Dharam Sankat Mein Hindi Movie
Today, there's no bigger business than the business of religion. Be it in terms of donations or memorabilia or status and statuettes of your deities or requisite paraphernalia and fees to properly conduct your duties towards your respective Gods and Goddesses or "special charges" that let you cut ahead in queues at temples, you've got to spend money to pray for money. Blessings don't come for free. Nothing gets done without greasing a few palms.
So call it irony or twist of fate or divine intervention by the Lord of your choosing, but the very films that poke fun at the religion of having a religion have become lucrative business opportunities themselves. The trend that began with the superhit Paresh Rawal-starrer OMG: Oh My God was taken to another level with the record-breaking, blockbuster success of Rajkumar Hirani's P.K., which made so much money that it made the bank balances of some very well-known babas look like loose change.
Paresh Rawal returns again this week with another go at the jackpot with an official remake of the British comedy The Infidel called Dharam Sankat Mein, a film that is same same but different from OMG, but in all the bad ways.
There are 3 rings of believers in religion. The lowest rung: "okay, I'll go to the temple, but I'm not gonna lie down and sweep the floor with my body while praying". The middle rung: "God, give me this and give me that because I'm donating Rs. 101 to your temple... No wait, I dropped the Re. 1 coin, so it's just Rs. 100". The highest rung: "you bastard, how dare you incorrectly park your car in front of our temple. I pray to God that you burn in hell".
Paresh Rawal in this film belongs to the lowest rung, a Brahmin Hindu who believes in God, but not overtly so. His faith is put to the test when he finds out that he was born a Muslim and was adopted by a Hindu family. In light of such a revelation, he has to face off against Neelanand Baba and a Muslim maulvi to fight for his rights of secularity.
The film starts off well enough, even though there's an item number featuring Gippy Grewal within the first 5 minutes itself. The first half an hour sets it apart from OMG; Paresh Rawal doesn't go on religious rants and calling everyone in sight a thug and has a special proclivity against Muslims, not all religions. There's also the subplot of his son wanting to marry the daughter of a devout Neelanand Baba follower.
It's after the revelation of his religious origins that the movie starts to lag a little. Considering the fact that Rawal's character was never much of a religious person, the impact that the revelation has on him shouldn't have been as dramatic. Instead, he behaves akin to having been told that he was born as a girl instead of a boy, which makes it hard for him to be a sympathetic character.
His efforts at the juggling his two lives and two religions, with the help of his Muslim neighbor (played by Annu Kapoor) still makes for intermittent fun. His attempts at learning the intricacies and the traditions of his new-found life barely keep you engaged. But the graph of the film goes completely southwards post-interval.
Having put Rawal through the grinder and done all that he could to make the film distinct from OMG, director Fuwad Khan and his team of 4 writers have nowhere else to go and nothing else to say after halftime. So, they resort to melodrama to tide time till the film's final act. Rawal's family randomly abandons him, his friendship with Annu Kapoor comes to a random screeching halt, and there's a random court case thrown at him over a randomly-occurring incident. By this time, you're least bothered what the new Sankat is that he's going through.
The film finally stumbles, slips and falls into its lazily-written, clumsily-executed, painful-to-watch finale, at which time Fuwad Khan drops all pretenses and attempts at making a film of his own, and compiles the worst quotes and arguments from both OMG and P.K. into a sloppy ball of shoddiness disguised as revolutionary questioning-of-common-practices. Neelanand Baba's followers abandon him, Rawal's family looks up to him as if he were a demi-God, and Hindu-Muslim harmony reaches a miraculous all-time high.
It can be no doubt that Fuwad Khan had the right idea in mind in tackling the religious contrivances prevalent in our country by making the protagonist belong to both of the warring factions - Hindus and Muslims. But when a consortium of 4 writers cannot comfortably and entertainingly adapt an already proven script (of The Infidels) into a barely 2-hour long running length, you know you're in trouble. To add to that, Dharam Sankat Mein has nothing new to add to the already-fresh-in-our-minds arguments from two other very successful films. Even the things that it does try to say, it does so in a completely unconvincing fashion.
It's the performances by the lead cast where the film manages to save face. Paresh Rawal easily slips back into the voice-of-the-non-believer type role, and anchors an otherwise wobbly film on his shoulders towards the finish line. Despite tonal and plot inconsistencies, he keeps you from abandoning the film completely with his central performance. Annu Kapoor is in top form too, in the role of too-long-a-name-for-me-to-remember Muslim, and provides entertaining support to Rawal. Naseeruddin Shah seems to be having tons of fun in his small part as Neelanand Baba. The remaining cast of fringe actors ham up the film more than a ham sandwich.
Overall, it's impossible to deny the film's goods intentions at exposing the hypocrisy of our religious sects. But it's also impossible to look past the fact that the film is more of an attempt to cash in on the now-popular genre of religious mocking than to make a novel film with a heart and mind of its own. With very few moments of fun sandwiched between long stretches of snoozing, Dharam Sankat Mein should be avoided like the ashram of a self-proclaimed baba.