New Delhi: 36 Farmhouse and the entirety of its 107-minute runtime stand on shaky ground, as famed filmmaker Subhash Ghai’s script still appears stuck in its first draft. None of the film’s subplots are executed in a compelling or satirically amusing manner. Rather, ZEE5’s latest Hindi film, a purported comedy-drama, never quite gets its tone right and falls flat from start to finish.
Mumbai, 16 May 2020. The family matriarch (Madhuri Bhatia) of a swanky farmhouse is watching news coverage of India’s poor and working class walking home on foot amid economic uncertainty and the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. A wills and trusts lawyer arrives to meet the woman but her surly son (Vijay Raaz) stands in his way. Filled with stilted dialogue, their argument quickly devolves into a farcical scuffle to an overly bombastic score until the son tosses the blood-strewn lawyer into a well on the property.
Many of the fundamental problems with 36 Farmhouse are apparent from this opening sequence, which serves more as a warning sign to press the ‘back’ button on your streaming channel than anything else.
Directed by debutant Ram Ramesh Sharma, 36 Farmhouse has a premise, or a semblance of one, with numerous moving parts and an ensemble ranging from seasoned Bollywood character actors, to OTT-era newcomers.
The film focuses on the siblings’ power struggle over their mother’s will, the police investigation into the lawyer’s murder, and the trials and tribulations of essential workers (Sanjay Mishra, Amol Parashar and Ashwini Kalsekar) trying to do whatever it takes to make money during the pandemic lockdown.
Through the comic relief offered by Mishra, Parashar and Kalsekar and the behind-the-scenes machinations done by Raaz and his siblings, Ghai attempts to juxtapose the out-of-touch privileged rich with the oppressed poor, peppered with constant references to the ongoing pandemic.
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A huge mistake
In what appears to be the central theme of the film, Ghai repeatedly showcases the magnitudes of difference between desperate essential workers stealing jewels and disgruntled heirs conspiring in violence and intimidation.
The rich-poor dichotomy and its well of ideas have been played out in countless award-winning films over the years, yet 36 Farmhouse could have made some powerful commentary on the economic impact of the Covid-induced lockdown, a subject that has been largely ignored by Hindi films so far.
Unfortunately, however, the final product is anything but ambitious or unmissable. Instead, it appears as if Ghai chose to combine the storylines and themes of the 2019 films Knives Out and Parasite but stripped them of any subtlety, tension or unexpected laughs, leaving behind a dumbed-down, disjointed misfire.
For all the focus on the murder investigation and final ‘twist’ revealed by the head inspector on the case (Bharat Chandvani), the greatest crime is committed by director Sharma and writer Ghai, who utterly waste the ensemble’s talents. The film’s sole selling points are the chemistry between Mishra and Parashar, who make the best of deeply unfunny material, and YouTuber Barkha Singh’s serviceable performance as the young voice of reason within the family.
This ill-conceived Parasite, Knives Out knock-off also finds the time to include multiple musical numbers, with the first song hinging on the line “Mind your own business aur aage nikal”. But by the time the 107 minutes are up, it appears Ghai, Sharma and co. were more concerned to simply “get ahead” and fill up a cheap release slot for ZEE5, before they even had a coherent script locked down.
Ghai’s attempt to bring back his heyday of ’80s and ’90s Bollywood is ultimately a huge mistake for all involved and should have been left on the cutting room floor.
(Edited by Prashant)