I am actually traveling this week, but I took a chance and checked the showtimes, and Housefull 3 was playing at a mall 200 feet from my hotel! It was fate! I had to see it!
Somewhere, I think in my box office report on it, I mentioned how frustrating it is that reviewers always say the same thing about Sajid Khan-type movies. They’re stupid, they’re shallow; they’re unrealistic, blah blah blah. And yes, that is true of all of them. But some of them are also slow and bland and look like no one onscreen is having a good time. And some of them are fun and bouncy and light. And the reviewers need to do a better job of steering us towards the stupid-but-fun ones and away from the stupid-but-no-fun ones!
So, I am going to try to be a good reviewer and judge this film on it’s merits as the kind of film it is, not as the kind of film it could be in some pie in the sky fantasy. And it’s fun! And funny and fluffy and all sorts of good things. Yes, the plot is terrible. Yes, the characters are flat. Yes, the social message is a little non-existent-to-bad, but it made me laugh!
Really, what made it work is that it knew exactly the kind of movie it was and it leaned into that. There is one moment when all 3 of our heroines are looking at our heroes, all blissed out and sappy in love, and one of them asks “why do we love these 3 losers?” and another one says “I don’t know, we just do!” In a worse comedy, it would be played straight, but it went just a tinge over the line in this one, until it felt more like 4th wall breaking, like they were coming awfully close to saying “it makes no sense for these 3 gorgeous women to love the heroes, but the script tells them to, so they do!”
There were plenty of even more obvious 4th wall breaks, and they were some of the best parts of the movie. At one point, there is a spot on imitation of Agneepath, and some of the other more overwrought 90s crime movies, which is introduced by a chyron saying “Bombay….90’s”. Like, “we aren’t even going to pretend this is a particular year, it’s just that general genre of film.” At another point, Abhishek is asking something about why he is being so abused or something, and Nargis tells him “it’s because you entered last! Ritiesh and Akshay were already here two other times.” And, of course, my absolute favorite, Abhishek’s rapper character’s theme song, “abhi abhi shake, abhi shake abhi shake, abhi abhi shake abhi shake abhi shake” (now now shake, now shake now shake, now now shake now shake now shake. But say it out loud in the original Hinglish, and what does it sound like?) Oh! And there is a great joke at the end about Abhishek and Aish!
(this Agneepath, not the other one)
Really, everything Abhishek is just golden. He continues to be an amazing and natural comic. Way better at that than as an action hero or “serious actor” or romantic lead. At least, usually. I mean, I love him in Sarkar and Guru and Kuch Naa Kaho, but other times it can feel like he is slacking a little in those kinds of roles. But he always brings it 110% to the comic performances, and it feels like he has fun with them too!
In this film, he was definitely the best part. I mean, Akshay and Ritiesh can bring it too, Akshay with his physical comedy and Ritiesh with his soft edge and mush mouth abilities, but Abhishek was just so fresh and energetic and happy to be there. I’m glad they brought him in to freshen up the film. Oh, which reminds me! Ages ago, like well over a year ago, I saw a thing that implied that Abhishek was brought in for this film because, with 3 heroines who aren’t fluent in Hindi, they couldn’t have John Abraham in the film too, because then no one would be able to understand the directions! Which was probably completely made up, but I love the idea of Akshay and Ritiesh running back and forth between the director and their co-stars desperately trying to translate fast enough to be able to shoot the scene, and finally giving up and begging for another fluent Hindi speaker to be cast.
It was really really obvious that the girls didn’t speak Hindi. Oh my gosh! So so so bad! They made a joke of it, that they kept doing literally translations from English to Hindi so no one could understand them, but that didn’t help with just the clunky awkward way they all said the dialogue. Although maybe that was part of the director’s choice? Because Jacqueline really impressed me in Brothers, and Lisa Haydon was great in Queen, and they were both pretty terrible here. Jacqueline was the best, probably because she was both the best actress, and the most fluent in Hindi. And Nargis was the worst, because she is a demon who was put on earth to wander through the films I am forced to watch, making me miserable.
(Especially odd seeing Jacqueline in this after Brothers, since it is another love story with Akshay Kumar, but so different!)
The female characters in general were the part of the film that most made me go “hmmmm”. They were mostly so over the top that it felt like it wouldn’t do any harm to see them like this, kind of like no one cares about violence in superhero movies, because it’s not like the little kids watching it are going to go out in the world and have huge mid-air battles because it’s what the heroes did. It’s so obviously fake, it’s not really going to make people change their minds about how the world really is.
I don’t think anyone is going to come out of this movie thinking “yes! Of course! All women are gorgeous and wealthy and ready to fall in love with the first idiot who crosses their path, but at the same time so stupid they can literally cannot talk intelligibly!” And like I said in the example above, their stupidity and plot convenience almost reached the point of feeling like a 4th wall break, like saying “SEE!!! This is what women in comedies are like, taken to a humorous extreme.”
But there was one thing that bothered me. And, SPOILERS, I guess, although does anyone really watch these movies for the plot?
As always with the Housefull movies, there are 3 gorgeous women who are in love with three funny guys, and complications ensue. In this case, their father, Boman Irani, doesn’t want them to get married, so he brings in a fake astrologer who says that Boman will die the minute his sons-in-law sets foot in his house, speaks to him, or sees him, respectively. So the girls convince their boyfriends to pretend to be crippled, blind, and mute.
But then it turns out that Boman isn’t actually their father! Their father is Jackie Shroff, who was a gangster in the 90s in Bombay who went to prison, and signed over all his money and his children to Boman, his right hand man. And Boman is trying to keep the girls unmarried, so he can marry them off to his own (evil) sons.
In the end, Jackie Shroff is released from prison, and at first wants the girls to marry the evil boys, because Boman convinces him they are saints, but then comes around to our 3 heroes, and the girls find out the truth and reject Boman and welcome Jackie, and it all works out. But the bit that bothers me is right before it all works out, when they are trying to figure out a way to get rid of the 3 other guys.
Our heroes don’t know they are really “evil”, they just think they are random guys who the powerful Don wants the girls to marry, and therefore has the power to force the marriages. The heroes arrange for their girlfriends to seduce the guys. I am totally fine with this bit. They don’t know they are evil and, by the rules we all agree on for comedy films, women can seduce anything and don’t mind doing it.
(totally fine with all of this. And a remarkably faithful picture of St. Patrick’s Day. At least, as it is in America. No idea if this is what it is like in England)
What I am not fine with is the reveal the next day that the guys actually slept with the Afro-British maids of the household, because the girls pulled a bait and switch. And now the maids are all pregnant and insisting on marriage. What bothers me is that they are Afro-British. The “joke” is clearly, “ha-ha, you are stuck marrying a dark skinned girl, yuch! And your children will also be dark skinned, who even wants them!” Oh, and with an added backdrop of “clearly, dark skinned women are so sexual needy and less moral, they would have no issue with this plan”.
You know the concept “punching up”? That in comedy, you can say crazy things for the sake of a joke, and it is still funny, so long as you are talking about someone who has more power than you. That, in fact, part of humor is being able to laugh at those above you, and teaching people not to fear those who have power over them, but to find them funny. The problem is when you start to punch down. Basically, this is why African-American comics can talk about white people, but white comics can’t talk about any other group. The same with female comics versus male comics. Or blue-collar lower class background comics and wealthy well-educated comics.
In this movie, this one tiny little sequence, it felt like the film was delighting in “punching down”. In making fun of an immigrant community in England, and in the rest of the world where the diaspora lives, which is even worse off than the desi community there. At least, for the diaspora audience. For the audience at home, this would be a joke at the expense of the darker skinned/lower caste people they can all look down on.
Truly, just make the maids white, and I have absolutely no problems with this sequence! Make it a joke about how the native British community, the one with so much power over the diaspora, is over-sexed and eager to be with desi guys. Better yet, keep the despair and horror from the 3 guys, and make it over the idea of having a half-white child! It turns it into a nice little unexpected twist, that the white people are the ones no one wants, and the brown people are the ones that are desired. But the way they did it, it just served to reinforce power structures that are already in place in a really nasty play-into-our-basest-instincts kind of way.
Part of the reason I think this joke isn’t a coincidence, that it must have been set up like this, very carefully to work for the diaspora and those at home, is because the film as a whole was so aware of balancing those two audiences. I mean, the characters talked about it all the time! They would actually say “and now something for the single-screen audience!” Only, I think they were mostly playing for the “single-screen” audience that was now living abroad. If that makes sense?
There have been so many movies this year that did all right overseas, but were beaten by regional films. Clearly, the overseas audience is craving something that speaks to them in terms of film quality and technical standards, but still has that loveable shaggy Indian heart to it, no deep character based dramas like Kapoor & Sons, no sophisticated high life comedies like Ki & Ka, just a basic entertainer, but one that is more accessible to NRIs.
Which is exactly what this is. Tons of English thrown in, no sequences set in India, no discussion of Indian specific issues or politics, and a total fantasy of the NRI lifestyle, with plenty of money and opportunities and dreams. It is doing fantastic business overseas, and I can see why! It’s almost a new Hum Aapke Hain Koun, a film that sells you on the aspects of India and being Indian you want to have, but removes all the rest.