Review: David Dhawan’s Chashme Baddoor

Deepa Deosthalee

Sai Paranjpye has been conspicuous by her absence from the hullabaloo around her 1981 cult comedy Chashme Buddoor. You can speculate on her reasons though the obvious one that comes to mind is the very idea of remaking a film that’s still so fresh, both in content and treatment, and then handing it over to David Dhawan.

Still from Chashme Baddoor
Image: YouTube still

No offence to Dhawan, but a closer reading of the original will reveal healthy contempt for the cinema he practices, or at least that of his predecessors which leads young men like Omi (Rakesh Bedi) and Jomo (Ravi Baswani) to believe that girls of all hues are stupid enough to fall for their scarce charms and a little heckling in the line of courtship is par for the course.

There's a scene in the second half--a guest appearance by then reigning stars Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha -- that best illustrates this premise. Jomo describes to Omi how he saw a film in which the hero tries to strike a conversation with the heroine by retrieving a handkerchief she may have dropped. The girl readily accepts it, the boy lures her with glib talk and before you know it, they are walking through the park, arms wrapped around each other. Naturally, when Jomo tries the same trick he's greeted with a royal snub. Another time he offers a girl a ride on his motorcycle and thinks it's his lucky day when she readily hops on. They go to a park but before he can turn off the engine, she's running into her boyfriend's arms and worse, Jomo's bike won't restart.

Point is, women aren’t that dumb except in the movies.

Sai reveals her intentions in the title sequence itself. First we are shocked out of our seats (at least audiences in 1981 may have been) with photographs of women in enticing poses including two-piece swimsuits and cut-outs of their lips etc illustrating typical male fantasies such as the James Bond series. For the last card announcing the film's director, there's the image of a man's hands composing a frame. Then, two smaller, fairer hands firmly brush them aside and almost brazenly declare that a woman helms this picture. And this isn’t a woman aping men (like Farah Khan does) or ranting about the corrupting influence of popular cinema as so many of the New Wave films did, but rather, spoofs them to expose their folly.

The film has innumerable references to mainstream culture starting with the barsaati where the three friends live. Jomo’s wall is littered with photographs of heroines and one prominent image of a dashing Bachchan, the man he clearly identifies with. Omi, on the other hand, sees himself as a poet and thinks quoting Ghalib will work like a charm. Both are ordinary-looking slackers and academic failures whose only purpose in life is to ride the streets of Delhi scouting for girls to ensnare or lay about in their modest room smoking ceaselessly––that too on credit, since they are always hard up and have a running account at the neighbourhood stall owned by the kindly Lallan Mian (Saeed Jaffery). In a recent film like Ishaqzaade, the loser hero, only marginally better looking than these two, somehow hooks the prettier, smarter heroine despite his obvious misdemeanours, far more harmful than Omi-Jomo’s immature attempts at being macho.

When they spot Neha (Deepti Naval), it’s decided that each will try his hand at wooing her. Both fail spectacularly, but can’t admit to their inadequacies. So they invent flashbacks about their supposed conquests, which predictably involve film imagery. While Omi suggests he wooed her with a couplet and a rose before they went boating in a lake (like the Dal Lake in Kashmir, a staple in so many films of the ‘60s), Jomo imagines himself the hero of innumerable melodramatic songs where he plays the piano, beats up the bad guys and ultimately drives off with her into the sunset in his swanky Dodge.

The third friend, Siddharth (Farooque Shaikh), is Sai's protagonist. He’s handsome, studious, honest and slightly clumsy. By his own admission, he has never spoken to girls and hence, when Neha arrives at his doorstep, he’s clueless about how to behave. This unusual first meeting reverses stereotypical images of dashing heroes and demure heroines crashing into each other in college corridors, for instance. Instead, two strangers meet in a crummy barsaati when the girl is trying to sell the most unromantic of things––detergent. It’s a priceless moment and the chemistry between Shaikh and Naval is electrifying even while they are playing awkward and tentative.

Interestingly, it’s the girl who takes the initiative by giving him details of her schedule so that he may meet her again. Through their courtship they are equals and nowhere does Siddharth try to dominate the proceedings, but equally, Neha is very capable of asserting herself. Suddenly you see the young man coming into his own under the influence of this confident girl. One day they’re sitting in a park wondering if they should now sing as people in the movies always do. They mock at the silly rhyming lyrics of film songs and prance around till they realise that there are a dozen bystanders laughing and jeering at them, including a humongous bear, upset about being upstaged by these foolish lovers.

In Hindi films when the hero has to choose between believing his best friends and the woman he loves, he usually picks his friends even if they are otherwise unreliable. So does Siddharth, displaying a complete lack of judgment when Omi-Jomo poison his mind against Neha, leading up to the predictable climax and a clumsy display of heroism as he finally rescues her from the villains’ clutches.

Farooque Shaikh has stated in several interviews that the real hero of Chashme Buddoor was its writer-director who displayed a tremendous sense of script and timing. Sadly, the same can’t be said for David Dhawan––he has merely updated the shell of the original without absorbing its essence. So that you can barely tell Siddharth apart from his friends and Neha (rechristened Seema) isn’t at all a likeable young woman you’re rooting for to pick the right guy.

The use of ribald humour is expected, so is Anupam Kher in a double role. But a sub-plot involving the modern-day tattooed version of Lallan Mian, played by Rishi Kapoor and his interest in the boys’ landlady (a new addition to the narrative, Lillete Dubey) is unnecessary and worse, it is she who gets to sell the detergent in an insipid scene -- wish Dhawan had at least replayed the “Hum tum ek kamre mein band ho” number from Bobby which worked so brilliantly in the original, to create a cool meta moment.

Chashme Baddoor didn’t hold my interest for even a moment and it’s not purely on account of prejudice, both against Dhawan's brand of cinema and in favour of the original. Yet young audiences around seemed to love the humour which is perhaps in sync with the times. But unlike Sai's film, which achieved the rare feat of appealing to diverse sections and also engaging those who wished to read between the lines, this one is typical junk-food entertainment unlikely to be remembered by anyone beyond the opening furore. 

Chashme Buddoor, on the other hand, will survive along with other great comedies of the period such as Golmaal and Angoor (isn’t anyone remaking it yet?).

And that’s the real difference.

Deepa Deosthalee is a film critic and a regular contributor to Cinemascope column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and does not reflect the views of More of Deepa's work can be found on her site Film Impressions.

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