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Film review: 'Ghoomketu' struggles to amuse

Nawazuddin Siddiqui's lead turn isn't enough to save this lukewarm comedy about a writer from a village trying to break into Bollywood

Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a struggling writer in 'Ghoomketu'
Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays a struggling writer in 'Ghoomketu'

Pushpendra Nath Misra’s film has barely started than it breaks the fourth wall. “This is my life story, not a Bollywood trailer," says Ghoomeketu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), addressing the camera. “If you find it interesting, watch it." To remind viewers that they have a choice is a bold move. Ghoomketu has the wrong kind of whimsicality, full of flashbacks and dream sequences and crazy characters but not funny enough or tied to a distinct artistic vision; eccentric bordering on annoying.

Ghoomketu runs away from his village in Uttar Pradesh with dreams of making it as a screenwriter in Mumbai. These dreams seem certain to fall through, given that his abilities are clearly limited: fertile territory for Siddiqui, who can play a destined-for-failure everyman better than anyone. This could have been a lo-fi Luck By Chance, a sympathetic look at strugglers working in C-grade cinema, with ambitions of slipping their script to Shah Rukh Khan. Yet, though we see Ghoomketu act in schlocky sci-fi films and try and push his scripts on producers, there’s no real insight into how people on the margins of Bollywood operate.

Even the smarter ideas suffer from a lack of conviction. One of Ghoomketu’s stories is rendered in the style of a black and white silent film, with exaggerated acting and intertitles. I assume the makers got cold feet about the scene at some point, for there’s also an unnecessary Siddiqui voiceover and some of the characters speak aloud, which ruins the effect. It’s still better than another imagined scene, a barely coherent Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge finale spoof with Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha – a premise without a punchline.

For a simple fable-like story, the film has a telling reliance on blue humour for laughs. One of Ghoomketu’s ‘ghazals’ ends with the line “May you never say fuck off" – repeated thrice. His father, played by Raghuvir Yadav, is given to screechy, cuss-filled rants. There’s a conversation conducted during defecation in the fields. Ghoomketu’s aunt (nicely played by Ila Arun) has a burping disorder. Perhaps the presence of Anurag Kashyap as co-producer (he also plays an inept cop) inspired Misra in this direction, but it’s not easy to cuss as entertainingly and organically as Kashyap does in his films.

Misra’s film was completed in 2014, but is only getting a release now, on the streaming platform Zee5. In the meantime, Siddiqui has played a migrant from UP in Mumbai in Photograph, one of his gentlest, most moving performances. Yadav too played a similar character to his Dadda, brilliantly, in the recent series Panchayat. The film suffers in comparison to these works, but also because it withholds from the viewer a chance to take its protagonist seriously. It’s an hour and 13 minutes before we hear Ghoomketu talk soulfully, poetically, about his village and realise that his dreams of being a writer may not be so ridiculous after all. But by then it’s too late.

Ghoomketu is streaming on Zee5.

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