Hasmukh cast: Vir Das, Ranvir Shorey, Ravi Kishan and Manoj Pahwa
Hasmukh director: Nikhil Gonsalves
Hasmukh rating: 3 stars
2020 – while everyone is trying to wrap their heads around the year that has been, for Vir Das, it’s the year he got his groove going, and how. Earlier in the year, we had his Netflix stand-up special For India, where for an entire hour Das had the audience eating out of his hand, while he himself sipped tea and dunked Parle G biscuits in it. Now he is back with Hasmukh, a quirky dark comedy, where he plays the eponymous Hasmukh Sudiya, a small-town boy who has aspirations to be a stand-up comic. Das is brilliant as ever as he navigates the back alleys of Saharanpur and the arc lights of a comic reality show in Mumbai, with aplomb.
A backstory of abuse, violence and neglect have reduced Das to a whimpering Aide-De-Camp of Gulati (Manoj Pahwa), his alleged mentor in comedy and a local small-time celebrity. For years, Das fetches alcohol and pakodas for his guru, irons his glittery clothes, and even paid money — all in the hope that one day he will get his moment. A fateful night, Pahwa is dead drunk, Das angles for a spot in the lineup, and Pahwa — looking the part in a toupee and a blue frilled shirt — let’s just say he doesn’t decline politely. It ends up with Pahwa having his throat slit and Das wearing Pahwa’s oversized glittery coat and taking the mike on stage.
“Shaant ho jaiye” he says when he is heckled on stage as he deftly catches a tomato thrown his way. Gone is the hushed whimpering tone, instead, we see a Hasmukh who is authoritative, and the jokes flow with practised ease. Later, Vir Das confides in Jimmy Bhaiya (Ranvir Shorey), former manager of Gulati and now inherited by Das, that it’s all about the ‘feel’. Feel here is the high that Das gets after murdering people, makes him a rockstar on stage and makes him an ‘artiste’.
This ‘feel’ is well-documented. This feel is intrinsic to many artistes. We have all heard tales about Kishore Kumar eating rabdi before singing and Mohd Rafi making sure that his wife was in attendance at the recording studio when he sang some particular romantic numbers. For many, these rituals are part of the ‘artistic’ process. It helps cement their creativity, while for others, it is a more methodical step-by-step approach to achieve the desired effect. But sure, killing a person to get the right feel, is well a tall order by any given standards. Hasmukh makes a pact with Jimmy Bhaiya that they will only kill ‘bad people’. This duo works in perfect tandem. They both narrow down on targets. Das goes for the kill and Jimmy bhaiya cleans up after. So far, so good. Things escalate when Hasmukh is discovered by a TV channel who want him as a wild card entry. And that’s where the show gets tricky as it meanders with too many sub-arcs and characters.
What works for Hasmukh is the unusual premise, of a stand-up comic needing to kill before going on stage. The perfect world-building, from the gaudy outfits to the printed shaadi-ke-tents, they are all on point. Vir Das’ foray into semi-urban India, a space where we haven’t seen him before, has revealed a different side of the actor, a side that is very welcome. The fact that it’s all so meta — a stand-up comic playing a stand-up comic is not lost on us. Das’ chemistry with Shorey chemistry is the cornerstone of the show, along with stellar performances by the highly talented ensemble cast. Shorey is so believable as “Jimmy The Maker”, replete with gold teeth, ripped jeans and a ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy aaja, aaja’ ringtone. Raza Murad as Jameel Indori, a powerful man in film circles, Inaamulhaq as the local UP police daroga and Ravi Kishen as the lecherous TV channel owner, they are all in fine form.
The one thing that is etched in stone is Das is a political animal. It’s intrinsic to him and his writing. In Hasmukh, where he has co-written the screenplay and dialogues, he lets his satire bit slip in. There are gags about ‘UP Police ko padhna nahi aata’, ‘langde din aane waale hain’ and and another about a confused ‘achanak raat ke saadhe aath baje aakar bhaashan deke desh ka saara paisa nikal leta hai’. Police brutality: check. Achhey din slogan: check and demonetisation: check.
There are problems with Hasmukh. The writing works sporadically, and for a show that’s set in the premise of stand-up comedy, you can’t afford to have mediocre jokes or jokes that turn into preachy rants about women empowerment. The show at times is burdened by its own fluctuating moral centre, where they oscillate with the definition of who’s good and bad. That’s the beauty of black comedy – everything is grey.
But do watch Hasmukh for Vir Das and his seamless performance. And then stream his stand-up special For India and revel in the true craft of the ‘artiste’.
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