Well done Abba - Movie Review
It's not one thing, it's actually quite a few things
Well done Abba
Dir: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Boman Irani, Minissha Lamba, Sammir Dattani, Rajit Kapoor, Ila Arun, Ravi Kissen
What it's about: It's not one thing, it's actually quite a few things. And if you have the time, patience and eager ear to listen in, these stories will resonate all around you. At least, in my case, it has. More often than not, it has been my lot to partake in the woes, triumphs, random gibberish and general small-talk of the kind folk driving me to my varied destinations.
When Well Done Abba starts, it is on a sombre note. Armaan Ali (Irani) shows up for work a good two months later than expected. His boss, a senior executive in Mumbai (and a reasonable man, by any standard) tells him he's "had it" with him, that he's sacked with immediate effect and it would be best that he left the premises.
Armaan persists and eventually gets his boss to hear him out as he drives him to Pune.
He mentions how his rascally kleptomaniac twin Rehman Ali and Rehman's wife, Salma (Arun) tricked him into coming home to his village, Chikkatpalli to get his daughter Muskaan (Lamba) married because she was getting "out of control". How he rushes home to find his bro and sis-in-law on the run and the daughter merrily flying kites, without a care.
How he needn't have worried. But that he did. And that the first thing he noticed was that water had become a luxury in the village and that people even stole water to get by. On hearing of a 'free well' government scheme, how he ditches the idea of a bank loan. How bureaucratic red-tape and rampant corruption ensures that the amount he gets, goes back into the officials' pockets.
How he realises he's been had, and is all but ready to pack his bags and head to Mumbai, Muskaan included.
How until his daughter and a well-meaning mechanic and Muskaan's love interest, Arif (Dattani) decide to get back their well that... well, never was.
What's hot: Over recent years, few have quite been able to capture local flavour as effectively and bring a subtle yet powerful social activism to the fore as effortlessly as Shyam Benegal. He has the singular talent of creating memorable characters in most of his films. It is Boman (as both twins) and Ila Arun (one wishes she had a bigger track) who seem to make the whole business of acting all so effortless that in their wake, a sincere performance (by Dattani) and a spunky, livewire one (by Lamba seem like mere footnotes.
Several scenes stand out in memory. Armaan giving the cycle-rickshaw puller some extra cash (to drink water at a good hotel after being admonished by Muskaan). The scenes where Salma shows herself to be a veritable spitfire. Where Rehman openly admits that it is Salma who instigates him to crime.
The village sarpanch Balamma getting shushed by her husband every time she tries to help out Armaan (one really begins to sympathise with Rabri Devi and other puppets).
Muskaan smiling to herself after she realises that she can't be as close to her guy, Arif as she'd like because she's still in a small village. Because despite the freedom her dad has allowed her to enjoy, there are times he draws the line. Well Done Abba's strength lies in its overwhelming, inescapable simplicity.
What's not: Quite a few things. The film's length for one. I won't bring the sluggish pace up simply because I feel it was intentional. However there were several things that could have been trimmed out. For one, there was no way Armaan would know the intimate details of the engineer's (Kissen) demands of the biwi. Enlargements, included. And moreover, we don't want to know. The wedding dance though hilarious, was unnecessary. The Bavdi Ratna awards and the opposition- ruling party fracas in the legislative assembly could also have been done without. While it ends well, you're just happy that it does. Never a good sign.
What to do: Feels like a can of sardines minus the stink (pardon the simile). Too much has been crammed in for no good reason. This one is staple Benegal fare. Slow, steady and halfway likeable. Quite unlike what you're used to.
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