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By Phil Hall | October 30, 2009

BOOTLEG FILES 307: “Dhamaal” (2007 Bollywood comedy).

LAST SEEN: Available for viewing on several web sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: No official version has been released.



Everyone has heard about Bollywood, but few people outside of India and the Indian diaspora have ever sat down and watched a Bollywood film from start to finish. I just experienced my first Bollywood film, a 2007 comedy called “Dhamaal.” However, there was a sense of deja vu while watching the film – rather than offer an original slice of Indian culture, “Dhamaal” liberally rips off a half-dozen Hollywood films, including the shameless plagiarism of a plot from a genuine cinema classic.

“Dhamaal” gets off to a wobbly start by introducing its four main characters. Roy is a government security agent who gets fired from his job – the reason for his termination is copied from the film “Johnny English.” Adi is a street performer who plays the saxophone for an admiring crowd, but it is revealed that he is actually miming a taped recording that goes haywire (an ancient gag that is none too fresh). Adi’s brother Manav wears a red beret and overalls and gives the impression of being a simpleton. He repeats a Mr. Bean gag where he gets his hand stuck in a man’s back pocket, and the man doesn’t figure out he has company in his pants until he heads to the lavatory. Boman is a slacker whose father refers to his luxury car as his child.

All four wind up broke and homeless due to their stupidity. They crash at the home of Adi and Manav’s aunt, where they steal a pizza delivered to her home. (Hey, who knew there was pizza delivery in India?) When the aunt comes looking for her pizza, the men toss their slices up to the ceiling – a gag stolen from “Dude, Where’s My Car?” The quartet then hatches a scheme to make money by crashing a wake and pretending they are art gallery owners trying to collect on a debt from the dead man’s family. That is an original gag and, not surprisingly, it is completely unfunny.

At this point, the film kicks into trademark Bollywood style by introducing a completely irrelevant musical number. The four men are suddenly in a dance club, and their inane personas are replaced with hipster attitudes. As they sing and dance, they are surrounded by a bevy of light skinned blonde women – it is easy to imagine the club is somewhere in Oslo or Stockholm rather than Mumbai.

After this, the film resumes and the men reprise their art gallery scam. They are mistaken for murderers and are arrested. But the real killers are caught while the men are in transit to jail. The cops release them along the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere.

Suddenly, a car comes zooming down the highway and crashes through a barrier, flying over a cliff and into a ravine. The men rush to the crash and find the driver along his vehicle – he is still alive, and in his dying breath he details that he has buried a large treasure under a giant W in a park miles away from…

Yes, I know what you are thinking. And you are correct. At this point, “Dhamaal” turns into a blatant ripoff/remake of Stanley Kramer’s 1963 slapstick classic “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Indeed, the four men plus a disgruntled police captain (the Spencer Tracy character from the Kramer film) race each other to get to the big W first. An excess of destructive shenanigans is generated before the closing credits.

Since “Dhamaal” is a relatively low budget film, it lacked the huge chase scenes and elaborate comedy sequences that made “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” so wonderful. One sequence, however, is replicated: the runaway airplane subplot, complete with a drunken pilot who gets knocked out while his airplane is in flight (the actor’s costume matches the clothing Jim Backus wore in the original film) and the air traffic controller falling out of his tower. There is also a fire truck on the airport tarmac but, alas, there is no Bollywood equivalent of the Three Stooges waiting for the airplane to land.

“Dhamaal” also steals gags and sequences from Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” “Road Trip” and “Starsky and Hutch.” The film’s conclusion, on a concert stage, is stolen from “Rat Race,” which is also a ripoff of the Kramer classic. And the dance club sequence is repeated in the closing credits.

Barely compensating for the obvious lack of originality is the film’s annoying habit of inserting cartoonish sound and music effects at every possible opportunities. Eye blinks, head shakes, eyebrow arches and hand gestures are inevitably embellished with an annoying acoustic shtick that is vaguely amusing in a Huckleberry Hound cartoon but annoying in a narrative feature.

“Dhamaal” has not been theatrically released in the U.S. and it is not available in U.S. DVD retail outlets. In fact, I only heard about the movie from an amateur critic on YouTube who compared the Indian film with the scenes taken out of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Copies of the film can be found via eBay (I am not certain if these are genuine imports or bootlegs), while unauthorized uploads of the full film can easily be located across the Net.

I wouldn’t mind experiencing more Bollywood films, but hopefully next time I can find a Mumbai-based production that is closer to 2009 India rather than 1963 Hollywood.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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