If you have sauntered into the cinema hall to catch a trademark Priyadarshan laugh riot, you may be somewhat disappointed. This film may not work for those seeking a pure meaningful film on the common man’s struggle either. But if you want a poignant story, packaged in slick formula entertainment, the savory-sweet Khatta Meetha could be your cup of tea.
Make a journey through pot holed roads and collapsing bridges. Meet inefficient government officials and well fed babu’s who award lucrative projects to contractors who bribe right. A remake of the director’s 1988 Malayalam film ‘Vellanakalude Naadu’, Khatta Meetha goes beyond Priyadarshan’s recent frivolous works.
Sachin Tichkule (Akshay Kumar) is a contractor who struggles with bureaucracy to bag a road construction deal. The bribes are a 'bummer', and after paying various babu’s on the ladder, Tichkule is poor, often selling things from the house to pay his labourers wages.
Hailing from the family of a retired judge (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), Tichkule’s siblings are successful contractors who give big bribes to bag big projects. Ironically, it is Tichkule who is seen as the black sheep of the family and the corrupt brothers are looked up to.
Tichkule wins a case against the Municipal Corporation to recover unpaid wages, and the ‘broke’ organization gives him a used road roller instead of money. Before Tichkule can celebrate his victory against the system, the road roller breaks down right there.
'Pay a fine of 10,000 rupees a day if you park your road roller on government premises', says the Municipal commissioner, Gehna Ganpule (Trishna Krishnan--lacking skill or screen presence). To Tichkule’s bad luck, Gehna is an ex-girlfriend and the two are at ideological loggerheads. Left with no choice, Tichkule pays from dwindling funds to hire an elephant to tow his ‘white elephant ‘out.
You are compelled to feel for the common man’s struggle as you watch wealthy contractors and politicians play with his life to get richer. Using humour to make this bitter pill more palatable, Khatta Meetha’s gags are characteristic of Malayalam satires that touch your heart as they tickle the funny bone. Watch out for the hilarious scene where veteran comic Asrani, as the hardware store owner, confuses conversations between two phone calls and three people in his office simultaneously.
But then, be warned--this film may have more khatta than meetha in it.
The screenplay suffers an identity crisis and packs in too many characters and events. The film also makes sudden melodramatic twists, like the attempted suicide of the ex-lover and the death of a sibling, which may startle those expecting a comic roller-coaster ride.
Nevetrtheless, the story is relevant and compelling. The marriage of Tichkule’s sister to the corrupt politician and the subsequent events are a chilling narration of how corruption eventually overflows from the political arena, into our homes.
V. Manikandan's camerawork is noteworthy and Priyadarshan directs comedy as efficiently as he builds drama. One wishes he had been more efficient in the editing room and chopped off some tuneless and irrelevant songs from this 2 hr 40 min film.
Akshay Kumar is wonderful as Sachin Tichkule. Kumar’s body language is impeccable, and the peculiarly dressed contractor often uses his umbrella to poke people out of the way. With gritted teeth, Kumar holds his character sincerely, right till the end of the film. While he is determined to succeed in a corrupt world, he remains inherently good at heart.
Watch the film for Akshay Kumar. You may identify with the struggle between the Khatta and the Meetha inside him.