Early on in Humble Politician Nograj, the title character – ably played by RJ and comedian Danish Sait – sings: “Maadodella maadthira, naavu maadidre problemmu (You’ll do everything you want, but when we do it, it’s a problem).”
The telling illustration that follows this points out, “You’ll give bribes, but if we take them it’s a problem.”
With lines like that early in the film, you’d expect Humble Politician Nograj to grow into a powerful satire that properly pins the blame on all of us for the sorry state of our politics these days. But as Nograj’s story unfolds, you realise that the film is never quite willing to stick its neck out all the way.
So, instead of a delicious black comedy that really hits a raw nerve, you end up with a humorous but predictable film that merely repeats the ‘commonsense’ about scamster politicians and gullible voters. Even the film’s most powerful line – that a corrupt politician could not buy all his votes, but must get at least some from honest voters – never goes anywhere beyond stating this truism.
To be fair, Nograj’s Machiavellian journey from Corporator to MLA – co-written by Danish and director Saad Khan – is never boring. Indeed, at points the absurdity of the tale does work quite well.
When Nograj engineers a power shutdown and then threatens to do himself harm unless his constituents get the electricity they need, for instance, you can’t help but chuckle at the theatrics of such political stunts. In much the same vein is the photoshoot in which he poses with a diya for Diwali, the picture of a goat for Bakr-Eid and ribboned bells for Christmas.
Nograj’s political philosophy is fairly simple: tell people what they want to hear and they’ll let you get away with outrageous stuff. Ranged against him is Arun Patil (Roger Narayan), an NRI businessman who jumps into politics out of a genuine desire to do something for the people, but finds himself struggling to play the system. Arun is easily the weakest character in the plot, falling for Nograj’s plots so easily that you are left wondering if such a man can be the great middle-class hope. He often becomes the foil that keeps the film from foraying into more interesting territory by focusing solely on Nograj.
In terms of humour too, Humble Politician Nograj sometimes takes the easy way out. While there are some hilarious lines and situational set-ups in the film (a robbery that Nograj attempts in Arun’s office, for instance), there are far too many jokes involving Nograj’s thickly accented and badly structured English. A series of jokes around a homosexual party functionary do not strike a pleasing chord either.
But the film stays entertaining throughout thanks to some great performances, including from Danish, who completely inhabits his character. Nograj’s wheezy, slightly disturbing laugh, for instance, is one trait that really brings home the character. Vijay Chendoor as Nograj’s sycophantic assistant and Sumukhi Suresh as the politician’s jolly wife are just as brilliant. Sruthi Hariharan, however, is fairly wasted in the role of Arun Patil’s wife.
Humble Politician Nograj manages to hit quite a few funny notes and definitely qualifies as enjoyable timepass. But it leaves you wondering at how much more fun this film could have been if it had been just a tad more irreverent.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film's producers or any other members of its cast and crew.