Monday, 30th October 2017

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Raja Natwarlal

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  • Published 30.08.14

Making a con film is the trickiest art in filmmaking because a movie itself is a con. For the two hours in that dark theatre you are being lied to, 24 frames per second.

And when it comes to a Bollywood movie, where lovers are breaking into song and dance at ‘hello’, heroes and villains are blowing out brains at will and Emraan Hashmi is looking for his next kiss, your suspension of disbelief is really challenged. So tricking characters — and the audience — in a mainstream Hindi con film is a tough ask.

Raja Natwarlal has a classic con film arc. There’s the small-time con artist who wants to take revenge on a Richie Rich guy by pulling off a big con with the help of a guru who assembles a resourceful team. And because it’s a Bollywood film and an Emraan Hashmi film at that, adopting the Ocean’s Eleven idea of the love story coming in the way of the con is really a no-brainer.

Director Kunal Deshmukh, who’s impressed in the past with Jannat, goes back to cricket to make the big con more audience- friendly. Raja (Emraan) is trying to sell an imaginary T20 cricket team to Cape Town-based business tycoon Vardha Yadav (Kay Kay Menon) who had killed his partner in con, Raghav (Deepak Tijori). Helping Raja in his grand plan is the master scammer Yogi (Paresh Rawal) and creating all kinds of roadblocks is his lady love, the nautch girl Ziya (Humaima Malik).

Taking a leaf out of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, Yogi explains the three stages of a magic trick to Raja by having a cigarette roll on its own. Now, if the big trick of Raja Natwarlal, which is two-thirds of the film, is evaluated on Nolan turf, The Pledge — the first step where the magician shows something that appears ordinary — is quite engaging. Raja exploits Vardha’s obsession with cricket and convincingly wins his confidence.

The Turn — where the magician makes the ordinary act extraordinary — is also cleverly pulled off by Deshmukh. From getting Vardha to meet a fake cricket board official at the actual board office to staging a team-buying auction, the Raja-Yogi team goes about the job like smooth operators and it’s a lot of fun.

It is The Prestige — when the effect of the illusion is produced — where Raja Natwarlal gets clumsy and falters. When you sit back and realise that the entire trick was dependent on one security camera, you feel conned. It doesn’t help that the love story (read: cues for bad songs) has been grating on your nerves and you suddenly end up very disillusioned.

Emraan’s a veteran of such roles, that of the street-smart, artful dodger, and he doesn’t need to break into a sweat to be the new Mr Natwarlal. Paresh Rawal’s surprisingly restrained and lets the funny lines rip with glee. It’s great to see Kay Kay Menon back in action after quite some time and he’s always good. Humaima Malik is the weakest link and no amount of cleavage-showing or booty-shaking can save the day.

Despite the party pooper of an ending and that nauseating love story, Raja Natwarlal, for much of its running time is very watchable. Just that in its effort to reach out to the lowest common denominator, Bollywood stoops a little too low and stops well short. To quote Nolan again: “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling!”