Between the government welfare schemes for the poor and the aam admi they’re meant for is a long chain of babus, government officers, cops, collectors, engineers, each a gear in the elaborate machinery where palms need to be greased frequently to keep the machinery from clogging and for the intended benefit to trickle down to the man clinging to survival below the poverty line.
Director Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba takes a satirical, tongue-in-cheek look at the system teeming with corruption through the eyes of a man who decides to avail a government loan to dig a well in his field.
Armaan Ali (Boman Irani) takes a month-long leave from his job as a driver in Mumbai to travel to his village near Hyderabad to fix the marriage of his daughter Muskaan (Minissha Lamba). However, he returns after three months and is on the point of being sacked from his job. It’s then Armaan offers to tell to his employer the story of what’s been keeping him busy all these months.
What unravels is a part fun, part bizarre tale of Armaan’s struggle to get a government loan to dig a water well into his land and in the process being forced to give a cut or favour to all the middlemen, officials, cops, bureaucrats. The amount that finally reaches Armaan is too measly for a well. Turns out that the well exists only in papers. That’s when the whole thing backfires on the corrupt system and becomes a burning issue in the game of politics.
Shyam Benegal keeps his style of storytelling simple but stretches the plot into a bizarre territory in the second half with the sequence about the well being ‘stolen’ and becoming a welcome weapon for the opposition party to clobber the ruling government. But what keeps your interest from waning is the motley bunch of characters that populate the film. There’s the newly-wed engineer (Ravi Kissen) with overactive hormones and a wife (Sonali Kulkarni) that could do with enhanced curves. There’s Armaan’s twin brother Rehman (Boman again) and his wife (Ila Arun) who’ve stolen water from a private well. There’s also a dispensable romantic track between Minissha and Sammir Dattani.
Performances are good but a special mention should be made of Boman Irani and Minissha Lamba. The latter plays a spunky village girl who doesn’t wear burqa and wants to complete her education before tying the knot. Rajit Kapoor adds his own underplayed brand of humour as a cop.
A film with its heart in the right place, ‘Well Done Abba’ is sprinkled with a few funny moments but overall it fails to offer anything refreshingly entertaining or enlightening.