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Nitesh Tiwari’s ‘Bawaal’ Makes a Mess of History and Just About Everything Else

Nitesh Tiwari’s ‘Bawaal’ Makes a Mess of History and Just About Everything Else

  • If its introduction of World War II to the unsuspecting audience is simplistic, if not ludicrous, the film’s trivialization of the Holocaust that killed over 6 million people is outright despicable.

The plot of Nitesh Tiwari’s “Bawaal” is infused with deliberately exaggerated, and contrived history. Do not be charmed by the happy-go-lucky poster of airbrushed Bollywood film stars, the movie is causing a stir of another kind.

Bollywood often borrows deep from their bag of formulas that work with the audiences: A fancy Europe tour, a thumka around monuments like the Eiffel Tower, the London Bridge and the Roman Colosseum for those who aspire to travel away from the motherland. A copy-and-paste job of popular foreign films, glorification of egotistical men, all blather and dramabazi dressed in fancy duds to create an illusion and “get the girl” heroics.

In “Bawaal” the “girl” is a  beautiful, modern, independent woman who has a subconscious desire to be a doormat. What a shame. Lately, in Bollywood, the protagonists are not from Bombay or Delhi but from other mid-sized Indian cities like Bareilly, Jamshedpur and Varanasi. 

“Bawaal” is set in the historic city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Varun Dhawan, aka Ajju Bhaiya, is the most unlikely history teacher, who wants to pull a mirage or maahol as he lamely calls it over his students’ eyes. He does not know the ABCs of Social Studies and my respected history teachers who took such pains to teach us key facts about world history would have a fit after seeing the movie.

Talking of fits, the poor Nisha played by the lovely Janhvi Kapoor is prone to epileptic seizures. It made me almost throw up and switch the movie off when her “better half” calls her “damaged goods.” Why the young lady does not divorce this goon is a mystery but perhaps she is hoping to transform her “damaged” husband by an immersion into the history of the Jewish Holocaust. This is not a “legit topic” to be mixed up with a Bollywood “save any marriage” dramedy, featuring four thepla swapping globe-trotting Gujjus. What was the point of that?! Beats me.

Dialogues like “hum sab mein thoda Hitler hota hai” are cringe-worthy. To draw random conclusions by visiting Anne Frank’s house is beyond crass.

The hero who could not become a NASA scientist, or an Army officer, and is on the brink of losing his teaching job when an MLA’s son exposes his ignorance in the classroom. Ajju loses his temper and slaps the student. Another bad choice. He comes up with a spur-of-the-moment plan (probably a honeymoon funded by his long-suffering parents, played realistically by Manoj Pahwa and Anjuman Saxena). 

I can relate to them because I have seen so many parents’ lives reduced to tragic sagas because of the doings of their “out of touch” male progeny. It’s about time that Bollywood changes the trend and lets Indian parents cut their irresponsible sons loose to learn their own lessons. Falling flat on their handsome faces a few times will teach them to use their spines to do something decent for a change. Enough with the molly-coddling of the “only” male child.

But the couple begins their vacation in Paris. Then travel to  Normandy, Amsterdam, Berlin and Auschwitz. Ajju shares videos with his students about the perils of war and lying leaders like Hitler who misled an entire country and killed millions. 

Dialogues like “hum sab mein thoda Hitler hota hai” are cringe-worthy. To draw random conclusions by visiting Anne Frank’s house is beyond crass. I understand that there has been a flurry of Hollywood movies about World War II, like, “Oppenheimer,” “Dunkirk,” “Enemy Lines,” “Darkest Hour,” and so on. But all these films have focussed on the horror of the bloody events of World War II, and the unbelievable suffering to deliver humane lessons. Lest we forget. 

I don’t fault the writers and directors for exploring this historic event and explaining it to the Indian audiences in a relatable format but to trivialize it and get them trapped in an Auschwitz-like gas chamber with the ghosts of incarcerated innocents is not a history lesson I want to see. 

To trivialize the cataclysmic event in which six million Jews and some five million others who were targeted for racial, political, ideological and behavioral reasons, died in the Holocaust is insensitive indeed. I think the movie would have been better if Nisha would have divorced him. He would have lost his job. Gone to Germany on his own. Studying history and returning home, a changed man with a better understanding and human compassion. In this scenario, he would have not saved his own marriage but he would have salvaged his self-respect. This would have made Arijit Singh’s song To Tumhe Kitna Pyaar Karte more relatable not only to the hero but all the “fake it till you make it” type male viewers.

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Janhvi Kapoor tries her best to interpret “original ”scripts like in “Mili,” “Gunjan Saxena” and “Roohi,” but her character in “Bawaal” is riddled with confused self-deprecation. Varun Dhawan can act if he has to, as in “Badlapur,” but most of the time he portrays his trademark screen persona almost in homage to King Khan — like in “Jugjugg Jiyo” and “Badrinath ki Dulhaniya,” which is acceptable but this style does not mesh with the flawed character arc of Ajju Bhaiya in “Bawaal.”Arnob Khan Akib is good as Ajju’s gullible friend. 

There are no quick fixes or trying to make a marriage work by bringing back Hitler to life. Nitesh Tiwari who brought us commendable films, like “Dangal,” “Chhichore” and “Bareilly ki Barfi” fails to impress this time. 

Mahol aisa banao ke logon ko mahol yaad rahe, result nahin.” I can only confess to the producer Ashwiny Iyer that Mahol to bana nahin par sar mein dard zaroor ho gaya. 

“Bawaal” is streaming on  Amazon Prime.

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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  • Such damn fool higher caste hindus whether in a village of eastern UP or in USA carry a flag of superiority above everybody who is not a eastern UP dubey, tiwari or malviya. But it shows how low is his intelligence and trying to impress racists in USA

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