Subhash K Jha: Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? is essentially a one-episode sitcom

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Being Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma’s guest, Paresh Rawal makes the first bonafide guest appearance in our cinema.

And what pest this guest is! With so many films about the guest as an intruder, this one takes the creak. And yes we do mean creak. The plot sets out portray the bin bulaye mehmaan as a pest rather than a guest and finally spends agonizing play time portraying him as a messiah in a dhoti.

Trust Paresh Rawal to get into the skin of his character. From first frame to the last, Paresh has a blast. He doesn’t let go of a single moment of joy in embracing the role of the unwanted guest in Mumbai’s very hectic self-absorbed nuclear family where, as Devgan says in his heated summing-up homily, even parents are not welcome after the first few days. What happened to good old-fashioned hospitality?

So how welcome is this film about an unwelcome guest? Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? has its entertaining moments. But it’s essentially a one-episode sitcom. And you wonder how far the talented writer-director Ashwin Dheer will stretch this version of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Bawarchi about the quirky and persistent stranger who changes a family’s way of looking at life.

At mid-point director Dheer and his characters, including the indefatigable Rawal, run out of steam.

Post-interval the narration does a vivacious volte-face. Suddenly the boorish, loudly burping, belching and farting guest becomes a demi-god. A saviour spreading sunshine across the 4-walls of Devgan’s well-appointed home. Rawal repairs all of Devgan and Konkona’s domestic and work-related problems and leaves their home after having spread enough goodwill to do away with the other pollutant emissions in the first-half.

Dheer’s writing is a skilled synthesis of satire and a strong message on the virtues of an extended family. Regrettably the passage from unwanted guest to atithi-almost-dev is achieved with not enough anand in the transition.

Many passages of the film are designed as very little more than diversion and deflections indicating the fracture in family values, easily reparable with some persuasion from an old-fashioned rustic guest with values that suggest a deep connection between the religious scriptures and common sense.

Get Ganpati Bappa to visit your living room and it’s all well for the world. Life in the cities is not that easy to fix. But no harm in creating interesting Mr Fix-Its on celluloid.

The flawed but watchable film goes through a series of cleverly orchestrated fable-like chapters, none uninteresting, but most of them repetitive beyond a point. The whole track featuring Paresh with ‘Kalia’ (Viju Khote) on the sets of a film gets tedious after a point.

Devgan and Konkona try to be funny. He is in command of his comic world. She is above it. Konkona Sen needs to drastically expand her repertoire of expressions from grimace and grin to more far-reaching expressions of suburban serenity. There’s an interesting cameo by Satish Kaushik (playing a harried film director). And the funniest line comes from Kaushik when after repenting the way he allowed his wife to treat his mother, Kaushik resolves to make a “Baghban type of film”.

Atithi is just that. It starts off as a savage satire on the perils of hospitality but ends up as another Baghban.

Finally you aren’t watching a film about family ties but a film that ties up the family in reams and reams of comic chaos. Vulgarity and double-meanings strictly not admissible.

Rating: **1/2

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