Amidst all the talk of a sequel to the cult classic, Andaz Apna Apna, director Raj Kumar Santoshi has served a helping of an all-out comedy, not as an appetiser, but a massive plateful in itself. His latest film, Phata Poster Nikla Hero (PPNH), is his latest foray in the action-comedy genre.

Also written by RKS, Phata Poster Nikla Hero (PPNH) tells the story of aspiring actor Vishwas Rao (Shahid Kapoor) who wants nothing more than to become a film hero. His mother Savitri (Padmini Kolhapure), a fastidiously honest rickshaw driver, has other ideas and dreams of her son becoming an exemplary police officer. As a mark of her dedication (read obsession), she has named her son Vishwas (‘trust’).

Vishwas, like most Bollywood leading men, would do anything but hurt his mother and circumstances lead him to do both, i.e. act in the role of a real-life star cop who foils robberies and manhandles thugs with nary a spot on his shirt and not a lock of hair out of place. His path crosses that of Kajal (Ileana D’Cruz), a dedicated social worker-cum-crime enemy no. 1 who pesters him into several episodes of contrived hilarity by means of crime prevention.

Vishwas soon runs afoul of corrupt police officers, an archetypical ‘gang’ that are a hallmark of Santoshi’s films and is led by the mysterious ‘Napoleon’ and his chief henchman Gundappa Das (Saurabh Shukla). After a series of plot twists that eventually land Vishwas into becoming a gang member himself, he foils a massive terrorist attack in true James Bond style (at the last second) thus becoming a real hero.

PPNH was an opportunity to bring out the comedian in Shahid Kapoor of the finest ilk. And he almost makes it. His repartee with Suatabh Shukla, who played the police officer in Barfi, is sharp and symptomatic of the zany humor style prevalent in the Indian film industry. But his brand of comedy also feels laborious and lacks the instinctive touch: he grins like a marionette in an effort to play the simpleton and ends up looking creepy.

The real surprise was Ileana D’Cruz who makes a major departure from her Barfi role and tries her hand at a giddy brunette. She and Shahid display little chemistry as far as romance goes, in fact it would be fair to label her more as his sidekick than love interest, and their effort to be delightfully droll ends up as a farce. PPNH offers Padmini Kolhapure fans a chance to see her in a comedy, an area the ’80s actress excelled in. She plays the role of a zealous mother to the hilt.

Music director Pritam plays it safe with easy beats and the soundtrack features numbers by Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. Main Rang Sharbaton Ka and Janam Janam by Atif Aslam are typically mellifluous but will have little lasting impact. Rahat gamely tries to inject a bit of romance with his soulful Mere Bina Tu. While the songs are eminently listenable, at times they seem forced and don’t really fit in while the story flows.

Nargis Fakhri also shows her (nonexistent) dancing talents in a ho-hum and obligatory item song (someone should tell her that dancing involves more than just pelvic thrusts and Govinda-like gyrations).

Santoshi tries to stick close to the tried and tested formula of rib-tickling, laugh-a-minute productions but fails to make a splash. The film has enough inside jokes to keep audiences entertained and Bollywood fans will be doubly pleased at the reference to the Salman-Aamir rivalry, and a guest appearance by Salman Khan as himself. It also has enough pop culture references to fill a few gossip rags, but rags are all it can fill. PPNH as a whole lacks zing and appears hackneyed. The action sequences are reminiscent of the bombastic, over-the-top style seen in Abhinav Kashyap’s Dabangg and several Tamil films, while the mindless plot takes a leaf out of David Dhawan’s vacuous comedies. Santoshi tries to save the day through allusions to his old stuff, but it doesn’t work.

PPNH was meant to be a masala comedy but one feels that there is too much of it and not enough meat, which results in an unpalatable mishmash. In the end there is too little of the right stuff and no amount of star guest appearances can resuscitate what is at best left alone in the movie morgue.

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