Humshakals review: Sajid Khan has done worse, but Saif hits a new low
In comparison to the kind of humour Khan has subjected audiences to in the past, Humshakals is a (dare I say?) disappointingly inoffensive film.
by Jahan Bakshi
Forget Humshakals, let's talk about Sajid Khan’s homo-shakals first. It’s fair to say Khan is obsessed with not just gay men, but aggressive, verging-on-carnivorous men.
It makes you wonder what shadowy, queer secrets lie in Khan’s past because that's the only explanation for the staggering amount of attention he showers on queer men in film after film. It’s not enough for them to be ridiculously camp. Gay men in Sajid Khan films must also be uniformly effeminate, evil, oversexed and predatory. Humshakals is no different and given the way the gay men are depicted in the film, Khan puts the 3 in Section 377 with a glee that is disturbing.
Yet in comparison to the kind of humour Khan has subjected audiences to in the past, Humshakals is a (dare I say?) disappointingly inoffensive film. His trademark racist and overtly sexist ‘jokes’ are mostly conspicuous by their absence. Of course there is some cringe-inducing innuendo, gags involving dwarfs and exaggerated mental illness - not to mention a 'seduction sequence' which turns borderline rapey - but when the bar has been set so low in the past, this is stuff to which you become immune.
Khan keeps the plot moving with three sets of doppelgangers who do a lot of running around and scampering in and out of asylums and mansions.The humour in Humshakals is expectedly low-brow but it struggles to find moments of inspired lunacy. It doesn’t help that most jokes are underlined by a helpful background chorus.
So when one of Riteish Deshmukh's three characters substitutes atta (flour) with cocaine while making parathas (yes, anything is possible in this universe), we have a background chorus singing, “Cocaine ke parathe! Cocaine ke parathe!” That would be your cue to snort with laughter.
Perhaps the only really funny moment comes when Khan throws in a barb at his own critical and commercial debacle Himmatwala, the film is used by a Hitler-worshipping asylum warden (Satish Shah) to torture inmates in true-blue Clockwork Orange-style.
Still, the actors try their best to make Humshakals work by doing what they’re directed to, which includes turning into dogs (snarling, barking, dry-humping), waitresses (seducing, heaving, pouting) and gay men (more seducing, heaving, pouting). Ram Kapoor and Deshmukh still manage to come out unscathed, but you have to feel sorry for Saif Ali Khan who in a desperate bid for ‘mass appeal’ seems determined to dumb down his filmography. He tries a little too hard, and the strain shows.
Here’s something not many are aware of: Sajid Khan, who once famously mocked the kind of films he now makes, actually made his directorial debut not with the awful Heyy Babyy, but with a terrific short in the Ram Gopal Varma produced Darna Zaroori Hai.
It was easily the best segment in the otherwise bland portmanteau horror film, and Khan showed genuine promise and an impressive flair for black comedy. Unfortunately the Sajid Khan who made that film disappeared, never to be seen again. Who knows? Maybe a Humshakal took his place.
Jahan Bakshi is a Mumbai-based writer. He blogs about films here and his Twitter handle is @jahanbakshi.
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