Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 12/16/05 17:03:51

"A 'Con'fident Bluff!"
3 stars (Average)

Not everyday in a Bollywood movie do you get to witness an entire scene compare the art of conning to fishing. Novelty is definitely not one of the virtues that the Hindi film industry can gloat about. But in 'Bluffmaster!'- Rohan Sippy’s super-cool follow up to his embarrassing debut 'Kuch Naa Kaho', Abhishek Bachchan imparts lessons in conning to an eager learner in Riteish Deshmukh, classifying the populace as different types of fish and the conman as a gifted and intuitive fisherman. So the Goldfish is the show-off type spoilt kids of the rich, the Mackerel is the abundantly available 9-5 public, the Pomfret is the group of TV actors, doctors, lawyers and the Whale is the most prized lot of industrialists, stock brokers and film producers. For the freshness and hilarity of this scene alone, 'Bluffmaster!' should not be missed.

Twenty-five years ago, Ramesh Sippy made Shaan- a multi-starrer that he hoped would live up to his preceding venture. Shaan had everything that Sippy wanted- a clever and fast-paced narrative, a dose of all emotions, a fab soundtrack and a cast that simply could not fail. The problem you see, Sippy’s previous film was Sholay- the greatest Bollywood movie ever, the ubiquitous epitome of commercial cinema. Shaan failed, and not deservedly! Rohan Sippy, who made his debut exactly the way his father did- by making a film about widow-remarriage, somewhat avenges the failure of Shaan with Bluffmaster!. In Shaan only its principle leads were conmen, whereas in Bluffmaster! you’re never quite sure who might turn out to be one! Rohan makes no bones about his obvious tribute to his papa’s baby; the opening scene is very similar to Amitabh-Shashi ripping off Yunus Parvez in Shaan, while in another Nana, Abhishek and Riteish conduct a deal at the Maratha Mandir cinema which incidentally happens to screen Shaan! Moreover Abhishek’s sunglasses, not a la mode, are very alike to the ones that Amitabh wore.

In terms of a story, there is none. Infact, the climax pulls a fast-one on the audience itself like David Fincher’s The Game. While this is staying true to the overall motif, I’m not sure if the Indian audiences will take it in good-humour. For the heck of it then, Roy(Abhishek Bachchan) is a master con artist who’s about to settle down to a married life with Simmi(Priyanka Chopra). However upon finding out Roy’s profession, she dumps him. Just when Roy decides to clean up his act, enter Dittu(Riteish)- a bumbling wannabe con. A couple of amusingly stupid con-acts later, Dittu persists Roy to teach him the fine art of conning. Roy tries to get rid of him by giving him a quick tutorial. But Dittu insists on them becoming partners, or a mentor-protégé which is what Roy prefers calling their alliance as. Roy is hesitant initially, but a personal crisis(which I will not spoil for you) and Dittu’s reason for desperately wanting to be a con solidify his intent. Their prime target- Chandru(Nana Patekar), an ill-mannered, uncouth and lecherous hotelier who literally worships himself. I mean, literally! Chandru is the toughest fish to catch, a Shark in Roy’s lingo…to steal from he who steals! Although it may sound like the wheels set in motion at this point, but they already have. The charmingly witty script(Sridhar Raghavan and Rajat Arora) provides us with dazzling bursts of comedy from the very first frame itself, be it a profanity-spewing crook, a bad-at-jokes doctor(Boman Irani) or the very entrance of Riteish Deshmukh, a scene he enthusiastically steals. There are various episodes of conning strewn perfectly through the running time, something that this year’s Bunty Aur Babli(a comic take on Bonnie & Clyde) failed to do.

The brilliance of Bluffmaster! is that nothing really happens, yet it turns out to be one helluva entertaining ride. The dialogues are genuinely original and never resort to vulgarity to evoke laughter. The best lines are reserved for Riteish, but Nana gets into the act post-intermission as well. Thankfully Abhishek doesn’t seem perturbed by the evident spotlight on Riteish and Nana, which is precisely why he holds his own. Bachchan Jr. does look like he’s stepped in straight from the sets of Sarkar in some scenes though! Nana Patekar is deliciously over-the-top. It’s like watching Pacino go hoo-ha, and Patekar gamely parodies even himself. Boman is wasted, while Priyanka’s moments with Abhishek are the only dull parts of the film, but the lounge music playing in the background every time Priyanka’s on-screen is very mesmeric. I hope the same could be said about her and the love-track she shares with Abhishek. Actually, the movie fails whenever it tries to induce emotions and justifies what it’s doing and where it’s heading. This is why the climax is a love-hate.

If there is one person that Bluffmaster! belongs to, it’s Riteish. In his meatiest role till date, he lets go of all inhibitions. Aware that he’s playing a clumsy idiot and a second lead, he doesn’t hold back anything and walks away with every scene that he is in. His explanation for his infatuation with con-movies leads to a delightful dig at the censor board and their justification of the bad-impact of cinema vis-à-vis smoking, crime, etc. Besides the ability to do comedy, Riteish is growing more camera-comfortable with every movie. Not all of Bluffmaster! is just witty-comedy. Rohan includes all types of humour, whether it is slapstick scenes between Abhishek-Boman-Riteish twice during the movie or farce as a foul-mouthed character is intentionally beeped when he begins to speak or the deliberate use of old Hindi tunes remixed at apt moments in the film! It is this fastening up of various styles of comedy and music(hip-hop, bhangra, remix, disco, etc.) that has reaffirmed my faith in Rohan Sippy.

'Bluffmaster!' has its downsides(unnecessary songs, the Abhishek-Priyanka track, the climax), but it is the most fun I’ve had at the movies this past 12 months. In a year that had already two movies('Bunty Aur Babli' and 'Ek Khiladi, Ek Hasina') about conning, 'Bluffmaster!' is the best value-for-money. And that is not a bluff!

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.