There hasn’t quite been a hot director-actor team with the same success as Shetty and Devgn in recent times. In contemporary film lore, only the hit pairing of Yash Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan would be a bigger box office parallel with the former as the director and the latter coyly romancing through his various “Rahul” named roles. Beginning with Zameen (2003), Shetty-Devgn have made four super-hits, with three installments in the Golmaal franchise and Singham. With Bol Bachchan they return with an essentially unaltered lascivious and bawdy slap-stick comedy routine that is as much a pedestrian front-bench draw as it is a big-tent event.
Abbas (Abhishek Bachchan) lives in Delhi with his sister Sania (Asin). Losing out on a court-case involving some ancestral property, the brother and sister are convinced by Shashtri (Asrani), a well-meaning elder, to go with him to a nearby village where Abbas can find a job. Arriving in a village ruled by the perennially hot-headed Prithviraj Raghuvanshi (Devgn), a baron-bully with ancestral land dispute issues. Abbas assumes a double identity.
In a plot twist, he changes his name to Abhishek, and recreates himself as a gay guy named Abbas to throw the wool over Raghuvanshi’s eyes. Complicated? Yes. Make sense? No.
The farce involving mistaken and fake identities is only paper thin. If Abhishek Bachchan’s character in Dostana had to pretend to be gay so he could share an apartment with a gal pal he liked, Bol Bachchan has Bachchan playing an over-the-top, effeminate gay. This caricature is both downright silly and also perplexing in that even in 2012 the only identity an A-list Hindi movie can give a non-straight character is that of a flamboyant, scarf-wearing hip swisher. But then again, subtlety is hardly a term that jumps to mind when one thinks of a Shetty-Devgn vehicle.
Abhishek Bachchan has never quite made a mark as a terrific actor. He can, however, come up terrific caricatures and does so here. Devgn’s Prithviraj is a bossy lord of his manor and vast holdings. He is fond of surrounding himself with muscular—albeit scantily clad—jousters and all of them are afraid of him. Also, in the rush to get the gender-questioning sight-gags up and running, the female characters are utilized almost as afterthoughts.
While the production values sparkle, the acting is almost uniformly overdone and the story is shallow. That appears to have done very little to dampen the box office appeal of Bol Bachchan. Well-marketed by Devgan’s own Ajay Devgn Productions label, Amitabh Bachchan both singing and showing up for the title song video doesn’t hurt box office receipts. Bol Bachchan opened to a $500,000-plus haul on its U.S. opening weekend and dashed to a 10-day total of more than $1 million. This is on par with the highest box office of any Hindi movie in the U.S. for 2012 so far. Be warned: check sensibilities in at the door and be sure to pick up sanity bearings on the way out.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.