T-Series and Ramesh Sippy Entertainment’s Nautanki Saala! (UA) is the story of Ram Parmar (Ayushmann Khurrana) who plays Raavan in a stage-play, Raavan Leela, directed by himself. He saves Mandar Lele (Kunaal Roy Kapur) who is about to end his life because he considers himself good for nothing. Good-hearted as he is, Ram brings Mandar to his house which he shares with girlfriend Chitra (Gaelyn Mendonca). To help Mandar regain his self-confidence, Ram gives him the role of Lord Ram in the play after the actor playing the character quits the stage-play. The producer of the play, Chandra (Sanjeev Bhatt), is not at all happy with the choice of the new Ram because Mandar does not know acting and is also hopelessly low on confidence.
Simultaneously, Ram tries to bring Mandar and his estranged girlfriend, Nandini Patel (Pooja Salvi), together again. It is a tough task because Nandini, who runs a flower shop, has fallen in love with Lokesh Limaye alias Loli (Rufy Khan). Although Ram succeeds in creating a rift between Nandini and Loli, he himself falls in love with her gradually. Meanwhile, cracks develop in the relationship between Ram and Chitra because of which she walks out on him.
Here, Mandar regains self-confidence, thanks to the efforts of Ram who then informs him that he was trying to bring Nandini closer to him again. However, Mandar soon realises that Ram had cheated him and had fallen in love with Nandini. On her part, Nandini understands that Ram had feigned a romance with her because he wanted her and Mandar to come together. Ultimately, Nandini and Mandar walk out on Ram who has already had a breakup with Chitra.
What happens thereafter? Does Ram unite with Chitra or Nandini? Does Nandini marry Ram, Mandar or Loli? What happens to Raavan Leela?
The film is based on the French film, Après Vous. The story is quite convoluted and the screenplay, written by Nipun Dharmadhikari, Charudutt Acharya and Rohan Sippy, doesn’t improve matters either. The whole confusion about who is in love with whom and at what point of time arises again and again because and only because Ram doesn’t come clean. If Ram had, right in the beginning, told Mandar and Chitra about his intentions and about what he was doing, there would not have been much scope for confusion. Frankly, there is actually no reason for Ram to hide his actions and intentions from Mandar and Chitra. In other words, the whole game of secrecy Ram plays with Mandar and Chitra looks contrived, played by him only to further the drama, but the audience is left wondering every now and then about why Ram cannot take Mandar and Chitra into confidence. Also, the parallels drawn between the drama in the stage-play and the drama unfolding in the real lives of the actors would’ve been far more enjoyable had they been comical. But while some comic scenes tickle the funny bone, there are many which fall flat on their face. In fact, there is so much of stage-play and theatrics in the film that it bores the audience which doesn’t quite like it when parallels like the above are drawn.
The three screenplay writers have also erred in not convincingly establishing why Ram Parmar is so keen on helping Mandar. Agreed, there is something called compassion but even that compassion doesn’t come across effectively enough.
On the plus side, however, are some hilarious sequences and punch-packed dialogues (also penned by the trio). In particular is the scene in which Mandar auditions for the role of Ram, which is outstanding. Also, the scenes of Ram with the hospital receptionist are very entertaining. The scene between Chitra, Ram and Mandar when the latter is lying on the couch and the two are seated on the floor near him, and some scenes between Ram and Mandar are superb. Again, on the minus side, the drama becomes too long and unwieldy as it goes round and round in circles. Ram and Mandar gulping down alcohol in turns, and Nandini’s fickle-mindedness about whether she wants to be with Loli or Ram or Mandar also irritate the audience.
Ayushmann Khurrana proves again that he is a brilliant actor. He plays Ram Parmar with such finesse that one can’t miss his genius. Kunaal Roy Kapur is also very good and excels in several light scenes. His poker-faced comedy is superb but it must be added that some of his comic scenes will appeal only to the classes. Pooja Salvi does fairly well. Gaelyn Mendonca is very natural and earnest but doesn’t look like a heroine. Evelyn Sharma is okay as Seeta. Sanjeev Bhatt does a terrific job in the role of Chandra, producer of the stage-play. Rufy Khan makes his presence felt as Lokesh Limaye. Sulbha Arya is nice in a tiny role. Purva Naresh does an average job as the psychiatrist. Nipun Dharmadhikari leaves a mark as the man in the restaurant. Among the large supporting cast, the ones who stand out are Sheela Das as hospital receptionist, and Vishwajeet as the male nurse.
Rohan Sippy’s direction lacks the zing needed for a comedy of this kind. Many of the humorous moments are lost on the audience because of his narrative style. Mike McCleary’s music is nice. ‘Mera mann’ and ‘Saaddi galli aaja’ are very good songs, tuneful and soulful. The other numbers are fair. Kausar Munir’s lyrics are appealing. Swarup and Himanshu’s choreography is nothing to shout about. Manoj Lobo’s cinematography is good. Sukant Panigrahy’s production designing and Saini Johray’s sets are of a nice standard. Aarif Sheikh’s editing needed to be much crisper.
On the whole, Nautanki Saala! is not a very enjoyable or entertaining fare. The laughter it evokes is not enough for an audience to feel satiated. It has already proved to be a profitable venture for the producers who have pre-sold all the rights but the distributors will not be as lucky.