Not every South film is worthy of a remake. Shilpa Shetty is fairly decent in her first theatrical release in 14 years but YouTuber Shirley Setia has a long way to go.
Rating: 1 / 5
By Mayur Lookhar
Caught in a serious pickle, a henchman tells his fellow goons, “At least our boss will kill us tomorrow. We’re caught between two weirdos”. If a henchman feels this way, it doesn’t speak highly of the protagonist and the antagonist of that film.
Welcome to director Sabbir Khan’s weird world of Nikamma – remake of Nani-starrer Telugu film Middle Class Abbayi . Barring few cosmetic changes, the Hindi remake virtually apes the original. Nothing wrong with that but the problem here is the feeble, cliched old school story and poor direction. Even for a nikamma [useless], would any man be comfortable to move with his bhabhi (brother’s wife) after she is transferred to another town? The ‘Bhabhi-wants -to-discipline-her-devar logic is fine. but for a senior Regional Transport officer who believes in the Gandhian principle of doing all work by oneself, Avni tagging along her devar (brother-in-law) Adi [Abhimanyu Dassani] to Dhaamli is a bit hard to digest. Nevertheless, if that didn’t happen, leave aside the remake, there wouldn’t have been Middle Class Abbayi in the first place.
Out in Dhaamli, [perhaps a pseudonym for Shamli town in Uttar Pradesh], Avni [Shilpa Shetty] dares to take on the local powerful politician, goon Vikramjeet Bisht [Abhimanyu Singh]. Shot in Uttar Pradesh, we wonder what chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht made of Nikamma’s antagonist bearing his surname. Ah, he’s Yogi Adityanath now. Anyway, Vikramjeet Bisht controls the local private taxi business [Super cabs] and he burns down any competition, even state road transport. Whoa, clearly either the state government is so toothless or hand in gloves with Vikramjeet. ‘BUS karo yaar‘ [pun intended], any sane viewers or our readers would say. Long ridiculed for being a nikamma, Adi finally proves his worth by protecting his bhabhi.
This is the kind of story that once thrived in the 80s, mid 90s – often deemed as a poor era in Bollywood. The mindless screenplay to a mindless story makes Nikamma another poor film that is produced and sold in the garb of a masala entertainer. It begs the question, is every hit South Indian film worthy enough to be retold in Hindi cinema? Though South is the flavor in Bollywood, such cliched, banal stories are passe for most audiences.
There is the odd intriguing competitive element [6-day challenge between Vikramjeet and Adi] but the rest of the screenplay really hits your nerves. Sabbir Khan enjoyed few successes with mass entertainers like Heropanti , Baaghi , but not much respect. His last flick Munna Michael  was a disaster, and unfortunately, Nikamma is likely to live up to its name. Khan’s frailty, lack of creativity as a director is exposed again with no thought given on retelling a cliched story in a more respectable way. The middle class high values, rich exploiting poor ideology is over emphasized in the context of this story.
The shallow performances by Nikamma’s youth – Dassani (32) and Shirley Setia] adds to the pain of the audience. Dassani was fairly impressive in his debut film Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota , but he’s been a shadow of himself in the subsequent films. Often star kids take the romantic drama route to enter Bollywood. A Dassani choosing a Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota was refreshing. [Kindly note that film not working at the box office had more to do with the producer RSVP’s dispute with exhibitors than the quality of the film]. Dassani has flattered to deceive since then. His showing as the nikamma Adi mirrors the nauseating effort by Salman Khan in most films. We wonder whether Dassani has picked a mindless script out of sheer desperation. Sadly, it only extends his search for that all important certified HIT in Bollywood.
The less we say about Shirley Setia, the better. She has a screen presence but nothing beyond it. The constant farcical smile to even an SOS situation becomes an eye sore. Love at first sight is acceptable, but a marriage proposal by the girl at first sight belies logic. Thankfully, Natasha [Setia] and Adi’s early bizarre conversations are justified later on. But what does one make of this? The girl is so desperate to marry an unemployed Adi that she’s informed her parents of having done all those things which lovers usually do after marriage. Setia’s casting exposes corporate filmmakers who believe that one’s social media, YouTube following will also translate into box office success. With all due respect to the New Zealand born desi girl, but she strikes you as an absolute novice.
A Shilpa Shetty hardly smiling in a film is unheard of but credit to the seasoned actor for chipping in with a respectable performance. Avni doesn’t say much, but she is a strong character who manages both work and the two men in her life – husband Raman [Samir Soni] and her devar – well. However, this version of Bhabhi-devar relationship is a bit over the top. While a young family kept her away from films, but it is surprising when many of her peers have found substantial roles in the millennia, what is it that kept filmmakers away from Shilpa?
Abhimanyu Singh is the other saving grace in Nikamma. Though hampered by poor writing, characterization, Singh still infuses some life into his character with his gripping intensity. There are very few villains who match Singh’s personality, but Bollywood needs to optimize such talent than waste it on poorly scripted stories, characters.
The other notable thing about Nikamma is the cinematography in a few scenes. Though limited but the background score is fairly decent. The odd song in the film is poor, with the titular [remake] song way below the original from Kyaa Dil Ne Kahaa , and only used for the end credits.
Bollywood corporates, filmmakers seriously need to evaluate their obsession with remakes of South Indian films. We haven’t seen writer Sriram Venu’s original Middle Class Abbayi, but if the poor remake largely mirrors the original (as told to us), then it doesn’t compel us to watch the original. What’s that Kishore Kumar song from Amitabh Bachchan’s mass entertainer Inquilaab  – Abhimanyu chakravyuh mein phas gaya hai tu. Though it is an Abhimanyu vs Abhimanyu battle, but the two Abhimanyus are lost in director Sabbir Khan’s vicious chakravyuh (trap).
Watch the trailer of Nikamma below.