by HELEN GEIB
Writer-director Priyadarshan’s De Dana Dan is a comedy that is intermittently very funny; there is a really good 100 minute farce inside the 165 minute running time. Still and all, the smashing finale and note-perfect ending make the trip to the theater worthwhile.
Akshay Kumar headlines the large cast as Nitin, a young man who is not just poor but deep in debt and facing the imminent prospect of watching his girlfriend Anjali (Katrina Kaif) accept an arranged marriage to another man. Kumar is one star who is not afraid to make himself ridiculous on-screen: Nitin is a lovable loser with a tendency to act like a fool. When he meets Ram (Sunil Shetty), another lovable loser in the same situation, the two bond over their shared circumstances. They hatch a crackpot scheme to extort money from Nitin’s employer, a miserly businesswoman, by kidnapping the dog she dotes on and holding it for ransom. Naturally, the kidnapping goes comically awry and the two inept would-be criminals hole up in a luxury hotel while they try to figure out what to do next.
The pre-interval half gets the ball rolling by assembling everyone and his brother in the hotel for the post-interval’s farcical hijinks. Anjali comes to the hotel to run away with Nitin, pursued by her father and his toughs. Ram’s girlfriend Manpreet (Sameera Reddy) is at the hotel for her pre-wedding celebration, along with her entire family and the prospective groom, his father, the father’s much younger second wife, and (surreptitiously) her lover. Complicating matters, the prospective groom broke his engagement with Anjali to latch onto Manpreet’s wealthier family; the father of the groom is facing imminent financial ruin and arrest, for passing off bad checks, by an angry policeman who knows he’s in the hotel, but doesn’t know what he looks like.
Also on the scene is a hitman who is supposed to identify his target from a photo (cue more confusion), along with the middle-aged lecher who is the intended victim and the latest young woman to catch the latter’s eye. Plus the Indian ambassador to Singapore (where the film is set) and a local crime boss with a coffin. And an incompetent busboy.
While there are some amusing moments pre-interval, De Dana Dan hits its stride in the second half. There are still slow patches, but there are also a lot of good laughs in the many mistaken identities, mistaken motives, mixed-up room numbers, increasing pecuniary desperation, and rising tempers. The finale, a madcap chase through the hotel with everyone running after someone or something, is riotously funny.
To call the characterization perfunctory might be an understatement. As a general matter the impression characters make is directly proportional to their level of comical absurdity. The apoplectic father of Anjali, the conniving father of the groom, the increasingly frustrated, near to bumbling professional killer: these are the characters that stand out. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Manpreet- neither comical nor absurd- barely registers.
The exception to the rule is Nitin. Despite his frequent and sometimes protracted disappearances from the story (he spends a considerable part of the post-interval half locked in a closet), Nitin is unquestionably the film’s most important character for the charismatic dynamism of Kumar’s comic performance as much as the often comic absurdity of his actions.
The musical numbers are ancillary to the plot but colorful and feature catchy tunes. The costumes designers went crazy, and Kumar shows off his dance moves.