Cast: Boman Irani,Minissha Lamba,Sameer Dattani,Ila Arun,Ravi Kissen,Sonali Kulkarni,Rohan Kapoor,Yashpal Sharma,Ravi Jhankal,Rajit Kapoor
Director: Shyam Benegal
Two years back,Shyam Benegal revived the rural landscape in Hindi cinema with ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur. Hes back with another slice of the countryside in ‘Well Done Abba : the only way to sell the village to multiplex audience is have an English title. Part irony,part reality,pretty much the tone of Benegals films.
‘Well Done Abba scores on a couple of counts. By getting Boman Irani to play Armaan Ali,resident of Chikatpally in Andhra Pradesh,father of a teenage daughter,and above all,teller of truth. And by focusing on the emotive issue of water,or the lack of it : Alis village is drought-ridden,and water is a precious commodity,not to be shared with the thirsty.
The rickshawala who bears Aarmaan Ali ( Irani) to his home in the village is turned away by his daughter Muskaan ( Lamba),without a glass of water. That goads the good man into the pursuit of creating a water source in his backyard : a ‘bawli,or a well,that can only come into existence with the blessings of the people who govern Alithe ‘sarpanch,the municipal authorities who will hand him a ‘ below the poverty line certificate,the public works department,and so on. This being a Benegal film,all the petty little ‘babus are busy being their corrupt,inefficient selves,and theres some amusement to be had in their comeuppance.
But the downside of ‘Well Done Abba is that it is too lax,and,after a point,too stuffed. The pace picks up so slowly that you nearly tune out,and when post-interval,everything seems to be settling down nicely,Benegal starts throwing about long winded acronyms : spelling out the Right To Information Act can stop a movie dead.
Shyam babus best films have mixed gentle and sharp notes in a register which stays consistent through it all. ‘Well Done Abba has to struggle against the increasingly pedantic Benegal,flying only when Irani makes his Armaan Ali sing with perfect timing and near-perfect rendition of the Dakkhani dialect ( he has a double in the film,twin brother Rehmaan Ali,a cheerful henna-haired thief,who seems to have been added in simply for local colour). Plus a couple of crackling cameos by Ravi Kissen and Sonali Kulkarni,constantly locked in newly-wedded carnality,and a ‘burqa-clad Ila Arun,who also gets to sing in the film. But Lamba,who gets a lot of screen time,is all wrong ; she doesnt get the ‘chulbuli village girl who loves to study,fly kites,and is open to the simple charms of trained-at-a-polytechnic mechanic ( Dattani).
Watch it for a village that feels like a village,not something created on a Filmcity set,like the air-brushed trying-too-hard-for-rusticity Sajjanpur. And for Boman Iranis excellent performance.