Slapstick seems to be a must in Nepali comedies. In Nepali television, from the subtly scripted MaHa series to popular TV shows like Meri Bassai, the purposely loud acting is exaggerated by absurd characters that have a penchant for crudeness. In our recent films, physical comedy has been refined by Daya Hang Rai who has to do so little to get everyone smiling.
It is precisely Rai’s cocksure but stumbling misfit of a hero that drives Ram Babu Gurung’s new film Kabaddi. Kaji (played by Rai) is a 30-year-old good for nothing son of the village chieftain who needs help from friends to chase Maiyya (Rishma Gurung). For her part, she is trying to avoid marriage with Kaji and wants to leave Mustang for Kathmandu to study. The arrival of a relatively sophisticated city boy Bibek (played by Loot director Nischal Basnet) makes Kaji’s efforts look amateurish and the each of them plot moves, as if they were playing kabaddi, to run off with Maiyya.
The comedy gives way to a bit of drama when Bibek succeeds and the film shifts to Kathmandu. It turns out Bibek was previously cheated by Maiyya’s father, a gangster who runs an overseas labour racket, and he went all the way to Mustang to abduct the daughter and obtain a ransom as revenge. Then, in a show of commitment, the bumbling Kaji arrives in Kathmandu looking for his one true love and rather coincidentally meets Bibek on his first night in the capital. Hilarity ensues as both are forced to cooperate.
Ram Babu Gurung, who also wrote this film, invests a lot of screen time to make us laugh, and as a result other aspects of the film seem weak. For example, Bibek’s wooing of Maiyya isn’t convincing, Kaji’s sidekicks are often redundant, and the gangster father passes off as a brute and not a formidable nemesis who has amassed fortunes by conning others. In retrospect, the Bollywood film Delhi Belly and the two Guy Ritchie movies it drew from are good reminders of what Gurung could have done with the plot.
Still there are other reasons to appreciate Kabaddi. A day after it was released, its distributors deemed facilities at one cinema inadequate and had the confidence to remove the film from being screened. And, if reports are true, the film’s crew exchanged salaries for stakes in the film’s profits, which means filmmakers are now willing to take risks to finance their own projects.
The producers of Kabaddi made Loot in 2012 and fortunately for them the witty one-liner formula is still fresh. Underneath the rustic humour, Kabaddi is a show of two halves that suffers considerably once the action moves to Kathmandu and the story becomes feel-good and predictable.
But like its predecessor Loot, Kabaddi will succeed in theatres despite its flaws because Nepali audiences crave a good laugh, especially when it comes in their own language.