Plot: Boman Irani goes to his village and applies for funds to dig a well under the well-digging scheme of his government. But he ends up exposing the defects in the system and the rampant corruption from top to bottom.
What’s Good: The dialogues are excellent, the performances of the actors are excellent.
What’s Bad: The class treatment of the drama; the terribly slow pace; the wafer-thin story stretched for hours.
Verdict: Not well done, Shyam Benegal abba!
Loo break: Anytime… you won’t miss much except the crisp dialogues and the acting.
Reliance Big Pictures’ Well Done Abba (UA) is a satire. Adapted from the novels Narsaiyyan Ki Bavdi (by Jeelani Bano) and Phulwa Ka Pul (by Sanjeev) and from ‘Still Waters’, a screenplay treatment by Jayant Kripalani, the film is about a Bombay-based driver, the illiterate Armaan Ali (Boman Irani), who comes to Chikatpally, his village in Andhra Pradesh, to get his spunky daughter, Muskaan (Minissha Lamba), married off. He overstays his month-long leave period when he enrols in a well-digging scheme of the government, under which people living below poverty line in the village are given money to dig wells in the drought-stricken village. Armaan Ali bribes government officials to get falsely registered as living below the poverty line so that he can avail of the benefits under the well-digging scheme.
Soon, Armaan Ali finds that each instalment he receives from the government for work on digging the well gets over in greasing the palms of police officers, government officials and bureaucrats who have to certify that the well-digging is in progress. For the bribes they take, they even certify that the well has been dug and is providing sweet water to villagers when, in fact, no work has begun at all. For photographic evidence on record, a photographer in the village, who is also part of the racket, mixes and matches the location of Armaan Ali’s field and a well to make it look like the well did exist.
Driven to his wits’ end, Armaan Ali, prodded by his daughter, Muskaan, who knows to read and write, files an unusual complaint in the local police station – that his well has been robbed! That the well existed is on government records and that it doesn’t (now) exist is the reality – making his idiotic complaint seem so true. Armaan Ali also musters support of other villagers who have been similarly duped into applying for digging wells only so that they could fill the pockets of people involved in the scam. From the police to the sarpanch, the bureaucrats and right up to the politicians, the missing wells case now involves the entire system and threatens to overthrow the government.
There is a parallel track of Armaan Ali’s twin brother, Rehman Ali (Boman Irani again), and his wife, Salma Ali (Ila Arun), who are small-time thieves and con-persons. They don’t spare anyone in the village, not even Armaan Ali himself. Another track involves Arif Ali (Sammir Dattani), a car mechanic, who befriends Muskaan and woos her, much to the annoyance of Armaan Ali.
The story is very satirical and provides scope for a screenplay (Ashok Mishra) that is full of funny incidents and anecdotes. Dialogues (Ashok Mishra) are the film’s mainstay and they are so witty that one can’t help enjoying the drama. However, there are two major points that would greatly limit the film’s appeal: firstly, the story unfolds in such a way that it would appeal mainly to the elite audience only, and secondly, the thin story line has been stretched so much that it bores at various places. Regarding the class treatment of the subject, there is another negative point about it. By its very nature, the story about water scarcity in a backward village would not interest the city audience much but its elitist treatment would appeal to that audience. On the other hand, the content holds interest for the masses in small centres but the treatment is so class-appealing that the masses may not even be able to appreciate the humour at many places. The drama moves at such a leisurely pace that it actually tests the audience’s patience. Even otherwise, satires hold limited appeal for the Indian audience.
However, it must be said that writer Ashok Mishra’s characterisations and dialogues are absolutely brilliant although his screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. His humour is very earthy and goes fabulously well with the mood of the film.
Boman Irani deserves distinction marks for a performance that is superb. Both, as Armaan Ali and Rehman Ali, he is just outstanding. Minissha Lamba looks the Muslim girl she plays and acts with aplomb. Sammir Dattani is impressive. Ila Arun lives her role and is so fantastic that it is difficult to imagine anyone else in that role. She leaves a mark in every single scene in which she appears. Sonali Kulkarni and Ravi Kishan’s comedy track is terrific. Both of them have acted so naturally that it doesn’t look like they have acted in the first place. Rajit Kapur is first-rate. As his deputies, Ravi Jhankal and Yashpal Sharma lend superb support. Salim Ghouse excels. Rajendra Gupta (as minister) is too good. Rahul Singh is okay as the boss in Bombay. Satish Sharma (as the still photographer), Deepika Amin (as Rajit Kapur’s forever-cribbing wife), Meena Nathani (as Balamma), Anahita Nair (as Muskaan’s friend) and Preeti Nigam (as the friend’s mother) provide extraordinary support.
Shyam Benegal’s direction is good except that it caters to the elite audience mainly and that the pace is painfully slow. Shantanu Moitra’s music is interesting. The Ila Arun song (written and rendered by her) is superb. Rajen Kothari’s camerawork is excellent.
On the whole, Well Done Abba may be an intelligent satire but it won’t do well at the box-office because it is a wrong marriage – of mass-appealing content with class-appealing narration. It will have its share of fans but that just won’t be enough. A waste of excellent characterisations, great performances and lovely dialogues.