Atithi, Devo Na Bhavah?

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ATITHI TUM KAB JAOGE? Director : Ashwani Dheer Players: Ajay Devgn, Konkona Sen Sharma, Paresh Rawal. Music: Pritam Chakraborty Theatrical release: Wide Frame Films.

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Best known for his hilarious television serial Office Office, Atithi… is writer-director Ashwani Dheer’s second foray at the silver-screen. However, one can’t help wishing he had stayed with TV. Dheer assembles an enviable cast—all the leads have serious  acting chops—and still manages to lay an egg.

The premise of the movie has good scope for comedy—an unwelcome guest on an interminable visit to a busy metropolitan couple’s home provides several opportunities for laughter. The problem arises from the fact that the director tries to stretch a sitcom-worth plot into a two-hour long marathon. No wonder there is a lot of repetitiveness, many painfully stretched scenes … a film, in short, which threatens to become as unwelcome as the unexpected guest.

After a promising introduction by Javed Jaffery, we find Lambodar Chacha (Rawal) unexpected visiting the house of working couple Pappu and Munmun(Devgn and Sen Sharma), and making himself at home.

Needless to say, Lambodar Chacha is an amalgam of every exasperating guest one has ever suffered. He unashamedly burps and breaks wind in company; wakes the household up at 5 a.m. with his alarming gargles; pesters the maid till he chases her away and worst of all, doesn’t seem at all in a hurry to leave.

Into this melee are introduced dollops of our “forgotten” culture and religion, which the uncle takes upon himself to re-acquaint the neighbors with.

At the halfway point, the film suddenly changes track to deliver a social message (laborious spoonfed to the audience). The unwelcome Chachaji has a few surprises in store for the hostile couple.

The trouble with the mixed messages is that the film ends up being neither a David Dhawan (Partner, Hero No.1) or Priyadarshan (Hungama, De Dana Dan)style slap-stick nor a Sooraj Barjatya kind of family drama.

To give credit where it’s due, the movie works better as the family drama and gathers speed towards the end when Chachaji disappears from a crowded beach during the Ganesh festival.

The film raises unintentional questions from the very beginning—which modern couple in their right senses would allow a stranger to live with them? How does Chacha, who keeps ringing up and disturbing his nephew every minute to report on his whereabouts, conveniently forget to inform him when he disappears for the whole night, much to the consternation of the family? And the biggest mystery of all, which director in his right mind would blow up a 50-lakh set in themuhurat(first auspicious) shot of a film?

Paresh Rawal, whose excellent acting talent has been misused lately in a series of execrable comedies, hams to the hilt. Devgn and Sen Sharma are mercifully credible as the bickering couple. Pritam’s music is noisy and leaves a lot to be desired.

One can’t help remembering another film about an unwelcome guest—Satyajit Ray’s Agantuk (The Stranger), starring the inimitable Utpal Dutt as a long-lost uncle with “vhanderlast.” The movie explored the very human responses of an urban couple to a guest with an air of mystery about him. There was gentle humor, suspense, and a sense of loss at the passing away of our warm culture of “Atithi Devo Bhavah” (The guest is God), as we get more and more entrenched into our busy schedules and selfish lives.

Atithi… is no Agantuk, and Dheer is no Ray. Watch this movie only if you must.

Entertainment Quotient (EQ): C-

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