Every time comedian Kapil Sharma opens his mouth, you expect the mandatory ‘boing’ sound or a laugh track to go off. What was exasperating on his television show is plain embarrassing in a period drama that insists you take him seriously.
Who are they kidding?
Sharma is never winning the Hugh Laurie medal of versatility.
He could barely pull off a Govinda in the polygamous farce Kis Kisko Pyaar Karoon.
With Firangi, a pre-Independence mishmash of romance and drama, which he produces and stars in, he confirms he’s no Shah Rukh Khan either.
At best, a serviceable buffoon with a flair for repartee, Sharma is awfully limited in his humour and screen presence to perk up this half-decent premise.
Mostly though, he’s woefully miscast in the role of an earnest villager engaged in an old-fashioned courtship of stealing glances and embroidering birds on a quilt to communicate his intentions to his shy, stereotypical sweetheart (Ishita Dutta).
His Mangat Ram aka Manga is a good-for-nothing bumpkin turned British orderly kicking his boss in the rear for a living and cooking lies to win over his phulkari-clad ladylove’s Gandhian granddad (Anjan Shrivastav) and his burly bunch of supporters across the neighbouring community.
On the side, Kumud Mishra’s debauched Raja Sahab and Edward Sonnenblick’s opportunistic British officer Daniels are hatching a scheme to set up a factory by illegally evacuating the village inhabitants.
Part of the deceit includes a marriage of convenience between the raja’s Oxford-returned daughter (Monica Gill) and Daniels.
After Manga realises he’s unsuspectingly responsible for facilitating these events, Firangi swoops onto a beaten path of betrayal, melodrama, atonement, trickery and triumph.
Directed by Rajiev Dhingra, who has previously worked in Punjabi cinema, Firangiis set in the early 1920s and opens with Amitabh Bachchan’s booming baritone narrating the scene of Angrezon ki ghulami with the same vigour and familiarity he exercised in Shatranj Ke Khilari and Lagaan.
Although Firangi follows a straightforward script, there are echoes of many other films to be found.
One gets a sense of Lagaan‘s ‘United we stand’ ardour, 1942: A Love Story‘s allegiance to British versus Gandhi-inspired swadeshi fervour, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge‘s sneaky, hoodwinking approach, to name a few.
What Dhingra’s creativity lacks in sumptuousness is somewhat compensated by the authenticity of the milieu that comes alive in its supporting cast.
Mishra’s character, for example, is a wholehearted caricature, but his obvious pleasure at going overboard somehow injects it with a quirkiness the writing sorely lacks.
Unfortunately, the ladies have precious little to do as the man they champion preens and ploys to play their knight in khakhi uniform.
Firangi‘S persistence to club romantic overtures, non-cooperation movement mania, 19th century naiveté and con-adventure spunk in its 160 minutes running time proves to be its undoing.
That’s just too much to take in a movie that neither wants to be fun or funny.