The beginning of Phata Poster Nikhla Hero (PPNH) discusses an important lack in Bollywood certainty: How to train your ‘hero’ to whip ten guys – often villainous lackeys or roadside hooligans – into pulp.
Savitri (Padmini Kolhapure), a small-town rickshaw driver, is adamant on seeing her son Vishwas have a career in law enforcement for reasons that pop out much later in the movie. Soon the kid is left at an ‘akhada’ where he will be trained for the benefit of the film’s subsequent action scenes. In spite of this minor obstruction, Vishwas (who grows up to be Shahid Kapoor), has his sights set on an average Joe’s greatest dream – to become the next Bollywood Khan (Salman, Shahrukh or even Amir doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a Khan, I imagine).
The catch is Vishwas isn’t the only one who’s enamored (read: willfully indebted) by the Khans; the director is too.
As it happens, the Khans – the ones who have worked with director Rajkumar Santoshi – play a prominent role in PPNH, in cameos and venerated aping’s. The consistent cross-reference muddles whatever individuality PPNH has to itself, but when the screenplay (also by Mr. Santoshi) is intractable to either novelty or wiliness, what can one do other than wince when Mr. Kapoor, or the scenes, lend themselves to bland corniness.
Frankly, the references do help when the PPNH tries to be funny. The chuckles, a result of nostalgia rather than originality, are nicked right out of Andaz Apna Apna, as if Mr. Santoshi is gearing up for the sequel in the middle of PPNH (Mr. Santoshi also rams a visual citation or two of Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, his other comedy also precast after Andaz Apna Apna). This predilection works against PPNH.
Mr. Kapoor’s Vishwas, who grows up stars in his eyes, tricks his mother and by chance entangles himself with a predicament called ‘Complaint Kajal’ (Ileana D'Cruz) – a snooping social worker who’s the headache of the district police (the station in-charge is played by Zakir Hussain, to an uneven effect). Unfortunately for Vishwas, almost everyone thinks he is an inspector who can bulk-beat ruffians without working up a sweat (ergo, his childhood training).
As Vishwas Mr. Kapoor is likable, but lacks the eccentricity of either of the two Khans that he’s told to emulate. He’s as much a silhouette as the faux-peppery, but nevertheless striking, Ms. D’Cruz (their duets are okay-ish, amongst other songs in the soundtrack). Of the cast, which includes Saurabh Shukla and Mukesh Tiwari, only Darshan Jariwala as ACP Khare aces the wit that should have been the staple of PPNH. Alas, Mr. Santoshi’s film barely manages the odd guffaw at the expense of a film he made nineteen years ago.
“Phata Poster Nikhla Hero” stars: Shahid Kapoor, Ileana D'Cruz, Padmini Kolhapure, Darshan Jariwala, Saurabh Shukla, Sanjay Mishra, Zakir Hussain, Mukesh Tiwari, Rana Jung Bahadur, Tinnu Anand with Nargis Fakhri (special appearance) and Salman Khan as Salman Khan.
Directed by Rajkumar Santoshi; Produced by Ramesh Taurani; Written by Rajkumar Santoshi; Music by Pritam Chakraborty; Lyrics by Amitabh Bhattacharya and Irshad Kamil; Cinematography by Ravi Yadav with Editing by Steven Bernard.
Released by Tips, the movie is rated U – Being a family-friendly ‘masala’ the hero thrashes villains without building up perspiration or messing up his hair, make-up or clothes – and I guess that’s why he gets the girl.