Well Done Abba Review
It is extremely, extremely rare to find in Hindi Cinema- a writer who stands out with a unique voice of his/her own; one that makes its presence felt in a movie in an unobtrusive yet definitive manner. After watching Well Done Abba, I can safely say that in Ashok Mishra, who earlier wrote Welcome To Sajjanpur (also directed by Shyam Benegal) we have a welcome addition to this rare breed of writers who have a distinct voice and flavor of their own. Mishra's style- unassuming, unpretentious and wonderfully quaint- warms its way into your heart despite its oft-naïve and guileless nature, which sometimes tends to lose focus and clarity- like it did in his previous effort. It is near impossible today to find writing that sparkles with such innocence and rural, homegrown charm and for this, Mishraji, I stand up and applaud you.
In his second innings in direction, Shyam Benegal seems to have formed a comfortable partnership with Mishra, and he directs Mishra's material in a thoroughly low-key fashion, just letting the writer's words speak freely instead of imposing any stamp on it. This also however, sometimes becomes a problem with their collaborations. These are modern times, when films are getting slicker and smarter, and sensibilities constantly evolving- when Mahadev Ka Sajjanpur and Abba Ka Kuan (the original titles of the respective films) need to be converted into Welcome To Sajjanpur and Well Done Abba (a cleverly thought out title, though, I must admit).
Now, by saying this, I am most certainly not suggesting tampering with the spirit of the writing- but one does wish that Mishra's material was translated onto screen in a more lucid, smart fashion that preserved its soul while at the same time dusted off its cobwebs. It is here that Benegal (one of Hindi parallel cinema's most distinguished names) disappoints; his direction seems to lack passion, verve or individuality. At the risk of putting a huge foot in my mouth, I'll say he falls short- in reinventing both- the screenplay into consistently compelling cinema- and more importantly himself as a filmmaker.
Well Done Abba, however- with a simpler plot that doesn't put its fingers in too many pies like Welcome To Sajjanpur- works better than the latter, because it doesn't digress too much from its focus with too many subplots. The story, about one man's struggle to receive a government grant to build a well and his entanglements with bureaucratic red-tape is also less ambitious and demanding, and told with grace and humor. The cast is efficient- even limited performers like Minissha Lamba and Samir Dattani are credible, though the accents across the cast are clearly inconsistent- but it is obviously the inimitable Boman Irani who steers the film with a heartwarming act that thankfully rises above caricature (a common tendency with the talented actor) which makes you join in and say: Well done, Abba.
Overall, despite its staid, unattractive look and sometimes lumbering narrative, I recommend that you invest time and patience to watch Well Done Abba. It is cinema truly from the heartland and heart of our country, and for that itself- it deserves to be seen and appreciated.
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