June 2013 was a jarringly tumultuous time in my life.
My career was in shambles, my relationships more so. Especially my love life – that was teetering on the edges of insanity and was begging for some fresh air, less fear, some cheer.
That’s when Fukrey happened; I distinctly remember having gone to watch this movie with my then-boyfriend since it was our #relationship monthversary (yeah, go on laugh). I remember both of us having laughed our guts out, and leaving the theater with lighter heads and heavier love for each other. Not that my career dived into a positive spin, but hell yeah, all the humor and silliness did rub off on my then-floundering relationship.
Fast forward to December 2017.
I am married to the same man, and this time around too we were squabbling over something inconsequential when we decided to go watch this movie, because hey, filmy love binds us like no other.
However, we were in for a squirmy, uncomfortable shock because nothing about Fukrey Returns was the same anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting the sequel to be a caricature of its much-famed predecessor, but neither was I expecting these four twats to go around zoos and caves like they were on a regular visit to the mall, and dealing with the lady don (read: Bholi Punjaban) with the collective IQ of a bunch of four-year olds.
The audience breaking into uncomfortable, overdone, needlessly boisterous laughs even in the absence of anything remotely funny confirms what I felt all along – Fukrey Returns tries too hard, and you only throw in some giggles here and there coz you’re a loyalist. Now that’s a certified recipe for disaster for a movie claiming to be a comedy.
The setup is the same here: Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadda) manages to get out of Tihar jail using her political connections and is now back in her element to make lives hell for these Fukreys, who, except for Zafar (Ali Fazal) are leading disappointingly morbid lives. Still in the lottery business, Choocha (Varun Sharma) and Hunny (Pulkit Samrat) continue to mint easy money on the strength of Choocha’s weirdly disconnected dreams and the latter’s weirder interpretation methods. Lali (Manjot Singh) who isn’t quite content on just having secured his entry to the college of his dreams a year ago now resents his father’s halwai business and is keen on setting up a coffee shop instead. Zafar seems to have crossed over the dangerous hurdles in his relationship with Neetu (Vishakha Singh) and is now on the verge on moving in with her, into their dream home.
All looks well, till political baddie Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) steps in with meaty stakes for rescuing Bholi from the roach-infested living premises of the prison, something the Punjaban lady don is willing to do anything to not cave in to. And so she greets the four idiots in the unlikeliest of places and has them kidnapped and bound like cattle, declaring revenge by asking them to step up and prove their usefulness, or else perish. To save their sore arses and their lives, they’ve now got to do her bidding – one thing leads to another and before they realize it, they are sucked into the familiar vortex of hatching get-rick-quick schemes and dangerous bets, eventually rubbing local politician Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) the wrong way and paying for it by dumping themselves in the stench-filled Yamuna.
A snake metamorphosing into Bholi who comically appears in a glittery naagin costume (remember Sridevi from Nagina (1986)?), an angry tigress and her cub, a Ponzi scheme that has hapless investors pushing the Fukreys to go take a plunge in the savage waters of the Yamuna pretending to be dead, Babulal Bhatia raking up his dark side in running shady lottery business and a couple more sins, political speeches and dirty agendas, and a long drawn yawn-inducing adventure leading up to the cave (from Choocha’s dream sequence) and beyond, is essentially what the sequel is made of.
Choocha’s dreams are more scattered and harebrained now, and that’s okay, but it looks like the climax was written first and then the chidiyaghar dream added as an afterthought to fit the narrative, which frankly, lacks any sense of urgency like the prequel did. And while Choocha now has to grapple with a new gift and dabble in the business of premonitions, which admittedly he does quite fervently, Hunny lacks the spontaneity and desperation he displayed in Fukrey and looks kinda bored throughout the movie.
But then this is probably why Fukrey Returns doesn’t stir up much in your belly because the entire plot looks contrived, from start to finish.
For one, Fukrey was a refreshingly put-together movie, with four protagonists at the helm with ‘issues’ or rather ‘problems’ typical to the bracket of youngsters falling between age 17-25.
Boys wanting to secure admissions in elite colleges because they want to have girls hanging at their arms and live the good life isn’t unheard of, and neither is a struggling musician desperately looking for funds for his father’s treatment an anomaly. Bundle these relatable desires and concerns with jugaad gifts like making money out of having dreams, and you have a sleek potboiler to be cherished over a tub of popcorn and full-throated laughs!
The nuances in Fukrey, be it in the way Lali develops the much-hyped crush over tutor Neetu, Hunny wooing Priya (Priya Anand) and then genuinely falling for her, Neetu confronting Zafar and presenting him with some hard life choices, were all elements that added to the overall grain of the story. No surprise elements here like the thieving beggar from the first part who actually had tons of money on him and bailed the boys out in a stroke of luck (Ashraf-ul-Haq, bless your soul, you did a fantastic job even with that itsy-bitsy role!).
But the key moment that sets off Fukrey is the scene where Choocha is pressured and literally cornered into coming up with a dream (which he conveniently lies about), and the resulting blunder lands them all in a deadly mess. This seems to be missing in the sequel, and the characters largely look lost and disillusioned, less with their lives as protagonists of the movie but more as actors not knowing why they signed up for this half-baked project.
Neetu and Priya, who were more invested in the first part and their roles better integrated in Fukrey, seem to have disappeared after a few half-hearted appearances in the first few minutes of the sequel, only to reappear much later post intermission, making it look the director suddenly wanted to make good their payment for acting in this deluded vision.
Bholi Punjaban is less feisty and more gullible in Fukrey Returns, lacking the punch or the audacity she possessed in the first part. You definitely don’t shit your pants or break into a sweat with this Bholi around! The climax though, makes this change in behavior and her subsequent change-of-heart amply clear, as she pairs up with Choocha, fanning his more than a year-long romantic feelings for her as well as her now comparatively ‘cleaner’ ambitions of climbing the political ladder. Oh well, she even does a group dance with the whole tormented Fukrey lot, even touching her mother-in-law’s feet in the end!
The only characters worth sitting up and noticing are Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) and Pandjitji (Pankat Tripathi). Babulal with his menacing underhand moves and dirty agendas contrasts well with the occasional straight-faced humor (a trademark of Tripathi) sprinkled in by Pandjitji, who is more engaged in this misadventure than he was in the last, to our delight, as well as our chagrin, because we eventually see how this rare talent is wasted in the sequel.
Sequels generally are tricky grounds to tread on, and unless they have solid character growth to offer, much of the familiar setting of previous movie (s) and tropes can seem like a vacation gone stale long back. In fact, one of the best Bollywood sequels I have watched till date happens to be Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which frikkin’ not only won Kangana Ranaut a National award but stood up as a benchmark for filmmakers planning to go the sequel/franchise way. I dare say TWMR trumped the original by a mile and more, with predictable characters peeling off layers of their innate character traits in unpredictable, fresh circumstances.
Unfortunately, most sequels in Bollywood are barely a patch on the originals; and thus, in this vein, Fukrey Returns can literally be summed up as a labor of love – laborious, tedious, never-ending, considering there is nothing much to go on about for close to 2 and a half hours of screen time.
The only thing that may lend you solace is when the credits roll and you are introduced to a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara kinda post-script where Zafar and Neetu are finally hitched, and Choocha (along with his lady love Bholi), Hunny and Lali seem to have thankfully found some purpose in life. An overdone song-and-dance sequence culminates in a picture of the four Fukreys sitting huddled up together on the beach, looking out at the sea, and probably thinking to themselves, ab bas ho gaya. Let’s move on shall we?
But that is also the only thing I could take away from the movie (both parts included) – their friendship and how they stuck together, irrespective of who failed the bets.
I hope that’s something you’ll take away too when you give the sequel a chance, but I also hope they return no more.