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Sab Kushal Mangal, Review: Well, well!

Marriages at gunpoint are something of a norm in Bihar and Jharkhand, the latter having been a part of Bihar. On the movie screen too, such marriages have provided fodder for a few ventures, very recently in Jabariya Jodi. It is a burning societal problem that joins usually unwilling grooms in married unity, with a girl they have never seen or met before. The practice prevails because parents of educated grooms-to-be demand dowry that runs into seven figures. Sab Kushal Mangal takes a serio-comic look at the issue, combining an unlikely love story with a Pygmalion plank and a Mafioso premise.

A local politician-Don of Karnalganj (Colonelville), Jharkhand, Babasahab Bhandari, is in the business of arranging forced marriages, kidnapping prospective grooms-to-be and coercing them to marry against their wish. He conducts this trade for a fee, which is, nevertheless, much lower than the dowry demands of the groom’s parents. His misdeeds are exposed by Prakash ‘Pappu’ Mishra, a TV anchor in Delhi, who conducts the programme ‘Museebat Odh Lee Maen Ne’ (I have wrapped myself in trouble; outrageously quaint appellation, that). Bhandari decides to teach Pappu a lesson he will not forget in a hurry. When Bhandari is approached by Shukla, the distressed father of Mandira, a girl who has been repeatedly unlucky in finding a match, to find a boy for forced marriage, he zeroes in on Pappu. Co-incidentally, Pappu hails from Karnalganj, and has come to his home-town for the Divali festival holiday. On the pretext of inviting him to inaugurate a factory, Pappu is lured to an abandoned structure, and kidnapped.

Pappu is held captive near the Shukla house and Mandira decides to have a look at her husband-to-be, before marriage. She pretends to be Chameli, a family member of the Shukla household, and comes with food for the captive. During two interactions, Pappu actually falls for her and is now keen on marrying her. Meanwhile, Mandira has formed a very poor opinion about Pappu, who washer senior at school, including that of a compulsive flirt, based on his own outbursts, and lets him make a getaway. But he returns, woos her and wins her over. Meanwhile, Baba Bhandari loses his heart to Mandira and asks Pappu to transform him into a ‘metro man’, in order to win Mandira’s affection, before prevailing upon the family to accept his marriage proposal.

Debutant director Karan Vishwanath Kashyap (assistant director on several major films) has co-written the story and screenplay, with actor Brijendra Kala, while dialogue is a solo contribution by Kala. Moving from situation to situation, the script lacks finesse and the narrative is crude. With a TV anchor as a lead actor, the treatment, too, is episodic. Lack of credibility is a major hurdle along the way. Baba Bhandari is one character who seems far from believable, though some of what he does is what some gangsters might do. He is never shown doing anything except enforce marriages. The entire Pygmalion-like track, of giving him a make-over, defies logic. How and why does Pappu become the grooming expert is equally illogical, with the regimen including physical training, with a host of wrestlers exercising in the open, wearing loin cloths, for effect.

Why is Pappu held so close to the Shukla household? Mandira is allowed to come and go in the captivity area as she pleases by her family, carrying food, though they are strictly against any contact between couples before marriage. Guards get high on beer, which facilitates Pappu’s escape. Pappu’s arrival at his home after the escape and the subsequent disguises adopted by his parents and him, to evade recapture by Baba Bhandari and get to the railway station, from where he is to catch a train to Delhi, is ludicrous. Why is Pappu’s TV channel not in the picture when he is illegally restrained? Why doesn’t anybody inform them? Pappu’s parents’ attempts at lodging a complaint at the police station are nothing but a bumbling, fumbling foray. Dialogue shows occasional flashes of brilliance, but with scenes cut at ill-conceived cutting points, with characters mumbling inanities or gazing vacuously, dialogue, too, flounders.

Akshaye Khanna, a producer on the film, makes Baba Bhandari partly watchable, in spite of a physique and a countenance that are incongruent with the demands of the role. With a lesser actor, Bhandari would have been a pain, but Akshaye, swagger and designer wig for effect, makes it count. Priyaank Sharma, son of yesteryear heroine Padmini Kolhapure and producer Tutu Sharma, playing Pappu, reminds us a lot of another yesteryear’s actor, Master Rajoo. Lacking a powerful screen presence, he resorts to some over-the-top emoting, with blank looks as counterpoints. Daughter of actor Ravi Kishan, buxom Riva Kishan has the most powerful role on offer, and does a fairly decent job. Even in the climax, apparently inspired by the water-tank scene in Sholay, she manages to hold her own. Riva bears an unmistakable similarity with her father. Neither Priyaank nor Riva have starry looks, but that is alright for Riva, since she plays an unfortunate victim of circumstances. Priyaank’s role could do with some glamour, since he is a TV star.

Satish Kaushik is cast as Pappu’s father, with Supriya Pathak as the mother. Their major scenes are in the taxi, when they are heading for the railway station, and at the station. Mouthing chaste Urdu dialogue, because they are disguised as Muslims, Kaushik and Pathak are mildly funny. For the rest, they are wasted. Rakesh Bedi as Shukla is up to the mark. Also in the cast are Mrunal Jain, Swati Semwal, Jaya Ojha, Sunita Shirole, Yuvika Chaudhary, Neelam, Ishtiyak Khan, Apurva Nemlekar, Nalneesh Neel and Shriya Saran (dancer in the song ‘Naya Naya Love’).     

Music by Harshit Saxena is uneven, as are the lyrics of veteran Sameer Anjan, with ‘Na duniya maangee hae’ having meaningful lyrics and some consummate singing by Bhoomi Trivedi and a somewhat laboured rendition by the composer himself. ‘Zamana badal gaya’ is too simplistic to make any pact, though the picturisation shows women singing in male make-up and grannies joining the fray. For the title track, Saxena summons Bappi Lahiri, Usha Uthup and Akshay Dhawan to join him in the vocals. Anjaan rhymes tamasha with jhansa, angle with triangle and a dozen other similar tukbandis, Akshay/Harshit getting to rap, the track going easy on the ear, hammering the title. Three other tracks, including an infectious two-version ‘Nayi valee Jab’ make the rap rich song-track add up to 24 minutes. Raju Singh’s background score is high on decibels and intrusive. Sachin K. Krishn’s cinematography leaves a lot to be desired while Prashant Singh Rathore’s editing allows the length to slip along to an unwieldy level.

Some interesting twists, like the kite flying episode and the plastered leg of Riva’s admirer, keep the first half pacey. In the second half, the accent is on the Don’s transformation routine, which, after a while, peters down to a tame affair. Except for a minor twist in the climax, there is nothing interesting to hold your attention any more: a guessing game about how the film will end. A tragic end is ruled out, given the film’s pulse and tenor. There was the germ of an idea in the script, but it needed significantly higher levels of screenplay and direction, to jell together. Presenting the phenomenon of dhar-pakad vivaah (hold-grab wedding) as a largely satirical comedy was always risky.

Meaning All is Well, the title is a misnomer and a presumptuous statement. Some things are swell, others not so well. Well, well!

Rating: **