Directed by: Ashwini Dheer
Starring: Paresh Rawal, Ajay Devgn, Konkona Sen Sharma, Satish Kaushik
The laws of hospitality are a strange thing, especially when you do not understand them. When I was growing up, I could not understand why my parents would bend over backwards to accommodate the wants and needs of various snooty uncles and aunties who would visit us on a weekend or on special occasions; with behaviour that made divas look well behaved, it is only as an adult that I am getting my head around the idea that the guest is god is ingrained in Indian culture and a rule that is to be respected, no matter how cynical or uninitiated one may be to the concept.
Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge (ATKJ) explores this , focusing on the “atithi”, which can mean a guest or in this context, an unwanted guest. What made me smile was the fact that even now, everyone is prone to a visit from an atithi, whether it is the nosy next door neighbour, the annoying person who keeps a date you forgot all about or an acquaintance who you would rather avoid who turns up at your doorstep – I just hoped the title of the film wouldn’t be how I felt about the film…
The story of ATKJ is a simple one – Puneet (Devgn) and Munmun (Sharma) are young married couple living in Mumbai dealing with stressful jobs as a writer and an architect respectively whilst also balancing the needs of their six year old child. Their world is rocked when Lambodar Chacha (Rawal) turns up on their doorstep for an unannounced stay and disrupts their lives with his meddling ways. Unable to ask him to leave, the couple wonder atithi tum kab jaoge? (Unwanted guest, when will you go?)
ATKJ is a well written film that proceeds at a good pace and explores its subject well. As well as being inspired by a few Hollywood films, ATKJ actually started life as a theatre play and some scenes do have a theatrical quality, such as when Lambodar Chacha invites strangers into the house or when he follows the maid around the house advising her how to clean. Whilst the film makes a relevant social commentary on how people can take liberties with the law of hospitality, it also manages to entertain with some sly digs at the world of film and television as well as a touch of drama and emotion at key stages of the plot.
The only real criticism that can be made of ATKJ is that ultimately some viewers will not understand it – that is to say, they may not be as familiar with the law of hospitality being a huge part of Indian culture. The religious jokes may also go under the radar as they really do target a specific section of the audience and as a result, limit the appeal of the film rather than broaden it. But at the same time, if ATKJ were to be diluted, it would not make the impact that it does and I think it would take someone determined to dislike the film to really begrudge the film of these scenes.
Technically, the film is very polished and well made, with some very good sequences and high production values. I liked the way the Ganpati festival was filmed and how Mumbai plays a silent character in the film. The set design is very good as is the costume design with Ajay in a preppy look with polo t-shirts, jeans and flip flops. Konkona looks very good in a variety of brightly coloured kurta tops teamed with skinny jeans as well as some really nice shalwar kameez (particularly the lemon coloured mandarin collared suit she wears at the Ganpati festival). I also liked Paresh Rawal’s blazer and lilac scarf which he wears when he leaves the house. The wardrobes are perfectly in sync with the character’s development and add to the look of the film.
Performance wise, Paresh Rawal owns the film from start to finish. He manages to inject spontaneity in all of the scenes and never seems over rehearsed or prepared but instead, uses some excellent comic timing so that even situations which aren’t meant to be funny become more light-hearted than serious. I also like the way Rawal fully commits to the role without hesitation and really makes it his own – ATKJ is tailored to showcase his talents and Rawal does not let the film or the viewer down. Similarly, Ajay Devgn continues to expand on his comic prowess by playing the straight foil to Rawal’s character but at the same time, showing off some impressive acting chops; whether it is supporting Rawal, his chemistry with Konkona or the emotional scenes, Devgn is consistent and good. Konkona has a very understated role but plays it very well, like Ajay, demonstrating versatility and being able to enact all the nuances the role demands. I also loved Satish Kaushik’s performance as the religious director, as I felt like Rawal, Kaushik is also able to control his comic talent and not go over the top and spoil the moment.
ATKJ is a really enjoyable family film and deserves to do well at the box office. The film did remind me of old school comedies which were not necessarily side splittingly funny but concentrate on good writing, a solid script and connecting with the audience. The religious references and pastiches of television also give the film that retro feel and are certainly more entertaining than some of the mindless comedies we have been subjected to in the past few years. ATKJ will not be to everyone’s taste but even if you don’t like it, there are worse films this year to have sat through. And if you do like it, I am sure you will agree that comedies like AKTJ are more than welcome in Bollywood…