Housefull 4 Review (No Spoilers): Clever Meta Commentary on Historical Fiction, and Also Dumb Sex Jokes

This is exactly what I want from a Housefull movie. No surprises, nothing unexpected, and Akshay Kumar is continually humiliated and tortured.

I realized while I was laughing my way through Welcome Back and seeing the confused looks on the faces of my friends that Hindi film humor, a lot of it, is meta humor poking fun at the familiar tropes of Hindi film. It’s funny because it is taking a fictional reality that we have come to except and turning it over to reveal the absurdity. And it’s important for the same reason, people need to know the difference between fact and fiction, to understand that they are making a choice when they believe fiction, and they can make that same choice to pull out and forget it.

Image result for housefull 4 poster

In the 2000s and 90s there were comedies about romances, over the top ridiculous versions of star crossed lovers and authoritarian fathers. It helped the public see that the romances they enjoyed were fiction, real fathers shouldn’t threaten to kill their daughters, real young people shouldn’t be threatening suicide over love, and just in general everyone needs to calm down. Also, it was funny! Seeing Katrina Kaif carry Akshay Kumar to safety from a burning building after she falls in love with him at first sight was funny, seeing Paresh Rawal with an “X” on his cheek to show he was the “good” twin was funny, seeing Mallika Shewerat pretend to be an abandoned wife was funny. It was all funny, and it made me able to go back to the movies it was spoofing and enjoy them more with the understanding of how fake they were, and how I was making a choice to believe them to be real.

In the 2010s, it is historical epics that rule the day. And we desperately need a film to puncture them, to show them up as just more fakeness, just like anything else we see onscreen. No, Padmavat and Bajirao and all the rest are not telling the “truth”. They are telling stories, stories that follow certain patterns and expected beats, that are as fake as any fiction. And, thankfully, here is the film to do reveal that

It’s not just the historical fiction that is being punctured by this movie, it’s the modern day “perfect man” trope as represented by Akshay Kumar as well. Akshay in this film is covered in pig excrement. He is stabbed in the bottom. He is kneed in the groin by a woman. He is made into a coward, a cruel man, a figure of fun. It’s very satisfying for us hardy few Mission Mangal Survivors, and it’s very funny on it’s own (Akshay Kumar is a fabulous physical comedian), and it’s also making a statement about how we tend to accept the male hero without question. This whole movie is laughing at heroic men. They are foolish, they are cowards, they are terrible leaders. Let’s laugh at them.

The three male leads are all excellent at being what they need to be for this film, Ritiesh is always a genius at comedy, Akshay is as funny as he ever is, and Bobby pulls out that self-aware puncturing of the Deol hero that makes me laugh. The female leads have as little to do as you would expect, but they do decently with what they have. And surrounding them is a surprisingly good array of one joke actors from Rana Duggabatti to Chunky Panday. Oh, and Jonny Lever is legitimately funny! For once! I think he might be a performer where something about cross-dressing unlocks another level, I just randomly saw Jeet and even 20 years ago, putting on a touch of make up and some pretty clothes made his performance have a certain edge.

I’m not saying this is a great movie, or even a good one. Half the jokes land, half don’t. The female characters are stereotypes and not intended to be anything more than that. White women are objectified constantly. Even the songs are bad. But there is a place for this kind of humor, this kind of irreverent anything goes humor that reminds the audience it is okay to laugh, at anything. Even history.

Oh, and can we have a moment for how Akshay’s character in this is ALSO bald? What is up with that, three “Bala” hero movies in one week? It’s spooky.

9 thoughts on “Housefull 4 Review (No Spoilers): Clever Meta Commentary on Historical Fiction, and Also Dumb Sex Jokes

  1. OK – your analysis of the meta view of this film now is changing my mind, because I was convinced that it would be terrible. Now you know that’s in part due to my extreme dislike of looking at Akshay Kumar‘s face. But I might revisit this with new eyes. One of my friends/business partners wanted to see it last week and I basically convinced her that we shouldn’t go but she and I tend to have really different takes on Hindi cinema. She was born and raised in India has been here for 13 years and I’m first gen/ABCD mixed.

    And I wonder, will we have completely different experiences of this film as well the same way that maybe adults and kids watch the Flintstones and the kids see a vacuum cleaner-dinosaur and the adults hear the references to Cary Granite? Not in anyway to say that her view is childlike, but that her view is rooted in certain expectations that native born Indians tend to have for films as you describe?

    When it comes right down to it this is actually the giant question for me about the direction of Hindi Cinema. Who is the audience? Is your audience the Indian native audience that expects you to continue as a filmmaker an actor with what they’ve become accustomed to, or is Hindi cinema trying to reach out to a broader audience and in doing so will they lose their original audience. These are the things that keep me up at night and I’m not kidding!

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    • First, as I said, this is a movie that relies highly on hilarious it is to watch Akshay Kumar being abused. If you like seeing Akshay be punched, kicked, thrown into manure, and so on and so forth, Sajid Nadiawala is here for you!

      I would be curious about the overseas versus Indian view of this film as well! Maybe it’s just simple awareness of why it is funny? Versus laughing without thinking about it? It’s funny to see modern and historical stuff drawn into contrast (there is a great running gag of the historical figures reciting famous modern song lyrics to each other and then saying “that should be a song!”). But then you can take a further step and acknowledge it is actually extra funny because historic content is so rarely lambasted, and sooooooo deserves it.

      Or, it’s just funny to see Jonny Lever in a sari.

      On Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 2:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • It’s like it’s a double sided coin for overseas and Indian audiences. Indians are going to see the humor and they’re also going to know the context because they seen every movie. Overseas audiences have less knowledge generally of other films (well except for all of us) but they come in with an American viewpoint about how films work and so they might see the meta as well but in a different way than a native audience.

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      • And to quote Bobby on one of my favorite shows, Cougar Town, “it’s a dude in a dress, it’s a staple of British comedy, it’s hilarious.” So Johnny Lever in a sari.

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        • Let’s say, “he is playing with gender roles in a way that reveals the absurdity of the binary system of gender, a radical statement of revolution in a society trapped within rigid male-female dynamics”. Or, it’s Jonny Lever in a sari with lipstick.

          On Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 2:30 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I mean, you can also refer to that scene as “Him needing to turn away to hide his reaction to seeing her body”, but isn’t that just the same as “he is hiding his erection in the fence”?

            On Sun, Nov 17, 2019 at 4:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I kind of want you to win too, mostly because I feel like there is a “Maccabee” pun waiting for me if I can find it.

      Keep up the comments! you can do it!

      On Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 2:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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