What a fun movie! I don’t totally love it as much as I totally love A Gentleman, but it is in the same family of humor. So I am going to take this moment, once again, to plug A Gentleman. If you like this movie, you will like that one! Oh, and you probably will like this movie. It is very likable.
Years ago, I heard someone quote a statistic that young men between 16 and 25 were more likely to die of snakebite, and lightning strike. Which brings a picture of some poor teenager being bitten by a snake at the same moment he is struck by lightning. But no, it doesn’t mean the same young man between 16 and 25 has both things happen to him (although I suppose that could be true). What it means is that young men are far more likely to randomly die.
Why is this? Well, it’s because young men are stupid. If there is a storm coming up, your 18 year old boy is the one who is going to go out on a boat anyway, be stuck in the middle of the lake, and end up struck by lightning. If there is a snake, it is the group of male college students who are going to dare each other to touch it. And thus, death.
(Stupid! That is what this poster is telling you, young men are stupid. Not heroic, not handsome, not any of those things, just dumb)
Women die as well of course. But less because they are being foolish, more because they are being too cautious. Too careful to run away from the abusive husband, be impolite to the attacker, and so on and so forth.
In a standard horror movie, the woman lies there and screams and screams, sometimes runs a little bit, and then is killed. This movie flips it around, asks “what is it that young men do that gets them killed?” Well, what they do is be stupid. And being stupid is funny to watch. There is a thin line between tragedy and comedy, and this film dances all over it.
With strong assistance from the cast. Rajkummar manages to age himself down, turning into an innocent inexperienced young man, strongly related to his character in Fanney Khan, in Bareilly Ki Barfi. He has perfected his dopey smile and stuttering eager voice. Pankaj Tripathi is, as expected, perfection in his role as the slightly over important voice of wisdom. But the real surprise were the solid performances by the two supporting players Aparshakti Khurana (Ayushmann’s little brother, he played the cousin in Dangal) and Abhishek Banarjee in his first major film role. They match Rajkummar step for step in the perfect creation of a group of dangerously dumb young men, not bad young men, not purposefully harmful, just really really dumb. And Shraddha isn’t bad! She has the same warm natural aura onscreen that she has always had. Her dialogue delivery and expressions are still the same familiar vanilla, but the role doesn’t necessarily require more than that, might almost have been wasted on another actress.
The writing, not just the overall narrative but the dialogue line by line, is perfect. And the songs are perfect as well, the kind of bouncy infectious stuff that young men from a small town would listen too. And the costuming is perfect, the pseudo cool clothing. And the set design, down to details like how the tailor shop is set up for maximum efficiency.
The one thing that was slightly not as good as it could be was the direction. Overall it was fine, there were just a few moments here and there when I was taken out of the film by a faulty eye line match or a shot-reverse shot that didn’t quite match. That would be the one area where I would say A Gentleman is ahead, not tied. I don’t remember those awkward moment in that. I guess a sign of Raj & DK directing, instead of just producing and writing.
(How did this movie flop???? It’s SO GOOD!!!)
But that is a small part of the film, most of it is perfection. And perfect comedy is a rare thing. The best kind of comedy is the one that challenges us a little bit, that gives you that gasping laughter partly out of the shock of realizing it is true. We laugh when Rajkummar chases a cat in order to pluck two hairs for his lady love partly because he is moving in a funny way and making a funny face, but also because we realize the truth that young men really will do anything without questioning it if a pretty girl asks them.
The best kind of horror movie is also one that challenges you by turning injustice into horror. In America we have the “ancient Native American burial ground” trope, or the “abused child ignored by society” trope. Or the many many variations on the history of slavery. Or, of course, the simple “sex=brutal death” equation. The audience is afraid of this horror, rising up out of our collective past, because we recognize on some deep level that we deserve it. A flavoring of guilt is mixed in with the fear, making it that much more potent.
This film manages to mix horror and comedy, by mixing the guilt and the humor. Young men can do stupid stupid hilarious things when driven by lust. And they can also do stupid stupid terrible things when driven by lust. One creates comedy, the other horror. This film has both.