In Lafangey, four men stay over at a haunted house…sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?

Well, no one’s laughing, because the film brings back memories — and no, not memories of Anando Brahma (AB), the Telugu film starring Tapsee Pannu; rather, Lafangey harks back the mind to an unflinchingly bold case of larceny called Chhupan Chhupai.

There have been unsubstantiated declarations from the producers that Lafangey is an official remake of the South Indian film Anando Brahma, but so far, no such proof has made its way to the media.

A mousey avowal had been communicated from the producers that Lafangey holds an “inspired by” text somewhere in the opening credits, but it either slipped by this writer or wasn’t there in the first place…not that the “inspired by” makes a difference in this particular case.

Lafangey is an endless series of haphazardly woven events, and is copy-pasted from a mediocre Telegu film

To clarify: “inspired by” is an indication of finding inspiration from a film; it is not a permit to chuck one’s creative predispositions out the window and plagiarise an entire film, scenes, camera placements, et al…unless, of course, the creative call was to throw out 95 percent of the originality.

The five percent of originality that the producers did employ comes in the form of the opening sequence, and a lot of adult humour (more on that in a little bit).

In Lafangey we meet Alyy (Sami Khan), a real estate salesman who cons people out of their homes by spooking them with actresses wearing excessive powder, masquerading as ghosts (it was an effective opening).

This, however, is where most of the originality ends and the copy-pasting begins.

In both AB and Lafangey, our leading man finds three idiots — a barber, a deaf security guard and a drunk (Mubeen Gabol, Maani and Saleem Mairaj) — who will have to stay a few nights at an old haunted house with him to dispel rumours of its otherworldly occupants, and bring up the estate’s dwindling market value. The house belongs to a young man settled abroad (in AB he is from Malaysia; in Lafangey he comes from Dubai) whose family is purportedly missing (they’re the spirits in the house).

Five minutes into the film, one begins enduring what turn out to be an endless series of haphazardly woven events, lurid in vocal tenor and foul-mouthed in words (most dialogues have commendably been muted out by all three censor boards), as the premise starts stretching itself too thin.

AB, a family-friendly film, doesn’t have adult humour, and it did have some measure of warmth when we saw the family angle.

Lafangey’s screenplay, typed out scene-by-scene from AB by director Abdul Khaliq Khan and co-screenwriter Jahangir Hussain, condenses the impact of these essential emotions by channelling the film’s energies towards the crowd that like bargain-basement, uncouth humour.

At Capri Cinema, where I saw the film, a group of 10 young men were laughing; a husband and wife in their early 50s sat with the composure of immovable rocks, with their hands folded and faces contorted in grim dissatisfaction.

The mystery of the dead family takes a while to sort itself out as the narrative spins back and forth to unravel back-stories of the four men staying at the house, who are desperate to get their hands on some money.

The quartet are somewhat likeable. The barber, who dreamt of being a leading man in movies, had been conned out of his shop by a would-be producer (Ismail Tara); the alcoholic gambled away his family’s savings; and the deaf security guard, who has another secret ailment but plays a heck of a flute, has to pay back the bank whose ATM he was supposedly guarding (caught up in his flute playing, a man and a woman went into the ATM to have sex and, later, robbers robbed the place).

Our hero too has an ailment: he found out that he had a problem with his heart (from a doctor played by the late, great actor Sohail Asghar), when the girl he was supposedly romancing ran away with the local milkman — and that too, after our kindhearted hero helped the woman’s younger sister get married and settled her brother abroad. The back-story, both as a story element and comedy, doesn’t work.

What catches your eye is a small bit of creative inclination at the intermission of the film, when our four heroes, petrified of a violently shaking closed door, inch ever so slowly towards it as the words inter and mission become Enter Mission. One would have given the writers some kudos for firing up their brain cells…but for the fact that this exact instance is in AB as well.

So, one wonders, like one did at Chhupan Chhupai’s time, why would anyone stoop to such an unimaginable degree of pilfering? Why go the distance to parade yourself as the makers of ersatz facsimiles? Isn’t filmmaking — especially for people who are helming it — first and foremost a creative endeavour, born from the desire to express and showcase one’s artistic aspirations? What pray, then, is the use of rip-offs — and, more importantly, what does it tell you about the makers and their aspirations?

AB wasn’t a good movie; it was fair and tolerable, and did make enough at the box-office to inspire official remakes in Tamil, Bengali and Kannada — ie. Petroman, Bhootchakra Pvt. Ltd., and Mane Maratakkide. Just by looking at these remakes’ trailers, one notices that, even though they are telling the same story with the same scenes, the production design and the camera placements are different. Possibly, the treatment of the story is somewhat distinctive as well.

Lafangey chooses the Chhupan Chhupai route by reproducing the production design and the camera placement (the cinematography is by Asraad Khan, of Ghabrana Nahin Hai, Parday Mein Rehnay Do and Bacchana fame; his work is mediocre at best) — and if that weren’t enough, it manages to copy the shortcomings in narrative and tonality as well.

This is a sad state of affairs, because the actors are giving the film their all.

Lafangey is Sami’s most effective big-screen performance till date; he looks like a leading man and acts like one too. Mani’s mumbling-bumbling persona fits his role. Mubeen Gabol, although parodying everyone from Shah Rukh Khan to Shatrughan Sinha, holds the screen well enough. And Saleem Mairaj — well, he justifies his pay cheque, like always. But that’s not to say that the performances are all good. Utterly wasted are Behroze Sabzwari, Nazish Jehangir, Waqar Godhra, Gul-i-Rana, and the child actress Hoorain. But then again, they aren’t the only wasted aspects of Lafangey.

There is no getting back the two hours you’ll spend at the cinema if you decide to go and watch the movie. A word of advice: don’t spend your time googling copies of AB, unless you’re in the mood to stomach more mediocrity.

If you still want to, a word of advice: do not watch the Hindi-dubbed version, which shifts some scenes back and forth; go for the Telugu original with subtitles instead. This is the copy Lafangey’s makers chose as well.

Released by Distribution Club, Lafangey is rated A for adult humour that is all but muted out of the film. The film is currently playing in cinemas.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 24th, 2022

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