Six reasons why 'Total Dhamaal' is sexist, derogatory and a waste of good talent

Just when you thought that Bollywood is finally entering a stage of maturity – another headache-inducing Dhamaal film comes along to shatter the illusion, writes Sonali Kokra

Ajay Devgn and Sonakshi Sinha in Total Dhamaal (2019)

Total Dhamaal is the third instalment of producer-director Indra Kumar's Dhamaal film franchise. Heavily inspired by Stanley Kramer's 1963 epic comedy, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, featuring an ensemble cast of American slapstick bigwigs, the Dhamaal franchise is built around a group of crooks pitted against each other, as they attempt to get their hands on ill-gotten cash.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Total Dhamaal, much like its predecessors, is an exhausting, brainless travesty — masquerading as a film. In fact, calling it a film at all would be an insult to the art of filmmaking — a far more accurate description would be to call it a permanent stain on the resumes of its otherwise talented star cast.

It is unfortunate that Total Dhamaal has been trotted out so close on the heels of Gully Boy. Just when you thought that Bollywood is finally entering a stage of maturity where considerable time, energy and effort are spent in developing stories that lend themselves to nuanced screenplays and layered characters, along comes another headache-inducing Dhamaal film to shatter the illusion.

Twelve years after the first Dhamaal entered the Bollywood orbit, Kumar rounds up some of the old characters and throws them together with some new ones, ostensibly in the hope that if enough people crowd the frame, some of their hammy, unfunny, frivolous gags will stick. They don’t.

While every minute of Total Dhamaal is meant to test the boundaries of the viewer's patience, the film commits some crimes that are so unapologetically callous and baffling, it is impossible to forgive them. Here are six reasons to give this movie a miss:

1. The plot line is weak

In a nutshell, Total Dhamaal has five pairs of nitwits chasing illegal money. Their journey to the zoo where the money is hidden is almost two-thirds of the film, and provides the settings for the one-liners and retorts that make up most of the film's dialogues. Guddu (Ajay Devgn) and his sidekick Jonny (Sanjay Mishra) dupe a police commissioner (Boman Irani) and his sidekick of their Rs 50 crore (Dh26 million) commission after they successfully launder black money.

But Guddu and Jonny too find themselves double-crossed as their driver makes away with the booty. The driver ends up dying, but not before he gives six greedy strangers — married couple Bindu (Madhuri Dixit-Nene) and Avinash (Anil Kapoor), unemployed firefighters Lallan (Riteish Deshmukh) and his sidekick, and brothers Adi (Arshad Warsi) and Manav (Javed Jaffrey) — some broad hints about where the money is hidden.

The six naturally join the original four in the chase to recover the money and keep it all for themselves. Many lukewarm gags and CGI-fuelled challenges that are meant to tickle the audience’s funny bone later, they all arrive at the zoo where the money is hidden at the same time, find the loot and split it up evenly after some aggressive virtue signalling and weirdly inserted sermonising about animal cruelty and how four-legged beasts are actually smarter and kinder than human beings.

2. The distasteful stereotyping of every community imaginable

Director Indra Kumar, the man behind the Masti films, an adult comedy film franchise best known for its crass innuendo and sexual objectification of women, has always maintained that he doesn't make movies for the "multiplex audience". In other words, he means he makes movies for the masses.

But by this, he must believe the masses to be overwhelmingly vapid, given that in 2019, a big part of his gags revolve around making asinine jokes perpetuating overdone stereotypes – take, for instance, the exaggerated accents of certain Indian communities.

So we have a mundu-wearing, coconut water drinking South Indian who is promptly nicknamed ‘Madrasi’; there is the loud Maharashtrian housewife who leaves no opportunity to bully and insult her timid, tortured Gujarati husband; a crooked businessman with a horribly inaccurate and thick Tamil accent; a muffler-wearing, constantly singing Bengali buffoon… you get the drift.

Ajay Devgn in Total Dhamaal (2019)

3. The criminal wastage of the Anil Kapoor — Madhuri Dixit pairing

Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit were the original Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol of Bollywood. Their pairing has been explosive, iconic and something that fans of the two have been anticipating for a long, long time. But Total Dhamaal and the severely limited scope it offers the two powerhouse actors is by no stretch worth the 17-year-long wait to see them share screen space.

Kapoor and Dixit are horribly under-utilised as the Gujarati-Maharashtrian bickering married couple on the brink of divorce, both individually and together.  To call Total Dhamaal a tragic blemish on both their legacies would be an understatement.

4. They really went overboard with the CGI 

Total Dhamaal is a moviegoer's nightmare brought to life with what looks like an enormous CGI budget. The film has everything from car sequences on precarious bridges, massive mountains, unbelievably gargantuan waterfalls in the middle of nowhere, characters being chased by a family of vultures, not to mention an  entire zoo filled with animals.

Clearly, the film’s producers diverted all the money they saved by cutting corners on the script, screenplay and dialogues towards CGI.

Ajay Devgn in Total Dhamaal (2019)

5. The comedy relies far too much on sexism

While Total Dhamaal is nowhere close to the worst kind of sexist, demeaning humour that has come out of Kumar's stable in the past, hoping that it would get through all 127 minutes of its run-time without taking wholly unnecessary potshots at its women was always going to be too tall an order.

Kapoor's character seems to only exist for the sole purpose of complaining about not only his wife, but all women, everywhere, and how they are the root of all evil in men's lives.

The husband-wife squabbles raise a few amused smiles initially, but the one-note nature of their interactions gets boring pretty quickly.

6. So much comedic talent has gone to waste

When it comes to comedy, Total Dhamaal has an enviable cast. Anil Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Boman Irani, Riteish Deshmukh, Arshad Warsi, Javed Jaffrey, Johnny Lever and Sanjay Mishra have all proved how incredible their comic timing is, capable of making even mediocre scripts seem intelligent with their delivery.

But even with the combined potential of all the comedic talent at its disposal, Total Dhamaal could not be saved from being a complete dud – a feat that can be credited almost entirely to its lukewarm approach to character development and lazy writing.

The list of all that is wrong with Total Dhamaal and movies like it is long and exhausting, but the most galling part of it all is that it will probably do robust business. It would be easy to ignore the film if it was accidentally bad, but it's not. It is perfectly self-aware, and is exactly the movie its makers intended it to be. So what does that say about us, as viewers?

Total Dhamaal is in UAE cinemas now