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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Housefull 4, Review: Emptiness to the core

Housefull 4, Review: Emptiness to the fore

In the age of the multiplex, a sign saying that a particular show is House-Full, meaning all the tickets have been sold in advance, is about as rare as discoveries of the abominable snowman. Producer Sajid Nadiadwala is a grandson who carries on the business his grand-father started, and even calls his company Nadiadwala Grandson, complete with an animated logo featuring an old man and a young child. Housefull 4 is Sajid’s fourth foray with the franchise, a package co-produced by FoxStar, that rings hollow and has minimal chances of witnessing Housefull turnouts anywhere. If anything, the film is likely to experience emptiness.

Starting in present-day (2019) London, the story dates back to 1419, in a place called Sitamgarh. Harry, Max and Roy are three brothers running a salon, with Harry as their star barber. One day, an underworld Don by the name of Big Bhai, deposits a bag full of 5 million pounds sterling with Harry, saying that it belongs to another , bigger, Don, Michael, who will collect it later. Harry suffers from a condition due to which he gets numbed on hearing any loud noise and forgets what he whatever happened a few minutes ago. After Big Bhai leaves, Harry hears a loud sound and forgets about the instructions. Instead, he believes that he was given the dirty bag to wash, and he puts it in the washing machine. When Big Bhai learns about this incident, he threatens to kill all three brothers unless they make good the loss. The three hit upon an idea and decide to entrap the three daughters of a billionaire Indian, Thakral, from whom they hope to filch the booty. After a crazy encounter, Harry saves the life of one of the three, and this leads to the triple marriage proposal being accepted. To decide the marriage destination, the family globe atlas is spun thrice, and all three times it points to Sitamgarh.

Sitamgarh is in North-Western India, and full of forts and palaces. The Thakrals and the three musketeers stay at a hotel, which was once a royal palace. Strange things begin to take place right after their arrival. The butler, Pasta, claims that Harry is the erstwhile prince Bala of the kingdom of Sitamgarh, Max is a princess’s bodyguard and Roy an Indian classical dance teacher. This resonates a bit with the kind of weird dreams Harry has been having every day, which is about a palace, statues and pigeons. Later, one by one, all the characters realise that they have been reborn. Though the three sisters were all princesses and sisters in their previous birth, the three men were not related. Pasta was Pasta, but the hotel’s manager, Winston Churchgate (sounded Churchill to me; Churchgate is a railway terminus in Mumbai) was Pasta’s lady-love, Giggly. As if all this shuffling was not enough, fate paired the three couples wrongly during their present birth. Harry wants history to be honoured, even if it does not repeat itself, but the couples have already been paired, so how can a woman, who was to be his bride, suddenly become his sister-in-law? And then comes the villain, also a born again entity, to seek vengeance from everybody for his failed plans of six hundred years ago.

Nine writers--screenplay by Farhad Samji, Aakash Kaushik, Madhur Sharma, Tushar Hiranandani, Sparsh Khetarpal, Tasha Bhambra; story by Sara Bodinar, Sajid Nadiadwala; dialogue by Farhad Samji—are credited, and that is just nice. Nobody will get more than 11% blame. Now if you add to that Farhad Samji’s credits as lyrics writer for two songs, singer of one and, above all, the director, he must be given a whopping 89%, with only 11% shared by the others. Farhad, who has been partnering older brother Sajid as writer, lyricist and director (Entertainment), goes solo for the first time, and makes a crash landing. Action and comedy are their fortes, and Housefull 4 falls in that broad category, though the action is partly substituted with rebirth. He came on board when Sajid Khan left the project. Actor Nana Patekar too opted out, both being accused of conduct unbecoming. Lead actor Akshay Kumar had said he would not work in any film which had cast or crew members facing sexual misconduct charges. However, with Farhad taking over, the reins, that issue was settled.

Thriving on insider jokes about film stars and film personalities, Housefull 4 offers contrived, laboured humour. Alia Bhatt (actress) and Mahesh Bhatt (her father; producer-director), Madhu and Bala (yesteryear’s Venus, Madhubala), Neil Nitin Mukesh (actor), Ramsay (makers of horror films) all are made fun of. Are the writers merely irreverent or have they crossed the line? Harry’s dead parents are shown as photographs of Shakti Kapoor and Archana Puran Singh, living actors. Names of actor Bobby Deol’s film, Soldier, and lines from its title song, form part of the dialogue. In the year 1419, many characters sing lines that are taken from recent film songs, and then exclaim that this could be a song. One character is named Gama, after the legendary wrestler of a century ago, who was unbeatable. However, the chances of anybody under 60 having even heard about him are remote. Most jokes and punchlines are repeated or acted out, after being spoken or before, which is dumbing down of the audience to rock-bottom levels.

Here is an example. Big Bhai tries to flirt with the three sisters by asking them what comes after bees (twenty), in Hindi. They reply, rightly, ikkees (twenty-one). He scores a point. "You just said ik kiss (one kiss), so you must now give me a kiss." They rightfully knock some sense into him. Even as he is reling under the impact of their punches, here arrives our hero-to-be, Harry, who was to get into the rescue act, bash up Big Bhai, and win over the girls in the process. Instead, he asks them what comes before baees, and they again innocently reply, "...ikkees". So he too demands a kiss. Again, this man earns his due, and is pummelled to glory. Enjoyed the joke? I did not.

A lot is made of pigeon droppings and pig’s faeces, which, the King of Sitamgarh is conned into eating (lifted from an Austin Powers movie). Many intended funny moments depend upon physical movements in the reproductive and mammary areas, which leads me to wonder whether the members of the Central Board of Film Certification were awake while watching the film. A song is lifted from the 1977 film Chacha Bhatija, but on Wikipedia, The Bhoot (ghost) song is described as: Original composition by Devi Sri Prasad, lyrics by Farhad Samji, Vayu and recreated by: Farhad Samji, Sandeep Shirodkar, Mika Singh, Farhad Samji. Making Rana Dagubatti a qavvaal (one who sings the qavvaalee genre of Indian music) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui a witch-doctor, who is himself possessed by the soul of his dead wife, and walks on all fours, head up, sounds funny on paper. On screen, you laugh out of ridicule, not because your funny bone was tickled. Oh, you laugh all right. Some of the jokes are genuinely funny. A large number, unfortunately, are dim-witted and puerile. Post intermission, the 142-minute movie runs out of steam, which is increasingly replaced by emptiness to the core, that alternates with hot air.

In the cast are:

Akshay Kumar as Rajkumar Bala Dev Singh / Harry (He keeps saying Madhu-Bala and squinting his eyes)

Riteish Deshmukh as Bangdu Maharaj / Roy (Effeminate; gets his genders mixed up in his speech)

Bobby Deol as Dharamputra / Max [Real-life son of actor Dharmendra, was named Dharamputra (Dharam’s son) in 1419]

Kriti Sanon as Rajkumari Madhu / Kriti

Pooja Hegde as Rajkumari Mala / Pooja

Kriti Kharbanda as Rajkumari Meena / Neha

(You cannot tell one from the other two. They are made to do very similar things and dress similarly too).

Chunky Pandey as Pasta (Hams to his heart’s content)

Rana Daggubati as Raja Gama / Pappu Rangeela (Our sympathies)

Ranjeet as Sitamgarh Ke Maharaj (King) / Thakral (Silly role; he is the only one among the group who is not shown recalling his previous birth as the King of Sitamgarh).

Sharad Kelkar as Suryabhan / Michael Bhai (Has the mean man’s looks and sneer).

Johnny Lever as Winston Churchgate (My sympathies)

Jamie Lever as Giggly (My double sympathies with Johnny’s daughter)

Manoj Pahwa as Big Bhai (Such a portly Don?)

Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Ramsay Baba (How far will he go just to be different?)

Rajpal Yadav (Not in the film; most likely the role was deleted)

Paresh Rawal (Not in the film; most likely the role was deleted)

Pradeep Rawat (Not in the film; most likely the role was deleted)

Saurabh Shukla (Not in the film; most likely the role was deleted)

Boman Irani as Batuk Patel (Not in the film; most likely the role was deleted).

Perhaps they have given it all away as a hint, by naming the scene of action as a place with the unlikely moniker, Sitamgarh. Sitam is Urdu for cruel and garh means place. They are warning you that once you enter the cinema hall, you will find yourself in a cruel place. It wasn’t statutory, so take the nomenclature as advisory. If you still wish to head for a multiplex where Housefull 4 is showing (minus the ‘Housefull’ sign), you are doing so at your own risk and must be a hard-core fan of the franchise. Just be on your guard against droppings by three stool pigeons named Neil, Nitin and Mukesh.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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