Like "R...Rajkumar," "Bullett Raja," and some other films in the last decade, "Khaali Peeli" is an open, unapologetic tribute to vintage mainstream Hindi cinema that dominated from the 1970s to the 1990s. The story is done-to-kingdom-come, patched up with studied absence of logic in the name of entertainment, and thrives on masala. All in the old entertainer canon.
Well, in principle that's fine, though mainstream masala cinema is now better exemplified by refined entertainers like "Rowdy Rathore," "Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai" and other films that mix the best of the old emotions and substance with the new finesse. In that sense, "Khaali Peeli" is a bit of a dated entertainer, though is generally time-pass fun with only occasional trysts with restiveness.
Weird characters as baddies, childhood love and a small boy who has criminal tendencies and a mastery in them, comic and inefficient cops rather than vicious corrupt ones, and a refreshing absence of politicians make "Khaali Peeli" better than the run-of-the-mill fare that came to roost later as a box-office staple.
Ishaan Khatter is yet again is a kid from the streets, and his child avatar, Blackie, played by Vedant Desai, is excellent in his many scenes. Khatter tries to match up with Desai and just succeeds, but somehow Desai is that bit more eloquent and effective. Khatter's efforts to blend a formula hero versus his earlier kind of earthy roles in "Beyond The Clouds" and "Dhadak" leads to a lesser impact than if he had let loose(r) and enjoyed himself, the way elder brother Shahid Kapoor did in "R...Rajkumar" and even "Kabir Singh." But he is pleasant, sincere, and should soon catch up with "Bade Bhai."
Blackie is so named because he sells movie tickets in "black" and makes friends with a sweet young kid of unknown origin named Pooja (Deshna Dugad) a.k.a. Red Riding Hood. She is in the red-light precinct, later about to be married off to Choksi Seth (Swanand Kirkire) as a grown-up, pretty woman. Choksi is a middle-aged man who has seen her as a small girl and waited for her to grow up as he is smitten by the little girl!
Seth is the younger brother of gangster Yusuf Chikna (Jaideep Ahlawat), who has also raised Blackie and separated him from Pooja when they were kids so that his brother can have a clear field. Now grown up, Pooja escapes from this "marriage" with a cache of money and jewelry and hitches a ride with a cabbie (Khatter) who she does not know is Blackie—and vice-versa.
Naturally, the goons are after her, and separately, the cops after Blackie. And from here begins a series of adventures, misadventures, thrills, comedy, fights and everything that typified the old kind of Hindi movies.
The Satish Kaushik comedy track looks dated. The way Blackie's cab is painted twice within hours is an extreme kind of illogic that was never common in the films of yore. The climax fight is classic Hindi cinema in the way it is stretched and the villain is vanquished.
A huge sore point is the music. One of the biggest virtues of old entertainers was good music that was also comprised of hit songs—from three to even eight. In their n-th taken-for-granted work after "Sultan" and "Befikre" in 2016, Vishal-Shekhar deliver a disastrously poor music score with just three, but uniformly gimmicky and terrible songs. The background score by Sanchit Balhara and Ankit Balhara is also overdone R.D. Burman.
Ananya Pandey acts better than she did in her last two films, and Jaideep Ahlawat's low-key menacing villainy is routine but impactful. Zakir Hussain as the cop is again predictable but good. Child artiste Deshna as the young Pooja is very good but Swanand Kirkire acts just as if he is a bad theater production—he is all gimmicks.
Technically, the film is alright, and director Maqbool Khan makes an average debut.
Giving us an average film. Next time, we hope for a better one, for mainstream Hindi cinema of the past must also survive—in a modern avatar, like I said. And co-producer Ali Abbas Zafar has an impressive track-record in his directorial outings—"Mere Brother Ki Dulhan," "Gunday," "Sultan" and "Tiger Zinda Hai." The first three even had good to splendid music, which was so needed here. Oh, well.
Produced by: Ali Abbas Zafar & Himanshu Kishen Mehra
Directed by: Maqbool Khan
Written by: Sima Agarwal & Yash Keswani from an original story by Saikumar Reddy & Rahul Sankrityan
Starring: Ishaan Khatter, Ananya Pandey, Jaideep Ahlawat, Swanand Kirkire, Satish Kaushik, Anuup Sonii, Vedant Desai, Deshna Dugad, Zakir Hussain & others