Uunchai film review: This buddy-drama decides to sleep when it has promises to keep
Sooraj Barjatya’s return to direction scores on sentiments but falters in pacing
“Friendship was their only motivation,” reads the tagline of Uunchai, a story of three friends who trek to Everest Base Camp in honour of their deceased companion. Bollywood has, time and again, given us tales of doing the extreme for your fellow comrade. Be it helping the bride run from her marriage (3 Idiots), going for a bachelor trip even when you don’t find the third amigo funny (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) or shooting a defence minister (Rang De Basanti). The question is, is that friend worth it? And if yes, how does the audience know that?
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani, Neena Gupta, Parineeti Chopra and Sarika Thakur
Directed by: Sooraj Barjatya
Danny Denzongpa as Bhupen, whose death sets the film in motion, is still affable and charming even when he is not playing a bourgeoisie villain. He is obsessed with climbing Mount Everest, because he told us. He is a great friend, because his friends told us. He wanted to have a just society, because his lost love later tells us. A lot of telling and a bit of preaching happens during this Sooraj Barjatya film. As for Bhupen, you, and also his friends, only remember him dancing with a Nepali cap on. Thus, the central motivation of the film wobbles like a mountain bridge.
But it's still refreshing to see Barjatya break away from the grand family. In Uunchai, Amitabh Bachchan plays Amit Srivastava, a writer who is estranged from his wife; Anupam Kher is Om, who left his brothers in Gorakhpur to establish a books business in Delhi, and Boman Irani plays Javed, an lingerie salesman with a controlling spouse. If this was the early nineties, this film would have been set in Om’s, now ramshackle, haveli and the title would have represented a business family’s losing morals at the height of its success. Bless our stars, Uunchai is a buddy film. But it is still an uphill road less travelled for Barjatya and he manages to keep on track. He crosses all milestones of a road-comedy: there is the initial reluctance to go on the trip, the uninvited traveller who has a past and the jolly friend who is hiding a deadly disease. The film at points feels like traditional Rajshri characters dealing with an evolving world. In a scene Anupam Kher’s Om, after being shunned by his elder brother, asks Amitabh, “Sab kuch badal kyun jata hain?” (Why does everything change?). In another sequence, Amitabh explains to Boman's Javed and his wife Shabina (an alluring Neena Gupta), after their daughter doesn’t invite them for her birthday party, that sometimes they should also understand their children’s predicament. Although it’s a dated theme, Uunchai tries to bring the young and the elderly together, arms-over-shoulders, laughing and being merry with just a Hariharan song missing.
The hurdle, however, is the pacing. Barjatya spends too much time on the stopovers. The film starts from Delhi, crosses Kanpur, Agra, and Gorakhpur before reaching Kathmandu, and before the actual trek begins, we are into 80 percent of the film. Uunchai then inflates its length to make up for lost time and resultantly becomes dreary. It emphasizes a point with its sentimental music long after it is made. The film goes on and on, like its main characters on trek, but doesn’t explore the thrill and the dangers of climbing Everest enough. You start hoping for the climax to come sooner and when it does, it is more relieving than cathartic. Uunchai’s runtime feels like a lifetime. But I guess, ye jeevan hain.