
But being an honest government official fairly low down in the administrative hierarchy—head clerk, Worli RTO—doesn’t really let Rusy do everything he’d like for his little boy. He can just about manage to replace Kayo’s broken bat in time for a crucial match, but money is still very much an object—and the lack of it an insurmountable obstacle to Kayo’s dreams.
Rajkumar Hirani’s story—turned into a screenplay by the producer-director team of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Rajesh Mapuskar—tugs unerringly at middle class parental heartstrings. In the shiny new world of post-liberalisation India, where new temptations glitter at every turn, desire can be a constant, unavoidable companion. Spun as a positive thing that pushes you to do better, this is what gets called aspiration—but the desire to fulfil your child’s every wish can also lead you down a thorny path. Ferrari ki Sawaari takes this double bind as the basis of a warm, fuzzy, feel-good film that is also an affecting take on corruption, honesty and hope.
The central characters may seem formulaic, black and white—Rusy is too nice and almost unbelievably honest (“Raja Harishchandra,” as the cop laughingly calls him), his son Kayo is super-talented and super-adorable, his father Behram’s bad-tempered negativity is unredeemed (until it turns around completely and becomes its opposite)—but this is just not the sort of film where you should go looking for complicated shades of grey. It’s the sort of film in which goodness is tested by a big bad world, and even the baddies, mostly, turn out to have a heart.
And yet this film contains, for my money, one of the most powerfully real bad guys I’ve seen recently— a man whose brand of evil is more recognizable to most of us than the stylish gangsters and murderous thugs who usually make up the gallery of Hindi cinema villains. The superb Paresh Rawal brings his dependable acuity to playing the despicable Dilip Dharmadhikari: and this baddie is profoundly heartless. A man who could cheat his closest friend out of his best chance at fame and fortune, FKS makes it very clear, is always going to be the sort of man who gets an ‘urgent phone call’ when someone unimportant needs his help.
Meanwhile, the embodiments of goodness—Sharman Joshi and Ritvik Sahore—play father and son with such heartwarming ease that it’s hard to be truly annoyed by their saccharine-sweet relationship. And Boman Irani channels every ounce of his inner Parsi into the grizzly, gone-to-seed Behram, perfectly embodying the cynicism of a man who’s spent most of his life working up an impotent anger. Irani also gets to deliver, in the half-muttered tones of a crabby old man, the film’s most cracklingly sharp lines: from “Yeh cricketer log nahi hai, yeh salesman log hai, tel-sabun bechte rehte hain (These guys aren’t cricketers, they’re salesmen—go around selling oil and soap)” to “Jab safed log ke desh mein recession hota hai toh aisa scheme nikalta hai, camp-vamp ka (When white people have a recession in their countries, they come up with these schemes: camps and suchlike.)”
These are deeply affecting performances, but admirably, they retain enough lightness to keep the film from descending into full-on maudlin melodrama. Some of the other actors do a good job, too: Deepak Shirke and Aakash Dabhade are likeable as the buffoonish duo who’ve managed to lose their boss’s Ferrari , and Seema Bhargava is marvelous as the rough-tongued but warm-hearted Babboo Didi.
The film is not flawless. The Parsi-ness is kept light enough—while serving as an easy way to create a character who can be believably lower middle class and comfortably English-speaking and invested in education. But the section involving the Ferrari is overlong, and made more annoying by the drawn-out, caricaturish depiction of the Marathi politician’s family. The songs are pointless and detract from the already slow pace of the latter half: Vidya Balan’s “Surmai si chaal, chikni paamplet se gaal” cannot make her laavani item number feel less foisted-on, and the flying Ferrari song has a Cartoon Network-cum-cheesy-fantasy air that really isn’t in synch with the film.
But this film has a lovely way of connecting the generational and historical dots—I absolutely loved the black and white stills that flash back to Boman Irani’s youth, and the silent splendour of a Christmas-lit Bombay gali in which a grizzly grandfather bowls to his bright-eyed and bushy tailed grandson is enough to charm even those of us who aren’t that taken with cricket.