"Zindagi khwab hai khwab mein sach hai kya aur bhala jhooth hai kya?" Remember Motilal's staggering existentialism in 1956's Jagte Raho? Some such philosophy underlines the key goings-on in My Friend Pinto--a wispy, nostalgic comedy about a Goan simpleton's one night of zany adventures in the mad mad bustle of Mumbai during New Year's eve.
This isn't the first film that explores Mumbai by night. From Khwaja Ahmed Abbas's Bambai Raat Ki Bahon Mein to Sudhir Mishra's Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahin, the dark comic side of the city's underbelly has ceaselessly fascinated Bollywood since long before the term 'Bollywood' was invented.
Debutant director Raghav Dar switches on the innovative mode full-blast. The first and most conspicuous component in his comic romp is the director's sense of fun.
He is fearless about the fun quotient that he has while going with one sumptuous swoop into lives as different from one another as any two homes, families that live in Mumbai can be.
A semi-retired gangster (Makarand Deshpande) and his never-been star-actress mistress(Divya Dutta), his twin assassin-goons Ajay and Vijay (played by real life Amin and Karim Hajee who were last seen together on screen dancing in a Sufi trance to A.R. Rahman's devotional number in Jodhaa-Akbar), an old taxidriver and his gambler-son (theatre actor Shakeel Khan making a stellar screen appearance), a lost girl Maggie (Kalki Koechlin) abandoned by her small-time crook boyfriend on the railway station, the competitive couple (Arjun Mathur and Shruti Seth) coping with the sudden appearance of an unwanted guest from Goa, even as they try to cope with the fissures in their own marriage... These, then, are some of the characters who show up one night in Dar's Mumbai raat ki bahon mein (Mumbai at night).
There are many others. Oh yes, characters pop out of every nook and cranny like rabbits from a hat. Bringing them all together is the Goan Mama's boy, the simpleton Michael Pinto who we're informed, with tongue firmly in the scriprwriter's cheek, is the nephew of Albert jissko bahut gussa aata tha (who gets very angry).
The reference to Saeed Mirza's 1980 cult classic Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai is not lost in the film's melee of bustling adventures. The film is knowledgeably laden with references to cinema and cinematic devices from the past including a very pointed allusion to a corpse's journey across Mumbai from Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.
My Friend Pinto is a very complex script to write and an even more complex act to pull off on screen. Dar manages the chaos created by Michael Pinto's misadventures across the celebratory streets of Mumbai with fluency and grace.
The awkwardness that we encounter in the storytelling is purely by design. Pinto is put into all kinds of bizarre and embarrassing situations. Like Charlie Chaplin in the silent films, he walks out of the chaos unscathed.
He is a Goan angel in disguise. He's Chaplin, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt from City Lights, Jagte Raho and Pyasa. He is all of those and none of them.
Prateik with his waif-like quality truly finds himself as an actor when he plays a lost character. My Friend Pinto needed his vulnerability and uncertainties.
The supporting cast is impressive, with Divya Dutta and Makrand Deshpande having a ball with their guns and games. They are like two bulls in a sex shop. Arjun Mathur as Pinto's desensitised Mumbai friend creates quite a graph for his character within the limited space provided by the restless script.
Quirky, capricious, whimsical and at times magical (watch those Broadway-styled musical performances), My Friend Pinto conveys the key comic patterns of Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.
Prateik echoes the innocent adventures of Raj Kapoor in Jagte Raho. Dar's directorial debut is endearing in its eccentricity.
When you leave the crazy comic cosmos of Pinto's world behind, you take away with you a film that is fiercely original in concept and designed to deliver tongue-in-cheek swipes at all those scared cows of Bollywood that we grew up watching and loving without knowing why we loved them in the first place.
There is something about My Friend Pinto. But you don't really know what.