Lai Bhaari review: Riteish delivers a winner with some help from Salman Khan
Lai Bhaari is a textbook example of a mass entertainer.
by Rohit Kulkarni
This is going to be a rather tricky review to write without spoilers, but since Marathi paaul padte pudhe (literally: “the Marathi step always falls ahead”) now that I've started, I will finish!
Over the past few years, Marathi cinema has been churning out some good, meaningful films. In fact director Nishikant Kamat made his debut with one such film — Dombivli Fast — and it won him much critical acclaim. This he followed up with a remake of the same film in Tamil (yes, for once, it was not the other way round) and then another meaningful-ish Hindi film. It was only after this that Kamat’s career careened into the commercial dud that was Force.
At that point, proud Maharashtrians from Sangli to San Jose nodded at each other with ponderous pride, while discussing how Kamat's failure at the box office was in fact proof of his being a serious filmmaker. Now with Lai Bhaari, Kamat has given us something to be really proud of: a true blue (or should that be “sure saffron”?) swashbuckler on celluloid.
Lai Bhaari is a textbook example of a mass entertainer. Not since the epic Maherchi Saadi, a film that held the highest Marathi grosser title for 17 odd years, has a film tugged at the strings of every single emotion known to the Marathi soul. It uses all the tropes that are the cinematic equivalent of the Western Ghats: in that they’ve been around forever.
Honest, upright, socially committed, rich daampatya (couple) with God-respecting saheb and God-fearing better half: check.
Purely evil, villainous faction of same family: check.
Loyal and loving domestic help (also a couple) who are treated like family: check.
Cute ‘servant’ kid with cuter dialogues: check.
A socially progressive, politically correct protagonist: check.
A totally amazing badass hero: check.
And yes, a double role: super duper check.
Add to this potent mixture a god, Vitthal Himself, and you have a formula film like no other.
Plus, there are actually a few totally unexpected twists, red herrring and fun guest appearances. Salman Khan pops up at one point, which is why he's been tweeting about the film.
Check out aamchi Genelia vahini in a cameo that would make Karan Johar proud. Kamat has also peppered Lai Bhaari with cool references and jokes that Marathi film enthusiasts will lap up.
Here’s the plot of Lai Bhaari, briefly. The Nimbalkars are rich, landed gentry whose only want, in an otherwise life of plenty, is an offspring. Then, acting upon the suggestion of well-meaning domestic help, Mrs Nimbalkar undertakes the long walk to Pandharpur that is the annual pilgrimage undertaken by the varkari, a Vaishnav sect that worships an avatar of Vishnu known as Vithoba or Vitthal.
In Pandharpur, Mrs Nimbalkar promises the god Vitthal her first born. Once she’s back home, she promptly becomes pregnant, naturally. But when Saheb learns of her impulsive promise, he leaves for London in a huff. Convenient. Even more conveniently, all is forgiven and forgotten when Mrs Nimbalkar gives birth to a bonny boy. By all, I mean not just Mr Nimbalkar’s temper tantrum since he returns home to play happy family with his wife and newborn son, but also the promise to hand over the baby.
Prince baba (they christen him Abhay but since they seem to rule the land, he’s called Prince. Seriously) grows up, gets a foreign education and returns home to much celebration. He's all set to join his father in uplifting the poor and helping the Nimbalkar Group of mostly agricultural companies reach new heights. However, his evil uncle and cousin have other plans. All of which involve bumping off farmers, grabbing their land and, of course, getting rid of the good side of the family. Prince and his father are killed, and his mother, the poor Mrs Nimbalkar, is thrown out of her own house.
You might think that this is the point at which the film is wagging its finger and telling you, “See, this is why you shouldn’t break promises, particularly those you make to a god.” But never fear, the formula is near.
Unknown to the now-deceased saheb, when he had exiled himself to London, the good Mrs Nimbalkar did in fact keep her promise. Her first born was given to Vitthal. How, you ask? Because she had had twins! So now, widowed, homeless and penniless, Mrs Nimbalkar returns to Pandharpur to demand her child back from Vitthal.
Enter the dragon, aka Mauli, aka Riteish Deshmukh II.
Mauli is the darling of Pandharpur village, with a penchant for beating up baddies with bricks – an obvious reference to Vitthal whose trademarked pose has him standing on bricks*. This is handy, since Mrs Nimbalkar has a score to settle with her surviving in-laws. She returns with Mauli, who takes up his mother’s cause and is all set to teach the evil cousin and uncle a lesson, thus giving a whole new meaning to the terms ‘brickbats’. Whoever coined the term “eent ka jawaab patthar se” did not know the versatile possibilities of bricks, as shown in this film.
Lai Bhaari confirms certain Maharashtrian traits that we of the community have long observed. For example: when really upset or righteously angry, we will break into English to express the churning emotion within our Maharashtrian hearts. But we don’t do full sentences in English. All we need is a single word, like “nonsense”, spat out with suitable rage or outrage. In this movie, that special English word is “ridiculous”. The correct Maharashtrian usage of the word can be learnt when all saheb has to say before he bounces off to London (leaving behind a heavily pregnant wife) is, yes, you guessed it, “Ridiculous!”
Also, Maharashtrians across the board have some pet progressive ideas that they hold on to and promote lovingly, whether or not they act upon them. So drinking alcohol is just not okay – as shown in the exchanges between Sakhya (the servant buddy) and both the Riteish-es. First Riteish No.1 urges Sakhya to give up drinking. Then Sakhya does the same to Riteish No.2 because what good is good advice if it isn’t shared?
Also, it takes not just parents, but a village to bring up a child, which is a rather progressive stand on the nature versus nurture debate. Mauli narrates to the mother who abandoned him how he’s been brought up by all of Pandharpur. And look how well he turned out, bricks and all. Then there’s the belief in the saying “mulgi shikli pragati zhali” (“when a girl is educated, progress happens”). This phrase is brought to life by Prince baba telling the cute ‘servant’ girl-child how he’ll build a school for her and her friends to study better.
Lai Bhaari is an out-and-out masala film, but its magic lies not only in the fun to be had from familiar and formulaic masala but also in the cleverness of its makers. It pushes all the buttons very determinedly, with Vitthal and Pandharpur as integral parts of the plot.
The release date was calculated to be just when the varkari would complete their annual pilgrimage and reach Pandharpur. Not just the godly town, but the god himself is exalted through the film with Deshmukh’s Mauli striking Vitthal’s classic pose — arms akimbo, hands on hip — and his weapon of choice (bricks).
It’s evident that Deshmukh has had a blast through the film. His every entry in the film is a hero’s entry, designed to evince applause and hoots of approval. He even arrives in a red Ferrari (or maybe it was a Lamborghini) in a song and cavorts with actual, real, Caucasian women! Yeah baby! Europaat Germany tasach Maharashtraat Latur aani Parbhani! (Get a Marathi manoos to decipher that one for you.)
There will be howls of righteous protests from certain Maharashtrian quarters about the ‘dumb-ification’ or worse still, ‘Bollywood-isation’ of Marathi cinema. Admittedly, the film is no Fandry or Natrang or even a Deool, but then, it doesn’t claim to be of that genre.
It's fun, well made and most importantly manages to keep you suitably engaged right till the obvious happy ending. In a world of Bollywood humshakals, that’s enough.
*The story behind this, in short, is this: One day, Vithoba visited one of his faithfuls, Pundalik, who was busy attending to his parents, so he set out a couple of bricks and asked Vitthal to make himself comfortable since a good son must make parents his first priority. Instead of getting angry at Pundalik for being a bad host, Vitthal stood on the bricks suitably impressed with Pundalik’s dedication to his parents.
Rohit Kulkarni is a proud Maharashtrian who, with the blessings of Vithoba, has survived watching many films in Marathi as well as Hindi. He is also one of the founders of Curators of Clay.
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