Shyam Benegal has this uncanny knack of taking the viewer to rural life and bringing the interiors of India alive on screen. WELL DONE ABBA is another from his stable after the superhit, WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR. This time, he takes us to Chikkadpally, in the heart o Hyderabad.
The subject chosen is one that bothers all and the way Benegal narrates his story through the central character is novel, yet hilarious. The director, though tackling a serious issue, makes light of it thus leaving the minds of the viewers uncluttered making them come to their own conclusion of the various government schemes, which frequently get hijacked along the way by systemic corruption.
Armaan Ali (Boman Irani) returns to his job to Mumbai as a driver of an executive after three months. He is on the brink of being fired but manages to coax his boss to hear his story as to why he took two extra months. Thus begins the journey in a Mercedes from Mumbai to Pune as Armaan takes the driver's seat (pun intended).
Armaan visits his village because he wants to marry off his daughter Muskaan (Minissha Lamba) who is living with his brother Rehmaan Ali (Boman's double) and his wife Salma (Illa Arun).
In the village, he tries to secure a loan to dig a well, as water is something anyone will kill for. There he is told of a government scheme, where if you prove you are living below the poverty line, you get the money. Armaan takes this route and soon encounters one corrupt official after another who demand either 5, 10 or 15 per cent of the actual amount he will be receiving. This is in turn for getting his papers processed and passing of the loan even before the well is built. In the end, he is left with photographs of the well but with no well and no money. Well, well, well!!!
It's hilarious yet eye opening how our babus function in the deep interiors. (It would be interesting to see how Benegal would portray our babus in the cities!). The film has you laughing your guts out at some scenes, which are so simply enacted with a powerful message. Armaan's journey becomes your journey. Armaan's fight for justice becomes your fight. Armaan's victory, your victory.
Boman Irani paints a different character this time as the God-fearing Muslim who is worried about his daughter. He knows he is being taken for a ride, yet the greed for Government help (which is genuine) is overwhelming. He is first-rate and the backbone of the film. As the concerned father, he brings forth an endearing image of a father-daughter relationship. Minissha Lamba and Samir Dattani both surprise. But then that is expected when you have a director of Benegal's caliber guiding you. The character who stands out for me is Salim Ghouse. Outstanding.
WELL DONE ABBA is one film you have to watch. For its simplicity. For its performances. And for its direction. It has content. It entertains. It educates. What more could one want in a film?