Immediately after watching Humshakals I called up my mother. "Hello Mom, how are you?" I asked. Panic stricken, she asked me if I was ok because it seems she heard me say "Heoma hfwaaru." That’s when I realized my words were sounding garbled because I was frothing at the mouth. My legs suddenly gave way, I quivered awkwardly as if suddenly afflicted by cerebral palsy. Unable to stand, I grunted for help but no one noticed me because they were all stumbling away from the theatre, all of them struck with varying degrees of shock and trauma. I have somehow managed to make it to my car and I'm typing this from there.
Sweet merciful heavens. Just when I thought Himmatwala was the worst possible product any film industry in the world can offer, here comes Humshakals, another brain-damaging Sajid Khan infection masquerading as a film. The overall effect of watching this movie is that of having lobotomy needles inserted into every hole of your body at the same time. If I ran an endless video loop of Saif Ali Khan in a drag, shrilly trying to seduce a rapey Riteish Deshmukh, how long would it take before you go violently insane? Since Humshakals ends after about 159 nightmarish minutes, let's put the estimate at about an hour.
But sexual tomfoolery, shrieking and hamming aside, there's much more to hate about this ‘family movie’. It's disturbing to see such an atrocious, regressive, misogynistic, sexist, homophobic cinematic product force-fed to paying audiences. I can understand that a comedy need not be ‘safe’, but what goes on in Humshakals is simply too horrifying to bear. The only ‘story’ elements of the film involve Ram Kapoor trying to take over Saif’s family business with a duplicate. Then, somehow, three sets of dopplegangers show up. Through a sadistic rift in the space-time continuum, the one line pitch plays out interminably. Sajid’s assumption is simply that triple roles will make it thrice as funny. By trying out ‘comedic’ scenarios involving mistaken identities, Sajid just drags the film forever with inane and tedious slapstick. He also assaults the audience with exposition as blatant as the ‘Humshakals’ title song playing every single time identities get mixed.
If by some cruel twist of life expectancy you are forced to see Humshakals, feel free to decide which episode sounds ‘funnier’ to you: two dwarfs trying to rape three women, dwarfs biting Saif and Riteish's penises, gay men having an orgasm at the very mention of the word ‘bum’, Ram Kapoor trying to have sex with Ram Kapoor in a drag, Saif crossing his eyes to establish the ‘retardation’ of his character. I'm generally hesitant to bring up homophobia and misogyny when reviewing a comedy because the genre often uses risqué and offensive material and it should have the freedom to do so. But when I see a ‘family’ film with a U certificate that has sound cues of men moaning when two gay characters get caricaturishly aroused at the mere sight of a man, I am convinced of the filmmaker’s insensitivity. And when I see women being consistently objectified as a source for laughs, I am convinced of the filmmaker’s sexism.
At one point Sajid tries to redeem himself by poking fun at his own work —Himmatwala is brought out as a tool of torture — but by then it’s too late to not loathe everything about his film. What can be said about Saif Ali Khan? He had the world in his hand when he did Omkara. Now he's gone from failed detective action thrillers to easy rom coms like Cocktail, to easy-cash-grabby Race sequels, to weeping all the way to the bank with easy bait like Humshakals. Riteish, on the other hand seems like someone who is doing embarrassing-cash-grabby stuff like Humshakals to fund good Marathi films. Ram Kapoor, despite being the best part of the film, humiliates himself over and over again.
If I told you that Tamannah’s legs are the heroines of the film would that clarify anything? How about that Satish Shah’s presence is notable in that it ranks amongst his worst? Put simply, Humshakals is a wretched film. The only useful aspect of Humshakals is that it could be used for pest control. You could play the DVD and step out, and when you return home three hours later every insect and vermin in your house will be dead. I’m still in the car though. Excuse me while I drive over to the nearest hospital and seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
(First published in Firstpost)