What Pankaj Advani's Sankat City tries to do -- and the JBDY inspiration is evident as we see briefcases slither up and down the aisle of a miraculously uncrowded bus -- is to take a truly, truly twisted plot and weave much madness through it, a decidedly laudable idea in these times of spectacularly unfunny films. However, adding extra spoonfuls of surrealism isn't the way to achieve a cupful of absurdity, and while Advani's film brimmeth over with whimsy, there's precious little actual fun to be had.
It takes a good twenty minutes to start warming up to the performances, for each actor ladles on the over-the-top hamming the film mistakes for farce. Comedy only works when at the right pitch and Sankat City -- fatally flawed at the most basic level by making every single character a joke -- grossly trips over the line as each actor seems to be trying to act worse than the other. A doctor from London serves up a mad accent, a godman stuffs fish down people's throats If everybody's a gag, who's left to laugh at the punchline?
And they're weak gags, save for a stray moment or two. The situations themselves aren't bad at all, thanks to a script that zanily trips on coincidence, but so overblown are the actors that even decent moments turn into absolute filler. It's a shame because the plot itself is quite interesting, with multiple connections and authentic twists. The film, on the other hand, is consistently self-indulgent as it stretches patience with sloppy editing -- when a scene with a workable gag ends a few moments after the punchline, the joke dies and we're even left with time to mourn it.
The performances are almost unanimously weak, as stated earlier, save for Rahul Dev, Manoj Pahwa and Jehangir Khan. Anupam Kher isn't bad either as he reprises his Hum accent with diabolical glee, but is loaded down with painfully overwritten lines. Kay Kay Menon you feel badly for, shining in accidental moments while he flits inconsistently through a very weak part, but the lion's share of the blame has to be placed onto Rimii Sen, who plays the femme fatale (the background score keeps telling us that she's "a bad girl") of the piece, as woeful a piece of miscasting as can be.
The plot is too elaborate to summarise right here, but it involves theft and debt-collection and stealing from debt-collectors to pay off other debt-collectors. It's a mad little jalebi of events, and if only the actors had played it straight -- save the girl this really is a talented lot -- we would have a gripping, uproarious winner on our hands.
As said, there are some very nice moments -- I'd single out the Kalashnikov-wielding ruler of the rubbish wastelands as the coolest thing in the film -- but it rarely rises above the level of the predictable, the humour oscillating between not-bad at best and not-again most of the time, which is heartbreaking because of the squandered potential. It could have been cult, and ends up merely as filler, watchable because of a genuine plot.
They might call it Sankat City, but this film's set in dullsville. As Naseeruddin Shah said in the film that inspired this and all of us, eat some, throw some out.