Late one night, theatre director Ram (Ayushmann Khurrana) happens to drive by just as Mandar (Kunaal Roy Kapur) is about to commit suicide. Ram foils the attempt and takes the stranger home. Not content with saving the man’s life in the literal sense, he sets about fixing him in every other way possible – intercepting Mandar’s suicide note before his grandmother reads it, getting him an acting job in his theatrical production, and hatching plans to reunite him with Nandini (Pooja Salvi, miscast in a faux-Marilyn Monroe role), the girl who broke his heart.
For the first hour, this remake of the French film Après Vous is aware that it’s a comedy, and that its values are comic values. We can ignore Ram’s obsessive behaviour precisely because of this; as long as the laughs keep coming, we’re happy to play by the genre’s rules. But in the second half, Rohan Sippy’s film raises the emotional stakes and suffers as a result. Are we meant to take Ram’s falling in love with the guileless Nandini seriously? The film certainly does – and leaves the clinically depressed Mandar and Ram’s long-suffering girlfriend to just deal with it.
If Nautanki Saala is worth watching, it’s mainly because of its young cast. Khurrana’s fast-talking, increasingly monomaniacal performance carries the film. Kapur’s character’s defeatism rubs off on his acting, but even his downbeat turn has moments of animation reminiscent of the hyper-excitable Nitin from Delhi Belly. VJ Gaelyn Mendonca, as Ram’s live-in partner, gives her facial features permission to roam about, and displays ditzy comic potential. Sippy, meanwhile, shows a rare facility with the sight gag – especially one in which a Mean Streets poster on a wall fires at Khurrana. Out of the four films he’s directed, the “serious” ones (Kuch Na Kaho, Dum Maaro Dum) have been non-starters. Whereas Bluffmaster! and this film work just well enough to suggest that, one day, Sippy might direct a great comedy.