36 Farmhouse movie review: Zero-energy, zero-thought thriller produced by the director who once made Karz
36 Farmhouse, written and produced by Subhash Ghai, is cringeworthy, yet not so much as to fall into a so-bad-it-is-entertaining slot.
castSanjay Mishra, Amol Parashar, Vijay Raaz, Barkha Singh, Madhuri Bhatia, Ashwini Kalsekar, Flora Saini, Rahul Singh
directorRam Ramesh Sharma
(Note: Our software does not permit us to show 0 or less than 0 in the rating graphic above. Please note that the actual rating given to this film by our critic is 0 stars.)
Subhash Ghai was synonymous with blockbusters in the 1980s and ’90s. His brand of Hindi cinema was not my cup of tea, but there were exceptions: the Hollywood-inspired reincarnation drama, Karz (1980), was the real deal, and Anil Kapoor was a dear in the much later Black & White (2008) that, sadly, went unnoticed. Barring Iqbal directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (2005) and Rituparno Ghosh’s Noukadubi (Bengali, 2011), both of which Ghai produced, and both of which were stellar, his output as director and producer has ranged from ordinary to shoddy since 2000.
There’s bad, and there is embarrassingly bad. 36 Farmhouse, co-produced by Zee Studios and Ghai’s Mukta Arts, falls into the second category.
Directed by Ram Ramesh Sharma, with story, lyrics and music credited to Ghai, this film is meant to be a thriller. Actor Sanjay Mishra’s exaggerated mannerisms from his very first scene indicate that it is also meant to be a comedy. It fails to deliver in both genres.
The plot is set in the early days of India’s first COVID-related lockdown in 2020. This is around the time that migrant workers were walking hundreds of kilometers back to their villages. Among those on the road in 36 Farmhouse is Mishra’s character Jai Prakash. Not with him, but also in the same situation is his son Harry (Amol Parashar).
Hindi cinema has struggled to incorporate the pandemic into its stories and storytelling formats. If on seeing visuals of workers on foot, you assume that this film will do justice to the gross injustice the country’s poor suffered at the time, extinguish that hope right away. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – thoughtful about 36 Farmhouse.
On a parallel track, a crime occurs on the property of a wealthy old woman, Padmini Raj Singh (Madhuri Bhatia), who lives in a mansion from which the film takes its title. Her son Raunak (Vijay Raaz) shares her home with her. As in most affluent families, here too the Singh siblings are fighting over their mother’s money.
By an accident of fate, both Jai and Harry end up at 36 Farmhouse and add an extra ring to the web of deception being spun in that household.
It is hard to understand why Zee joined this project or even why, after it was finished, this large media group decided to go ahead and platform it.
36 Farmhouse is cringeworthy, yet not so much as to fall into a so-bad-it-is-entertaining slot.
The energy level in the narrative is zero from the word go.
The sense of humour is zero. Early in the film, Raunak says something that sounds like “g*and masti”, a crude play on the title of the crude Grand Masti comedy series of the last decade. In the rest of the film, attempts at humour are not even insensitive and loud, they are non-existent.
The closest that 36 Farmhouse comes to being in the vicinity of funny is with Mishra’s now-done-to-death style of comedic acting, which might still work in a better written and directed project but here looks tired and tiresome. That’s a kind assessment keeping in mind that the remaining characters, actors, lines and situations are not within touching distance of comical.
The politics in this family and the police investigation into the crime depicted in the early minutes of 36 Farmhouse have zero entertainment value.
Zero logic could be acceptable if slapstick humour is on offer, but since 36 Farmhouse is not humorous even at that level, the lack of logic is a yawn. This is a film in which random untrained strangers off the street are casually employed by a posh family steeped in politicking who make not even a teeny effort to verify their credentials.
None of this is quite as bizarre as an obvious effort by 36 Farmhouse to address class issues that unwittingly reveals just how classist, casteist and feudal is the mindset at play here. Raunak’s niece Antra (Barkha Singh) is portrayed as the only good soul among Padmini’s clan. In a scene that is clearly meant to convey her niceness, she insists that Harry should sit with the family at their dining table instead of being dismissed to the staff quarters at mealtime, mind you, not because she wishes to dissolve social divides in their home, but because “Harry naukar nahin…artist hai voh (Harry is not a servant, he is an artist).” Okay then.
Wait … there is worse to come.
Harry insists on sitting at Padmini’s feet in her room, when she asks him to take a chair. As a preface to advice he wishes to give her, he proceeds to throw light on his reverence for her by equating himself with a shoe: he explains how the sight of her reminded him of stories of royalty that he had heard as a child, says his haisiyat (status, worth) is not more than the shoes on the queen’s feet, says that even a shoe feels proud when its owner walks in it, but when the shoe becomes aware that the owner is troubled, it too becomes nervous.
Someone thought it was actually okay to put this deeply casteist metaphor into a film. In the 21st century. Despite decades of public discussion on caste oppression.
Well, someone read this script and thought it was worth being made into a film. What more is there to say?
36 Farmhouse is streaming on ZEE5.
Anna M.M. Vetticad is an award-winning journalist and author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic. She specialises in the intersection of cinema with feminist and other socio-political concerns. Twitter: @annavetticad, Instagram: @annammvetticad, Facebook: AnnaMMVetticadOfficial
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