The one star for this monstrous misfire of a ‘comedy’ – at least that’s what the filmmakers were aspiring for, if one is not mistaken – is for its singular achievement in delivering a dud of this magnitude despite boasting the likes of Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav among its roster of stars. Add to that the much-lauded production teams behind the project: Sameer Nair’s Applause Entertainment (with Hostages and Scam 1992 The Harshad Mehta Story in its portfolio) and Nikkhil Advani’s Emmay Entertainment (which produced Mumbai Diaries 26/11), and you are left scratching your head trying to figure out how all these talents put together can get it so wrong. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, works over its ten torturous episodes spanning over 300 minutes. The writing is choppy, the performances leaden, and the slapdash narrative flounders between wannabe funny and grating sentimentality.
An oddball old king, Mrityunjaya (Naseeruddin Shah), presides over the fictional kingdom of Shikharwati, which has been slapped a notice of tax arrears amounting to Rs 32 crore to be paid in a month, failing which the government will appropriate the property worth Rs 200 crore. There’s no way the king will be able to cough up that kind of money. So, in league with his trusted manager, Mishraji (Raghubir Yadav), he conspires to convert the threat into an opportunity – get his estranged daughters, who left him years ago, back to the kingdom and dump the responsibility on them. For this, he pretends that he is seriously ill, his days are numbered and devises a series of competitions (for some inexplicable reason, based on the navarasa) for his daughters to prove their ability to inherit Shikharwati.
But there’s a hitch: the daughters not only do not see eye to eye with their father but are at loggerheads with each other too. The roots of the dysfunctional family are traced in small flashback episodes dealing with the death of the mother – a device that does not work at all. Each sibling has her own quirks and issues that threaten to undo the king’s plans time and again.
The eldest Devyani (Lara Dutta Bhupathi) is an obsessive perfectionist who thinks her husband is having an affair. Gayatri (Soha Ali Khan), the second child, lives in an ashram with her two ‘adopted’ children and is constantly seeking validation. Kamini (Kritika Kamra) is a social media influencer of some sort who has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, while the youngest, Uma (Anya Singh) is a gamer dealing with a propensity for allergies of every kind. Thrown together, in the sort of competition that made them leave Shikharwati in the first place, now they must negotiate with their father and each other once again.
Throw into the mix a don from Dubai, a hidden cache of jewellery, a shady heir from an antagonistic neighbouring kingdom, something called a gussa ghar (that’s where the series drove me to), and you have a plethora of strands that go nowhere.
The navarasa competition through which the episodes unfold defies all reason. How is an equestrian event part of ‘Adbhuta Rasa’, or how does making a Rajasthani Thali figure in it all? And it’s not even funny. Sample this: Kamini calls a native woman ‘plebian’, to which the latter responds: ‘No, I have a boyfriend, how can I be plebian?’ Or the manager describing the king’s illness as ‘gupt rog’, with a whole lot of nudge-nudge-wink-wink. When Devyani asks if even the doctor is ‘gupt’, pat comes the reply: ‘No, he is Dr Gupta.’ I rest my case.
This one is eminently avoidable. The filmmakers could have done well to heed Mrityunjaya bellowing in the third episode (‘Hasya Rasa’): ‘Bandh karo yeh natak.’ For the rest, I am inclined to follow Kamini’s dismissive retort to everyone around her: ‘Dude, Tood!’ (Whatever that means – like the rest of the series). What does one say about a series where even Naseeruddin and Raghubir barely pass muster?
Title: Kaun Banegi Shikharwati
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Lara Dutta Bhupathi, Soha Ali Khan, Anya Singh, Kritika Kamra
Director: Ananya Banerjee, Gauravv K Chawla
Rating: One star
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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