For meme lovers and connoisseurs of contemporary online humor in our part of the world, the name Sachin Tichkule is likely to ring a bell. Especially when they are out and about in the monsoon and see roads flooded for lack of drainage, and potholes so big, they could almost be a swimming pool for toddlers. The ones acquainted with the life and times of the iconic contractor Sachin Tichkule can’t help but look for him on the streets of Kathmandu, running behind a road-roller or watching over road maintenance.
In the 2010 Hindi-language movie “Khatta Meetha”, Sachin Tichkule (Akshay Kumar) is the man next door. He is a contractor from a respectable middle-class family who has big dreams and small coffers. With no means to pay bribes to get his hands on lucrative government contracts, Tichkule struggles to stay in business, even as his family loses faith in him.
To cope with the corrupt system, Sachin in his own wayward ways tries to be a part of the corrupt system, fighting with his self-respect while trying to succeed in his career. And luck is not on his side. Not only does he have to deal with a skeptical family and corrupt bureaucrats, the arrival of his ex-girlfriend, Gehna Ganpule (Trisha), as the area’s municipal commissioner makes matters worse. Gehna holds a grudge against Sachin because of their bitter past; she is also a strict government official and would have nothing to do with his frivolous shenanigans.
The story of Khatta Meetha is simple yet relatable, especially in a corrupt country like ours. Written and directed by master filmmaker Priyadarshan himself, the film takes political satire to the ground level. It shows how even the smallest players in a country’s economic ecosystem could be spoiled by the greed of corrupt bureaucrats and businesspersons. The fragile morality of humans is questioned and provoked in this cleverly written film.
Unfortunately, Priyadarshan tries to do more than narrate the struggles of Sachin Tichkule, which would have made the film more organic and realistic. Instead, the writer/director takes the focus away from Sachin in the second half to weave conspiracy theories that do not gel with the film’s opening half. Maybe this was one reason the film did not do so well at the box office when it was released.
Still, the televised reruns of Khatta Meetha and its availability on YouTube have helped gained this film a cult following, with numerous online memes being dedicated to its characters, just like the earlier Priyadarshan-Akshay Kumar combo “Hera Pheri” (2000), which was initially a box-office dud. Khatta Meetha has a similar track record but it does not come close to the hilarious magnanimity of Hera Pheri by any chance.
All-in-all the movie does not have an elaborate production design. As mentioned, the film portrays a part of our society almost like it exactly is. There are comparatively fewer exaggerations than most Bollywood films but it does not completely shun fictional liberties to become an arthouse cinema. It’s kind of a delectable mix of both.
Despite Priyadarshan’s witty writing and direction, the film has its share of shortcomings. But here steps in the energetic Akshay Kumar who gives it a lift. To play Sachin Tichkule, the actor—one of the highest-grossing in the industry and also known for his versatility—has to shirk his stardom and manifest life as a common man. This, the actor does with such commitment that the character and the actor become inseparable. Also aiding Kumar with the comedy sequences is actor Rajpal Yadav as Rangeela, Sachin’s aide and confidante. Together the duo spins one magical moment after another.
Who should watch it?
Many of you have probably watched Khatta Meetha already. But even if you have, this is one movie a lot of people won’t mind revisiting. Though not a box office hit, the movie, which portrays pervasive corruption and government apathy, was pretty relevant in the past and is equally so now.
Rating: 3 stars
Cast: Akshya Kumar, Trisha Krishnan, Rajpal Yadav, Johnny Lever
Length: 2hr 38min