Like most Vinay Pathak-starrers, where he plays an orthodox oddball from a small town with bombastic sincerity in his eyes and a sense of simplicity that would encourage Anna Hazare to recruit him, Pappu Can't Dance Saala begins on a promising note. Mumbai anecdotes arrive thick and fast, and whether it's the errant newspaper guy with a bad throwing arm, the pan-spitting watchman, the gullible old society secretary, or the shady broker that insists on addressing everyone as 'Hello'- we're left with a warm, fuzzy feeling of deja vu... not because we've experienced it ourselves before, but because we've seen Pathak successfully charm us into his holier-than-thou avatar at the beginning of almost every second film.
Chalo Dilli, one of his earlier efforts this year, reminded us of how dangerously Pathak has been treading the stereotypical line lately, and to say that he is now being cast as himself in every film is a ghastly understatement. Nevertheless, we don't really mind because admittedly, he is good at impersonating Raj Kapoor, and there is nobody better than him at playing innumerable variations of Bharat Bhushan.
Writer-director Saurabh Shukla seems to be quite comfortable with his gang of usual suspects, and a very welcome addition in the form of Neha Dhupia only adds to a charming character-driven first act. In probably her most convincing role to date, (much like Lara Dutta in Chalo Dilli) Dhupia shocks and surprises, effortlessly stealing the show as a crass, free-spirited, powerpuff Bollywood backup dancer. There is, obviously, the usual dose of minor behavioral issues like why a financially secure back-up dancer would consider moving in with her sworn enemy (to keep the film going, of course) and why the opportunistic cop wouldn't ruin Pathak's life on discovering the fact that he was living illegally but these flaws aren't catastrophic enough to lift our cynical, preying minds off the entire film.
Predictably, though, the film loses steam as soon as Dhupia pushes herself into our sad little Pappu's life (and home), and the script bids us goodbye after a rare, fleeting cameo that had us sit up and take notice. It was good till it lasted, we tell ourselves, and can't possibly expect more from a film sans any buzz.
It almost seems unfair to find fault with the material by excitedly exclaiming 'so predictable!', iI knew this would happen... yawn!' midway through the screening, as most critics have made a habit of doing so. Given that mainstream Bollywood shamelessly throws in a few item songs and 'sizzling sequences' to perk up an audience at the slightest hint of a script-lag, Pappu Can't Dance Saala instead falls victim to a treatment that lies at the other end of the spectrum.
Shukla, after breezing us through the first half, seems to be aware of the inevitable fact that his characters run low on motivation and purpose after the hour-mark and need nothing less than a miracle to pull off an obligatory second half. He does use the item-girl aspect to his advantage, at times, but thankfully it remains in sync with the rest of the plot. Or whatever's left of it. Hence, he quite visibly struggles to create half baked reasons - like Pathak's gullibility finally getting the goat of his dancer flatmate leading to a forced fallout, a random cringe-inducing menstruation-themed sequence (that was inserted precisely to justify the authenticity of Pathak's medical representative profession), Naseer's cameo and most of all, Rajat Kapoor's pretentious director act and his undefined, red-herring relationship with his muse Dhupia. Their tension-filled, confusing equation tries it's very best to throw us off with an illogically brooding act (*cough* Shekhar *cough* Kapur) by Rajat. His unforgivable about-turn in the end leaves most screenplay writers with an invaluable lesson: Do NOT manipulate your audience simply because you have run out of ideas and have an enigmatic, potentially impactful character at your disposal.
As the film's newly-talented leading lady might unfortunately discover - a Neha Dhupia breakout performance is vastly different, atleast theoretically, from a Vidya Balan breakout performance in the big bad land of mainstream Bollywood. Unless Pappu dances in a Dirty Picture.
- Reel Reptile