Khaali Peeli movie review: Ananya Panday, Ishaan Khatter film celebrates the aimless grandiose of all things Bollywood
Khaali Peeli is the closest one can come to a single-screen experience during a pandemic.
castAnanya Panday, Ishaan Khatter, Jaideep Ahlawat, Swanand Kirkire, Anup Soni, Zakir Hussain, Satish Kaushik
It is ironic that Maqbool Khan's Khaali Peeli, a film designed for the single-screen experience, is releasing on a pay-per-view or appointment viewing basis, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. From all the films that have bypassed release in cinema halls to premiere directly on digital or television platforms, Khaali Peeli certainly seems the closest to a live theatrical experience.
A lot of this popcorn appeal stems from the larger theme of Khaali Peeli, an ode to the Bollywood of the late '90s. References to Yash Chopra's 1998 musical Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Rajiv Rai's 1997 thriller Gupt (Kajol is the killer!), Rajkumar Santoshi's 2001 period action film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, and even Ramesh Sippy's 1975 classic Sholay, are peppered all over Khaali Peeli, but even the makers know that their film is not a patch on any of those.
What Khaali Peeli benefits the most from is its clarity and humility. The latter is not a quality one usually associates with Bollywood tentpoles, but the film exhibits that by showing restraint where it could have gone overboard. Only a few instances spill over into the OTT mode, with most of the film humbly sticking to the potential of its derivative script. And the few times it does transcend its inherent scope to flirt with the idea of going big, its grammar makes it amply clear that the amplification is more in awe than arrogance.
The title Khaali Peeli translates to 'aimlessly' in the Bambaiya slang. It sums up the mood of the film which behaves grand for no rhyme or reason, and slips back into its aukaat after wearing down.
At the same time, the film also plays up why it is vital to be a Hindi film hero — not to save the world, but to splash colour on an ordinary, deprived life.
Coming to the hero, Vijay aka Blackie (Ishaan Khatter) is a kaali-peeli cab driver in Mumbai, who is on the run after committing a half-murder of a fellow taxiwallah. He encounters Pooja (Ananya Panday), who is also on the run after she escapes a forced marriage to the wealthy and uncompromising Choksi Seth (Swanand Kirkire). They try to outplay each other while evading cops and goons. If there was anything more filmy and outdone than this plot, it is the backstory of the protagonist.
A kid separated from his father (Anup Soni), Vijay is taken under the wings of a local gunda Yusuf (Jaideep Ahlawat). He starts to sell movie tickets in black for a living (a practice that has perished with those days), and is thus fondly called 'Blackie.' The preoccupation and indulgence in everything Bollywood governs not only the decisions he takes later in life but also the tone and treatment of the film.
He meets Pooja outside Maratha Mandir, and they develop a bond till she is 'called dibs on' by Choksi Seth, who commissions Yusuf to 'deliver' her to him once she turns 18. Yusuf thus forces Blackey to stay away from the girl as "apne dhandhe mei zabaan hi sab kuchh hoti hai." Ten years later, Pooja and Blackie happen to be fleeing in the same kaali-peeli, though without the knowledge of each other's past. And they are being chased by Yusuf, which makes us yawn at the prospect of a mentor vs protégé fistfight from a distance.
This second-hand storyline by Saikumar Reddy and Rahul Sankrityan is compensated by the slick screenplay by Sima Agarwal and Yash Keswani. Given the wide timeline, the story unfurls in non-linear fashion. The narrative is zig-zagged into then and now, quite tightly by the writers and editor Ejaz Shalkh. The gear switches from neutral to reverse briskly without any jerks or bumps.
Durgaprasad Mahapatra's production design and Natasha Charak and Nikita Mohanty's costumes make Khaali Peeli steeped in its milieu but Adil Asfar's camera is more interested in capturing the stars who inhabit it. The city would have been a visual treat since the film is mostly shot at night and bathed in yellow light (kaali-peeli, geddit?). But the stars remain at the foreground, thanks to the mainstream leanings of the film.
The only deviations are a couple of exhilarating chase sequences orchestrated by action director Parvez Shaikh. A sequence where little Blackie takes a time-leap into the man while threading through parallel local trains at CSMT station is particularly fascinating. Another opening sequence of the kaali-peeli drivers chasing Blackie's car because he is violating the cab strike is served with exaggerated thrill, which sets the tone of the film.
The dialogues are also as brash and vibrant. Terms like "tere kanon mei hadtaal lagi hai kya" and "tabadtod talaak" are what one does not hear everyday, yet they land perfectly well. Vishal-Shekhar's music sparkles with songs like 'Tehas Nehas' and 'Shana Dil.' Despite having dream dancers like Khatter and Panday at their disposal, the film is never able to muster up the abandon that allows a mainstream Hindi film to break into a song. The conviction is compromised, and the situation seems forced.
After Beyond The Clouds and Dhadak, Khatter puts on display yet another side of his multifaceted personality. Khaali Peeli is his most 'commercial' film yet, a la Ranveer Singh in Rohit Shetty's Simmba. But rather than mimicking his idols, Khatter invents his style in conformity with a Mumbai taxi driver on a steady diet of Bollywood films for years — and makes a meal of it.
Panday's trajectory seems to be an upward graph after her first two films, Student of the Year 2 and Pati, Patni Aur Woh. Khatter is given the Hindi film hero treatment as the theme demands, but Panday's character is not given a short shrift either. Her role is not limited to playing the damsel in distress but she does not brush aside the hero to champion the saviour syndrome either. Whenever they lock horns with the antagonist(s), the confrontation is mostly in the capacity of a two-hero team, which is refreshing to watch.
Speaking of antagonists, Ahlawat looks tired as the go-to bad guy of mainstream films/shows. The flashes of his lip-smacking devilry, as showcased in films like Vishwaroopam, are far less frequent here. It is Kirkire who shows great potential as the tharki, relentless villain we need, in the shades of Rauf Lala (Rishi Kapoor) in Karan Malhotra's Agneepath. Both Satish Kaushik and Zakir Hussain are a hoot as cops in a film that celebrates Bollywood's portrayal of the police force.
The most glaring inadequacy in the otherwise sumptuous serving that Khaali Peeli is, is a strong emotional core. Efforts have been made towards that direction but those are mere baby steps in a large playing ground that asked for much more. The lack of investment in the emotional aspect makes the film a quick watch, but never a lasting experience. This shortfall once again emboldens the perception that Bollywood is all masala, no substance; which is not entirely accurate.
Khaali Peeli adds a rich, thick layer of butter to the popcorn. But as any avid film watcher would know, the greasy delight never seeps down to the bottom of the tub.
Khaali Peeli is available on Zee Plex.
All images from Twitter.
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