A film critic turning into a film director is a mouthwatering prospect. Karan Anshuman does the courageous act with Bangistan and you expect the nitty gritties of the film to be tightened. After all, those who throw stones at others should know how to save themselves if those stones are tossed back at them!
Interestingly, Karan Anshuman’s directorial debut Bangistan manages to convince us about its well-intentioned core message but fails to keep all its eggs in one basket. The film, although quirky and innovative at places, is bogged down by a wayward screenplay that clearly lacks one essential element that makes satires work – humor. More on this later.
The film is set in the fictional nation of ‘Bangistan’, where Muslims hold sway in the North while the Hindus have South as their stronghold. A small little animation in the beginning shows us the exact location of Bangistan on the world map and the irony of Bangistan’s location being akin to that of India and Pakistan is not lost on us. There are also a few delightful pun-ny references to Star*ucks, FcDonald’s, extremist Mullahs proclaiming their love for diet coke and Hindu and Muslim religious leaders informally referring to the Pope as ‘Popchi’.
Praveen Chaturvedi (Pulkit Samrat), obviously a Hindu from ‘South Bangistan’ (yes, some of the interpretations and references in the film are way too simplistic) is an aspiring actor who is duped by a local Hindu extremist outfit ‘Maa Ka Dal’ and its head Guru ji (Kumud Mishra) into a suicide mission. On the other side of the spectrum is Hafiz Bin Ali (Riteish Deshmukh) aka Harold of the BPO world, who opts for a similar mission after being coerced by the chief of a wannabe Jihadi outfit ‘Al-Kaam Tamaam’. Interestingly, the chief of Al-Kaam Tamaam is again played by Kumud Mishra and you can’t help but appreciate the subtle messaging behind it. Yes, all the extremists, whether Hindu or Muslim, are basically two sides of the same coin! Good job on that part, Mr. Anshuman.
The action then shifts to Poland where the two bombers arrive to bomb (well, obviously!) a religions’ conference where leaders of their faith are about to give message of peace and harmony. In a film that has a liner and simplistic style of storytelling, you are impressed by the context setting and how the director drives home some sarcastic and satirical points. But while the first half is breezy and crisp, true to the film’s satirical core, the second half meanders a little into the preachy mode. Some sequences on religious tolerance and Hindu-Muslim bonhomie are so preachy and predictable that you feel like yawning. The reason behind why the two suicide bombers decide to ‘become each other’ is also never clear and it comes across more as a ploy to push through the discourse on religious harmony.
Bangistan scores well in the departments of satire and sarcasm. Sample this, a night club in Poland where the two wannabe terrorists hang out is called ‘Bull and Boar’ – a subtle reference to the widely held religious beliefs about these two animals in Hinduism and Islam respectively. Also, the director pays some smart odes to great films and filmmakers of the past through its support cast. For instance, Tamim Hussain (Chandan Roy Sanyal), a Bangladeshi taxi driver in Poland, addresses himself in the third person as ‘Citizen Hussain’. All of this satire and subtle humor is present throughout the film but strangely the laughs are missing!
If Tere Bin Laden and Filmistaan are still remembered and widely regarded as two of the finest satirical films on terror, it is because these two films made us laugh effortlessly. Bangistan does not do that. Most of the jokes or one-liners fall flat, you smile and giggle at times, but never really laugh out loud. Reasons? One, the dialogues could have definitely been funnier. It seems the writers
invested way too much in setting up satirical situations and references but fell short just a bit when it came to infusing humor in the dialogues. Interestingly, some of the film’s songs are very well-written (lyricist Puneet Krishna is also credited as one of the screenplay writers). Special mention for the well-meaning and brilliant lyrics of ‘Hogi Kraanti Chaaro Or’ and ‘Is Duniya Se Ladna Hai’.
Another reason why Bangistan fails to evoke laughter could be its mediocre casting. Pulkit Samrat overacts sometimes and tries to imitate Salman Khan on occasions. One should definitely not write him off as an actor yet but he certainly can work on improving his comic timing. Kumud Mishra who has the tempting job of playing both the Hindu and Muslim extremist is strictly average and is more stereotypical than natural. Ditto for Chandan Roy Sanyal, who looks slightly disinterested, perhaps put off by the tiny size of his role. Prateek Babbar, who plays one of the jihadis, looks and acts like a buffoon, and makes you laugh unintentionally. Yes, Bangistan should have opted for a better support cast.
But, one actor who holds his ground and in fact comes up with a matured and layered performance is Riteish Deshmukh. You can’t help but get impressed by his natural flair for comedy and the newfound penchant for versatility. He is gawky, sweet, enraged and funny as per the demand of the situations and carries the burden of Bangistan like Hercules. Jacqueline Fernandez appears in a cameo and has nothing much to do apart from gyrating on a wannabe club song.
All said and done, Bangistan is a well-intentioned film with a noble message that is dragged down by lack of humor, a below par support cast and a climax so Bollywood-ish that you cringe in your seat. Watch it if you can digest satire when humor is not served as a side dish or if you are ready to avail discount on entertainment for the sake of the ultimate message.
Rating: *** (Good)