Why Raja Natwarlal isn’t named Jannat 3 will remain a mystery. Like Jannat 1 and its sequel, it is directed by Kunal Deshmukh, stars Emraan Hashmi as a street smart con man, involves a cricket based heist, a love interest who foils the plan and three hundred improbable contrivances to make the hero win the heist. All three are the exact same films that look exactly the same, except for the hair on Hashmi’s handsome, vacuum-pump lips. The only possible reason seems to be that this film is produced by a different banner and the filmmakers didn’t have the rights over the ‘brand name’.
It doesn’t matter, because Raja Natwarlal is a con film about con men, and it succeeds wonderfully in conning you into coming to see it. Raja Natwarlal is a Stupid Man’s Ocean’s 11. It’s shot on foreign locales (South Africa, no less) so you’re supposed to be enticed and enthralled by its sophistication. It also features a bit of Dharamsala, for no reason other than the entire film crew wanting a nice little holiday in the Himalayas. Hashmi plays Arjun, a sadak chaap con man who does to people what Jason Statham does in the opening scene of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels with Deepak Tijori as his wingman. Somehow, these gents come across a suitcase full of money and Tijori gets killed. Arjun then plans to take revenge against the baddie responsible for his friend’s death – Vardha Yadav (played to shocking restraint by Kay Kay Menon).
Raja Natwarlal could have been a fine revenge heist movie had the treatment not been aimed at humans from the Cretaceous Period. Vardha Yadav is one of the biggest business tycoons in the world who has gained power by fooling people with his stock market wizardry, and he operates from South Africa. Arjun, a sadak chaap who obviously will not have a passport, somehow flies off to South Africa and teams up with Paresh Rawal at Dharamshala. That’s not all. He assembles a team of other con men (Danny Ocean-style) and con Yadav for Rs 15,000 crores by staging a fake cricket league. Let’s just say that there are plot holes in this film that make the South African volcano mouths look like pebbles.
Plus there is the presence of the love interest who comes in between the con and the hero – and Rawal even gives a bhaari dialogue of how in their profession, love could be fatal. It doesn’t help that the love interest is played by Humaima Malick, an import from Pakistan who is good looking for sure but has even less screen presence than the dames from the previous Jannat movies. The rest of the cast is equally awful. While Rawal sleepwalks in his role, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays a hamming serial killer who doesn’t utter a single word of dialogue. Hashmi himself seems to be aware of how awful the film is and makes it rather obvious in his sheer lack of effort. Technically the film is mostly grotesque and the filmmaker gets credit for managing to make even South Africa look boring. There are about 100 in the first half and they’re all painful to listen to and look at.
Raja Natwarlal is too classy (if one can call it that) for the ‘massy’ audience and it’s too stupid for the multiplex crowd. It tries to be both at the same time and fails spectacularly at both. Given the unintentionally funny plot holes, it comes as a surprise to know that the script is written by Parveez Shaikh, whose past credits include Queen and the highly-underrated Ghanchakkar. Centrally, Raja Natwarlal fails because its basic premise is a mess. It presents the challenge of conning a man who is supposed to be one of the world’s smartest men, except he behaves like one of the dumbest creatures to have walked this planet. Make that the second dumbest; the number one position is occupied by the audience that fell for Raja Natwarlal and bought tickets.
(First published in Firstpost)