Baazaar Review: Bulls and bears, but who really cares?
Gauravv K Chawla's directorial debut starring Saif Ali Khan and Rohan Mehra is a fatal plummet
Screenwriters are somehow convinced that dialogue sounds punchier if broken into a list. Sakun Kothari, the older leading man of Baazaar, uses four delicate-looking envelopes to make a singularly homophobic point, verbally enlisting and eliminating the contents of each, as though life were a twisted KBC episode hosted by a demented Gujarati elf. “I have just two rules,” he later remarks to his protégé, peddling him the illusion of choice. “1) Never lose my money, 2) Never forget the first rule.”
Gauravv K Chawla’s ghastly directorial debut is 1) A film posing as a multiple-choice questionnaire, 2) An MCQ posing as a film, 3) Abbas-Mustan’s long-lost memo book refurbished by Nikkhil Advani, 4) All of the above. The screenplay ritualistically deflates the American corporate/financial thriller to accommodate power-suited Indians talking heavy trade and confusing truisms for punchlines. “Lottery jeetne ke liye…. ticket khareedna padta hai,” educates one character, while another does her one better: “Samajdaar se samjhauta karne mein samajdaari hai.”
Director: Gauravv K Chawla
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Radhika Apte, Chitrangada Singh, Denzil Smith, Rohan Mehra
The datedness of Baazaar — frantic split-screens boxing up swimming pools, private yachts and champagne glasses; silly twists mangling a stock market backdrop — is made cornier by the presence of Saif Ali Khan, an actor who was seemingly on an upward stride since Kaalakaandi and Sacred Games. His character, Sakun Kothari, is a Surat-born ‘angadia’ smuggler who climbs the social ladder by simply swapping ‘Jai Shri Krishna’ with a 'How do you do?’ Now a big shot on Dalal Street, he struts around like a wannabe Frank Underwood: always knocking twice on tabletops, dining at a roadside eatery to remember his ‘roots’, and, in one scene, even breaks the fourth wall. But as the film plods on and his ego peaks, he ditches Spacey to triumphantly match himself up with Batman — a superhero who wields money as his superpower.
This un-caped crusader attracts quite a few Robins, and the newest of them is aspiring stockbroker Rizwan Ahmed (debutant Rohan Mehra). An Allahabad University topper, Rizwan leaves behind his small-town ways to pursue his dreams in Mumbai, except these dreams don't really square with his actions: he makes some money but gives it all up, drinks brandy on his first pub-crawl because he’s “feeling cold” and — disappointingly for a newcomer — breaks off his first kiss to worry about work.
“Oh! Performance pressure?” enquires Radhika Apte as his girlfriend Priya Rai, laughing instead of fuming at the insult. For the second time this month after AndhaDhun, Apte seems content playing a conventional love interest, even enduring comparisons to Kim Kardashian in a Honey Singh song titled Billionaire. Baazaar's second female lead, Chitrangada Singh, appears as Mrs Kothari — a woman forever resigned to flanking her husband and snivelling out Gujarati as only a jiofied Alexa would. Even newbie Rohan gets to mansplain her in one scene, with an unsettling lecture that ends, “Thapar marna zaroori hota hai.”
Baazaar tries way too hard to find depth. Rizwan, upon his arrival in Mumbai, is told how his ‘Single Muslim’ status is disadvantageous in the city’s communally-tense housing societies. Immediately, he points to a swanky high-rise — one constructed by a Parsi developer — and declares, “In two months, I'll be living there.” This film, like his ambition, is a tall climb, one where excruciating buildup is dispelled with the lamest of reveals. Remember the ‘Sell me this pen’ routine from The Wolf Of Wall Street? Baazaar reworks it as ‘Adulterated coffee gets gulped by guy tasked with selling it’ — a groan-worthy moment that not only is repulsive but, if you actually think about it, makes zero business sense.
Which is what essentially drives this whole affair — a preposterous gaffe about ‘emotions’ outweighing ‘math’, in a film that has no understanding of either. Despite some cheeky winks at real-life telecom scams and political payoffs, the biggest fraud here is the one pulled on the audience. We watch, aghast, as Sakun Kothari regals SEBI officer Rana Dasgupta (Manish Chaudhary) with a joke about ‘a Gujarati and a Bengali travelling in a train.’ The long-winded punchline — about how the wily Gujju outwits the bookish Bong — would have landed on its own, had it not been schlepped along in a fake accent by an actor who’s half-Bengali himself. Baazaar, thus, becomes too much of a khichdi, one that is irredeemable by the fattiest of ghee. Bulls or bears, this market merits not one bid.