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All swell, but no well

 
 

Well Done Abba

Rating: 2.5

March 26, 2010

Cast: Boman Irani, Ila Arun, Minnisha Lamba, Sammir Dattani, Ravi Kissen, Sonali Kulkarni

Director: Shyam Benegal

Two years after giving us the delightfully heartwarming Welcome To Sajjanpur, director Shyam Benegal returns with another social satire set in a small village in the Indian heartland.

Well Done Abba stars Boman Irani as chauffeur Armaan Ali, who takes a month’s leave from his job in Mumbai to visit his native village Chikatpali near Hyderabad to fix his daughter’s marriage. Once there, he decides to avail of a government scheme to have a well dug on his patch of agricultural land. The film follows Armaan Ali over three months, as he navigates through all the corruption and greed involved in a seemingly simple procedure, and yet ends up with no well.

As has always been the filmmaker’s biggest strength, Well Done Abba is populated with a bunch of engaging characters, particularly Ravi Kissen’s sex-crazed civil engineer who’s forever fantasizing about his wife getting breast implants, and Ila Arun’s shrill-voiced local swindler.

Benegal trusts important roles in the hands of younger actors like Minnisha Lamba, who plays Armaan Ali’s feisty daughter Muskaan, and Sammir Dattani who appears as a car mechanic who develops a soft spot for her. Both characters help Armaan Ali turn the tables on the corrupt bureaucrats, but both actors sadly fail to deliver compelling performances.

While the director has continually succeeded in addressing important social issues even while telling lighthearted personal tales, Well Done Abba appears to be bursting at its seams with too many messages about women’s rights, communal harmony, rural education and the right to information act.

Despite some genuinely comic portions in which Benegal exposes the extent of double dealing and bribery involved in Indian rural politics, the film as a whole is hard to enjoy because of its sluggish pace, and because of your inability to empathize with Armaan Ali.

Boman Irani delivers an earnest performance in his double role here, but the characters slip too easily into caricature, making it especially hard to connect with Armaan Ali’s pathos.

I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for director Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba. There is much to appreciate about this film, but it demands solid patience on your part.

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