When it comes to goofy bantering, the two guys Santa and Banta are the tops. A film on their enthusiastic asininity could be just the prescription for an evening of lighthearted entertainment, especially when two actors with impeccable comic timing are playing the lead.
The saddest sight in a comedy is watching two talented comic actors struggling with lines that seem to be written as an ongoing joke on how unfunny jokes can be.
Santa Banta Pvt Ltd takes the two beloved Sikh characters from a million and one SMS jokes in the past 15 years, and squeezes them into a satirical straightjacket so suffocating and turgid it reduces the two comic heroes to a shadow of a caricature.
Don’t get me wrong. This film boasts of a wealth of comic talent who are placed into a canvas that has the potential to explode into a Bhangra of bacchanalia. But the writing is so abysmally low on inspiration and so high on perspiration that Santa (Boman Irani) and Banta (Vir Das) huff and puff through lines and situations that have seen better days.
The jokes are so tattered it seems to come from a place where the humour was once given its due place but has now been usurped uprooted and rudely dislocated. For those still interested in the plot here goes: Santa and Banta are two dimwitted souls who end up being recruited by a sullen RAW agent (Vijay Raaz, so wasted and so lost, you will feel sorry for him) to look for the kidnapped Indian high commissioner (Ayub Khan, that talented actor who never got his dues) in…of all places…Fiji.
A part of the film reads like a tourist brochure for the Fiji islands, not too flatteringly photographed, I am afraid. The idyllic landscape is wasted in a show of escalated buffoonery of the kind David Dhawan’s comedies displayed when the director ran out of the fuel to be funny. Director Akash Deep seems completely out of depth trying to make the Santa-Banta jokes into a cohesive film. It’s like trying to find a view from a train that is moving in a tunnel.
It is truly tragic to see skilled actors with impeccable comic talent faltering as they are repeatedly betrayed by the laugh lines. Boman Irani and Vir Das would have been credible as Santa and Banta if only they had more meat to chew into. Alas, this film offers them only bones to bite.
The glamour quotient provided by Neha Dhupia and Lisa Haydon only adds to the prevalent chaos. While Dhupia actually tries to make sense of her inane part as the kidnapped diplomat’s undiplomatic wife, Lisa as ass-kicking secret agent allows the prevalent idiocy to govern her character. She is clearly not amused by the comedy label that this film wears more by image than treatment.
There is an ongoing joke about a character named Sultan (Ram Kapoor, still podgy and loud, like an Utpal Dutt without his Hrishikesh Mukherjee) being called everything from Razia Sultan to Rehana Sultan. As someone wise once said, what’s in a name?
If only this film had not named itself after characters whose goofiness we’ve giggled over for years.
The comic world of Santa Banta Pvt Ltd is suffused in an exasperating chaos. You want to be amused. You wait for punchlines. There is not one gag here that would evoke even a mild laughter in the audience. But if you appreciate some very accomplished comic actors trying to make sense of a plot that couldn’t have made sense even to those who wrote it, this is your film.
Otherwise just check the Santa-Banta jokes on your phone. They are funnier.