Clearly, the tale of annoying guests overstaying their welcome stirs many emotions. Which is why this film is such a lost opportunity of making a funny, identifiable movie.
In the case of Puneet (Ajay Devgn, mid-age showing) and Munmun (Konkona Sen Sharma), this formidable guest arrives in the form of an overgrown Dennis the Menace – Chachaji (Paresh Rawal) from Gorakhpur. At first, Puneet barely places this unexpected guest, but manages vaguely when told the long-winding relation. The couple’s son has been eagerly waiting for an atithi to visit the home, so, for his sake, they invite Chachaji in.
The guest has a propensity for attracting trouble, right from the time when he slaps the housing complex’s guard for questioning him. Then on, the couple have to bear smelly farts, noisy gargles early morning, demands for exhaustive lunches, and requests for pakoras for the guest’s friends.
Thinking that Chachaji is planning a stay for only a few days, Puneet and Munmun had gladly given up their AC bedroom for uncomfortable sleep in the living room. Now, with days passing by, they begin to wonder just how long this atithi plans to stay.
When his stay spins their life out-of-control, the harried couple devise plans to get him to leave. Predictably, each plan backfires, leaving the couple stuck with their troublesome guest. What’s amusing is the manner in which Chachaji manages to endear himself to everyone except his hosts.
He has an army of friends in no time, and even the guard who had received that resounding slap becomes Chachaji’s follower.
The central flaw with the film is its failure to evoke sympathy for the central characters. Having suffered unbearable guests themselves, most viewers will find Chachaji’s antics harmless, even amusing. Had we been on Puneet and Munmun’s side, the film would have been more absorbing.
One may identify with a few instances, like his leading the housemaid to quit — an entity more valuable than a husband in a woman’s life, as remarked by Munmun. But Chachaji is still not portrayed as being annoying enough to whip up our interest.
This character is, in fact, so benign that all the couple had to do was hint their disapproval. Again, the hosts never bother questioning their guest’s unannounced and mysterious arrival, and figuring out how exactly they are related.
Eventually, the film turns into a Baghban mode, commenting on how we treat our own parents and relatives as guests, and not members of family. Which is why, Chachaji is portrayed as an old-fashioned man with quirks, who teaches the kid prayers and Sanskrit shlokas, rather than an unbearable guest.
Though a few moments get you to chuckle, the pattern (couple gets fed-up, hatches plan, plan backfires) gets cumbersome. What is laudable, though, is unlike Baghban that had severely black and white characters that simply don’t exist in the real world, Dhir’s characters are more flesh-and-blood. Perhaps the finest progression in the story is the adversaries developing a fondness for each other.
Ashwani Dhir’s storytelling is punctuated by a bhajan sung to the tune of Beedi Jalieyle, and a perplexingly extended Ganpati visarjan climax.
Dhir (One Two Three, 2008) best known as writer-director of award-winning TV Series Office Office, is yet to work his magic in films.
Though Atithi...barely taps his comic prowess, Paresh Rawal’s small-town buffoon act, who is one-up on the city dwellers, is the highlight of the film. But then, in a comedy with such an illustrious team, we do expect more.
Verdict: 2.5 stars