Absurd comedy partially salvages mainstream fare

Absurdity doesn’t just defy definition, it defies convention as well. It derives its charm from a peculiar lunacy, which refuses to be contained. If absurdity invokes befuddlement, then, on the other hand, silliness often invites derision. But how would you react to something that’s absurdly silly? Your response to Akshay Kumar’s latest film, Entertainment, will adequately answer that question.

Unlike a lot of big budgeted Bollywood films,Entertainment comprises of actors who don’t pretend to act. Not that they can’t, it’s just that the film doesn’t want them to. At one point in the film, a voiceover introduces us to the two goons locked up in a jail: “Yeh waala Dabangg ka villainlag raha hai (this guy looks like the villain inDabangg)”, and the camera cuts to Sonu Sood (who was indeed, as we know, the villain inDabangg); “Aur yeh waala Dabangg 2 ka (and this one from Dabangg 2)”, and now the camera cuts to Prakash Raj, Dabangg 2‘s antagonist. We soon get to know their names — Karan (Raj) and Arjun (Sood). Whenever Karan gets angry, and threatens to slap his younger brother, their familial bond is underscored by the Karan Arjun (1994) song in the background: “Yeh bandhan toh pyaar ka bandhan hai.” The pop cultural references (mostly Bollywood) don’t stop here: the film’s female lead, Saakshi (Tamannaah), is an actor in a Star Plus soap, and she keeps intentionally slipping into theatrical monologues that has words such as “Balaji”, “Ekta” and “Shobha”. You know where this is going — these jokes are not particularly highbrow or even borderline-clever. They are also written like jokes; the characters know they are trying to say something funny. And at an early point in the film, you essentially have two options: you can either embrace this lunacy or you can choose to ignore it. If you choose the former, this film will keep you interested — your continual curiosity will be all the more noteworthy because you know this fluffy comical absurdity doesn’t amount to anything; and if you choose the latter, the film will appear as a repository of unending lame, inane jokes. I chose the former because there’s something fundamental that separates Entertainment from other similar films: it doesn’t want to be intelligent.

But the film knows that it cannot keep banking on its flimsy comical scenes, and hence there’s a laboured attempt to hurl some sort of a plot at us: one that involves a series of tussles to claim ownership of a large business empire, whose founder is dead. And it’s here that the film flounders because a plot such as this is riddled with its own set of trappings — painful melodrama, superfluous sanctimoniousness. These subplots — or tones — don’t necessarily sit well with the film’s inherent idiosyncrasies. These forced elements are especially jarring because the film doesn’t believe in them; they come across as compulsory Macguffins to support the comical oddities at display. However, there is an interesting nugget buried in those maudlin subplots: the scope of human empathy, and how it should be more inclusive. The film mulls over this motif by exploring the relationship between Akhil Lokhande (Akshay Kumar) and the eponymous dog — what begins as a hostile relationship eventually transforms into something intimate. The curious bit about this segment is not the execution but the intent — the trajectory of their relationship is pretty linear and, for the most part, predictable and ineptly executed, but it’s noteworthy that a mainstream Bollywood fare chooses to substantially invest in fleshing out a relationship between its leading man and a dog, while the film’s leads’ conventional romantic relationship is barely treated with any gravitas.

Quite interestingly, Entertainment, at its core, is comprised of two conflicting films — one that strains itself to arrive at a meaning, and the other that wants to revel in its frivolous pointlessness. You wonder why. Untainted puerile flippancy has its own joys.

Originally published at The Sunday Guardian

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