The overused, overdone, over-the-top Punjabi overdrive will now get the drubbing it long deserved. Come on, India in Hindi cinema is far more than just the Punjabi brigade. Change the lead characters to non-Punjabis, and the script, with most inanities and farcical things kept as they are, would not be half as irritating. Claimed as a tribute to the Sikhs and their patriotism, the film actually mocks their dim-wittedness and lack of general knowledge and so on, while insisting that they are golden-hearted.

Santa (Boman Irani) and Banta (Vir Das) are commissioned by mistake to investigate the disappearance of the Indian ambassador to Fiji (Ayub Khan) by the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, whose officials here exhibit a raw, unintelligent side! The man hiring them (Vijay Raaz) is a frustrated subordinate to the grouchy chief (Tinu Anand), who is desperate to find the famous undercover team that uses several aliases and gets a chance when he hears these different characters being called by those names!

The two are sent to Fiji with some Bond-type weapons, and the misadventures start almost as soon as they land. They blabber about their secret mission on television and so are targeted by a Nepali don (Johnny Lever) based there, who thinks that they are after him! Santa and Banta are given local contacts in ace agents who still look and behave in a goofy pattern (Lisa Haydon and Sanjay Mishra), and they encounter the missing diplomat’s wife (Neha Dhupia) who resembles Santa’s lost love (Dhupia again in a few shots). They also begin to investigate his best friend (Ram Kapoor), a tycoon dealing with antiques.

Of course, there are twists and turns designed to be funny as well as thrilling. And the defeat of all the baddies is a foregone conclusion.

Forced, juvenile (fortunately neither toilet nor crass) humor supposed to be wacky but not very fresh comes as a big roadblock to this crime caper. Nothing saves the film from plunging deep into retro-styles of making and general mediocrity. Akashdeep gets contemporary only in the music and comes a cropper there as well. Yes, there are maybe a dozen instances in the film when the actors’ lines manage to pull off a few giggles. The hilarious reference to India’s former PM as someone who needs permission for the simplest possible action is lost and not recognized when another obvious gag on him follows immediately.

Irani salvages the film from the pits with his brilliant portrayal of Santa. The tiniest nuances he brings as a Sikh are plain delightful and completely authentic. Das is good too and does evoke the feeling that he is from the community. From the rest, Dhupia and Haydon both make a mark, and Lever is excellent in his caricature-like essay of a don — here is a master actor who is likable even in the silliest roles and films he does.

Rating: *1/2

Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Cinetek Telefilms Pvt Ltd. present “Santa Banta Pvt. Ltd.”

Produced by: Sheeba Akashdeep and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures

Directed by: Akashdeep Sabir

Written by: Akashdeep Sabir, Asad Ajmeri and Pawan Soni

Music: Jassi Katyal, Jaidev Kumar and Amjad-Nadeem

Starring: Boman Irani, Vir Das, Neha Dhupia, Lisa Haydon, Johnny Lever, Ram Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Sanjay Mishra, Ayub Khan, Tinu Anand, Vrajesh Hirjee, Vijay Patkar, Ranjeet, Ravi Dewan, Sonu Nigam, Vikas Bhalla and others

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