Film: “Nautanki Saala!”; Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Kunal Roy Kapoor, Evelyn Sharma, Pooja Salvi, and Gaelyn Mendoca; Director: Rohan Sippy; Rating: *** – not an overwhelming comic outing.

If it is any consolation, Rohan Sippy’s latest presentation is far more cohesively constructed and sure of its raison d’etre than his last film “Dum Maro Dum”, which bumped off its protagonist half-an-hour before ‘The End’.

Thankfully, no one dies during “Nautanki Saala!” — not even the audience laughing. This one is just not funny enough to qualify as a LOL (Laugh Out Loud) spree. At the same time, the bum-chum camaraderie between Ayushmann Khurrana and Kunal Roy Kapoor is so pronouncedly pungent that we cannot but chuckle at the gambolling antics that take this desi French Friday special to the level of bearable humour.

Oh, didn’t I tell you? “Nautanki Saala!” is a remake of a 10-year-old French film “Apres Vous”, which I had the good fortune of seeing.

While the French film, directed by Pierre Salvadori, is far more nimble-footed in the telling of a quirky ‘One Fine Evening…’ plot, the “official” remake (unofficial ones went out of vogue with stringent copyright laws) scores for the sheer joie de vivre (don’t miss my French appreciation!) that Ayushmann brings to the table.

Kunal — as all of us who have seen that homage to horniness called “Delhi Belly” know — is an actor with notable comic acumen. Here as the spaced-out suicidal stranger, who blows into Ayushmann’s theatrical existence, Kunal confers a sense of hectic audacity to his intruder’s part.

Ayushmann bequeaths a clenched vitality to his character. Here’s an actor who knows how to milk a situation or a line and exactly where to stop before it goes over the top. As the reluctant exceedingly altruistic host to a suicidal guest, Ayushmann goes beyond his “Vicky Donor” debut to show some hefty mettle.

Unfortunately, the writing just doesn’t give Ayushmann, Kunal or the three pretty female actors a chance to breathe easy and let their characters acquire their own volition. Not that the screenplay is in a hurry to get anywhere. Rather, it takes its time to get somewhere that we don’t really reach in spite of the film team’s best intentions.

It remains a mystery why Sippy — whose earlier films, for whatever they were worth, were originals — would now want to remake a mediocre French film. This is not as inexplicable as a remake of “Himmatwala”. But then again it does make you question the scarcity of original screenplay writers in our cinema.

On the plus side, the original French film’s restaurateur’s realm is relocated into the bustling theatre world. And that is a cue for some eye-catching visuals and in-house humour.

Sippy’s eye for theatrical detail can’t match what R. Balki did to the restaurant business in “Cheeni Kum”. But then, who’s comparing?

The cinematography is a refreshing synthesis of gritty realism and flights of colourful fantasy, quite like two worlds off and on stage that Ayushmann’s character grapples to come to terms with.

All said and dumb, the comic timing of the two lead actors does keep the narrative on track most of the way. Ayushmann and Kunal dig happily into their derivative roles of the saviour and the loser from the French film. The duo whips up a wicked humour in this comedy of errors filled with a reined-in blizzard of boyish bacchanalia and banter.

While you are mildly amused by their antics, you don’t come away overwhelmed by this comic outing on the downside of spontaneous hospitality.

Oh, Sippy had desecrated the R.D. Burman classic “Dum Maro Dum” in his last film. Here he goes at the Anand-Milind track “Dhak dhak karne laga”.

Frankly, it doesn’t make a difference.


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