What does 'Bol Bachchan' mean? ‘A horrendous game,’ as a line goes in the opening title track of the film, sung and performed by Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and Abhishek Bachchan. From the outset, we see the three actors dancing with and around each other, pulling faces, singing with and to each other, directly addressing the camera and audience, and in between reciting famous Hindi masala film lines. They stand before 40 or 50 backing female dancers, giving the film a spectacular, colorful opening that grabs your attention. Bol Bachchan, then, knowingly plays on and with its spectacle, silliness, comedy and laughter. Unfortunately, the first half is much stronger than the second—the acting, editing and control of the story wander off aimlessly post-interval.
The films tells of Abbas (Abhishek bachchan) and his sister Sania Ali (Asin Thottumkal) and their move from New Delhi to Ranakpur after being forced out their parental home by conniving cousins. Prithviraj Raghuvanshi (Ajay Devgan) is the good-hearted and muscle-headed leader in Ranakpur who takes to Abbas; after Abbas saves a drowning child, Prithviraj offers him a job. However, through a series of misdemeanors, lies and false identities, Abbas Ali becomes Abhishek Bachchan, the character, played by the actor himself – yes, very postmodern – and the film unravels through a lie told with good intentions that has to be covered up by numerous other lies.
The film’s premise is also playful and unfolds tongue firmly in its cheek: from the outset it draws on and pays homage to the theatrical, Indian mythologicals, the beharoopia/masquerade complex in Hindi cinema, and yesteryear films from the 1970s and 80s. It also lovingly plays with the Hindu-Muslim brotherhood motif throughout, not least by displaying and using film dialogue that has been and is beautifully constituted out of Hindi-Urdu lingua franca.
In its better comedic moments there are some of Prithviraj’s lines which he attempts to deliver in English, only to deliberately perform bad English being spoken and mimicked: ‘Hard work is the keyhole to saxophone,’ meaning hard work is the key to success. Devgan’s delivery and timing is mostly spot on.
Abhishek the actor excels when he plays the twin brother of the character Abhishek Bachchan as the gay and effeminate Abbas Ali. In the twists that this camp character enacts, the actor Abhishek proves he is comfortable and adept at playing with male bravado and sending up masculinity in Hindi cinema.
The supporting cast – made up of Asrani, Prachi Desai, and Neeraj Vora, amongst others – all partake and revel in the gags and spoofs. Archana Puran Singh as the aging and saucy stage actress who gets hired to play Abhishek Bachchan and Abbas Ali’s mother is a hoot, and her success in subverting the convention of the Maa/mother figure in Hindi cinema is a joy to watch.
The pre-intermission of the film actually has tempo, and is carefully put together. Unfortunately, the latter half drags, but it does reveal small charms along the way. Bol Bachchan is not so much a horrendous game then, but one that could have been much better delivered in the post-interval. You know summer is here when Bollywood releases its big blockbuster budgets with lots of song and dance, action, color, and spectacle performed by its A-listers. Bol Bachchan is a watchable show, just.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., and author of ‘Bollywood Travels: Culture, Diaspora and Border Crossings in Popular Hindi Cinema’.