Shilpa Shetty fills a uniform with grace and could, in an equal opportunity film industry, be cast with an actor half her age, and carry it off better than aging males prancing with women young enough to be their daughters, observes Deepa Gahlot.
The Telugu film Middle Class Abbayi, of which Nikamma is the Hindi remake, is just five years old, but seems to belong to another era.
Nikamma, directed by Sabir Khan, has the kind of formula that was, once upon a time, used to launch star sons — some romance, a lot of action; give the boy a chance to dance, fight, show off his muscular body, and if possible, emote a little too.
He has to be rebellious, but also obedient, and be allotted some seetimaar dialogue.
In the past, Govinda and Kadar Khan would have had fun with this material, and audiences would not have tittered when a teary-eyed ’80s leading man dropped his keys to surreptitiously touch his maa-jaisi-bhabhi‘s feet.
In 2022, Abhimanyu Dasani channels that spirit, but falls short, probably because he did not grow up on those films and does not know quite how to get that corny stuff right.
He plays Adi, the good-for-nothing of the title, who is shaken out of his lazy existence and sent by his brother (Samir Soni) to accompany his sister-in-law Avni (Shilpa Shetty) to an Uttar Pradesh town of Dhaamli, where she is to serve out a short-term transfer.
Adi already hates Avni because she evicted him from his brother’s home.
Now, when he is living with her, she treats him like an unpaid servant.
Avni is a stern RTO employee, and Shetty plays her with a stone face and ramrod spine.
The chief villain in Dhaamli is Vikramjit Bisht (Abhimanyu Singh) who dreams of being the town’s MLA and controls the public transport system by flooding the roads with his fleet of unregistered cabs (the writers Venu Sriram and Sanamjit Singh Talwar, actually thought up this giggle-worthy plot!)
Avni seizes the cabs, and takes on Vikramjit’s gang, not afraid of the fact that he kills opponents with impunity.
By this time, Adi has discovered that Avni is an angel in stylishly coordinated saris, and vows to protect her. Never mind that she does not need a bodyguard.
He also has a romance going with Avni’s cousin (Shirley Sethia), who approaches a gawking Adi and says she’d like to marry him because he is a ‘cutie’!
After this she recedes to the background like those showpiece leading ladies of old Bollywood movies, who served no real purpose.
Adi spends most of the film swaggering in slow motion and thrashing the villain’s henchmen, who are always suckers for punishment, and keep coming back for more.
Still, the film might have been bearable with a snappier pace, some hummable songs and better-written dialogue — who has middle-class versus upper class debates with the villain! Just because the original must have had those lines to justify its title.
If at all Nikamma serves a purpose, it is to tell mainstream cinema to stop age-shaming its actresses.
Shilpa Shetty, called ‘ma-jaisi‘ several times, fills a uniform with grace, and could have, in an equal opportunity film industry, be cast with an actor half her age, and carry it off better than aging males prancing with women young enough to be their daughters.
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