Dharam Sankat Mein review: Paresh Rawal is brilliant and Naseeruddin rocks as MSG-like baba

Mihir Fadnavis

Apr 13, 2015 07:13:30 IST

Dharam Sankat Mein is a nice surprise at the onset. Paresh Rawal’s Gujju character Dharam saunters along with his family to a session with a famous spiritual guru, Neel Anand Baba. He’s not entirely convinced of the Baba’s chamatkaar. Everything associated with the Baba is directly a throwback to his name – the attire is blue, the stage is blue, the hats that the devotees wear are also blue. Before taking his seat, Dharam stumbles on a pole and utters a prayer as a knee jerk reaction, following which people around him begin offering prayers to the pole.

Baba turns out to be a cartoonish over the top MSG-type rockstar who makes his grand entry on a motorcycle, as the devotees clap and cheer in awe and fireworks crackle in the backdrop. As a bonus, the Baba is played by Naseeruddin Shah, whose glorious, deliberate hamming is only matched by his caricaturish hairpiece and costume. Every word Shah's Baba utters is gospel to his crazed followers. It’s funny stuff, and a gentle damning of misguided faith and religious fanaticism that is so prevalent in the country.

Dharam Sankat Mein review: Paresh Rawal is brilliant and Naseeruddin rocks as MSG-like baba

Paresh Rawal. AFP

Directed by Fuwad Khan and a remake of the 2010 British film The Infidel, Dharam Sankat Mein is a low key version of PK and a slightly high-concept companion piece to 2012’s OMG. The Hindu Dharam's life goes topsy turvy when he discovers that he is an adopted child and that he was born to a Muslim family. With the help of his Muslim lawyer and neighbour  Nawab (Anu Kapoor), Dharam tracks down his biological father, but before the two can meet, an imam insists Dharam learn a few Islamic customs. Hilarity ensues as Dharam puts on a kufi and tries to educate himself in the ways of Allah. It doesn’t help that on the other side, his Neel Anand Baba bhakt family is forcing him to join the cult.

As film buffs know well, one of the hardest thing to do in India cinema is to make any sort of religious joke in films. Dharam Sankat Mein had quite an uphill task of balancing comedy and the religious sentiments of its audience. It succeeds fairly well – the jokes are in good taste and the film presents the hypocrisy in blind belief, rather than faith per se. Both Hindu and Muslim customs, two polar opposite sides of the spectrum, are made fun of with equally measured, over-careful restraint. Gujarat’s ban on alcohol gets a subtle dig.

PK managed to steer clear from controversy because of its star power, but Dharam Sankat Mein, being a little film, becomes a bigger victim of the censors. The cuts it's had to suffer are brutal – a kufi is digitally blurred throughout the film. Whole scenes have had to be chopped off, making transitions between the scenes awkward and nonsensical.

The censorship takes away the satirical bite of the film, rendering a remainder that is passably fun and intermittently hit or miss.

What works is the lead pair of actors. Shah is hilarious and Rawal’s performance manages to score both laughs and sympathy. What doesn’t work is the imagery. For some reason the film is dimly lit, with uninteresting production design, which is strange considering director Khan was a DOP before. The songs are terrible, but fortunately there are just two of them, if you exclude the ridiculous end credits music video featuring Sophie Chaudhury. There is also a grating, out of place and unnecessary melodramatic jaunt in the third act with a drunk Dharam.

Still, there are enough goodies in the film to negate the negatives. Even if the film doesn’t find its audience in the theater, like OMG, Dharam Sankat Mein should develop a cult following on the telly.

That is, of course, if the censor board doesn’t break into your house, place a black curtain on your TV screen and force you to do pradakshina around the nearest temple.

Updated Date: Apr 13, 2015 07:14:53 IST