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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Baa Baaa Black Sheep, Review: Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Baa Baaa Black Sheep, Review: Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Director Vishwas Paandya is not serious. A confessional in the beginning dedicates Baa Baaa Black Sheep to the films he grew up on. He’s also asked his partner in crime (it’s a crime story), writer Sunjiv Puri, to strictly follow his brief. So, when the film was launched, in early 2015, they were probably referencing films of the 1980s-1990s. One character is named Charlie, in a tribute to the legendary comedian, who ruled the 1930s and 1940s.

For the title of the film, they went back a little farther: 1731, to be precise. ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ is an English nursery rhyme, the earliest surviving version of which dates from 1731. Another character has an alias as Santa Claus, a Catholic’s tribute to the 4th century Bishop. Watch the film, and you find only two angles that date back to the films of yesteryear: Charlie faking a murderous attack on himself by hired goons, to fool his own son into doing his will, and the girl’s father refusing to let the hero marry his daughter, for no substantial reason. For the rest, it is just fun and games, in which beaten to death stereo-types, and dual-faced players, keep appearing in alternation.

Who killed Hitler? An ancestor of the Sharma family. Likewise, Sher Afgan, the Mughal King. Charudatt is the 12th in a lineage of contract killers, who knits wool in his spare time and pulls wool over his wife’s eyes by leading a double life. He has an arsenal and torture chamber on his basement, which is accessed through a lift in his bathroom (grant a man his privacy, will you?). His son, Baba (try saying ‘Baa Baaa’ aloud, with the requisite stress on Baa and Baaa; don’t worry, Santa Claus will show you how!) is a good for nothing man who has just turned 25. This assassin’s creed has a credo—when the son turns 25, the hit-man father can groom him to take over, and only then take retirement himself.

But Baba’s only ambition is to marry Angelina, jolly daughter of Brian Morris, an art teacher, and he is not enamoured of the profession of contract killing. Morris has an alter ego too: he is a criminal, who revels in making counterfeits of masterpiece paintings, and passing them of as the real things, selling them at astronomical prices. To ply this trade, he operates with the help of an agent, a fixer called Johnny Fixer (giveaway name?).

Now let me introduce the other key players. There is the home minister of Goa, Utpal Shivalkar (Utpal is not a Goan name?), a corrupt politician with an underworld nexus (are there any other kind?); an art gallery owner, Kamya (you are reminded of the TV star of yesteryear, Kamia Malhotra!), who is blackmailing Shivalkar because she has in her possession a DVD containing footage that the Indian Central Board of Film Certification would ban on the spot and cause a scandal that would rock Shivalkar’s boat, and who wants a classic painting in return (guess who holds possession of painting?); an ACP, who is always in mufti, never plays by the rules and would not hesitate to hire a contract killer to further his end (how many police officers can you count, who were spawned by Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry?); a crooked business baron Daniel (American arms smuggler Daniel Walcott was a notorious figure in the Indian crime scene back in the 60s), who has to act as a middleman, and contract underworld operatives, to ‘get the job done’, and ‘donate’ millions to Shivalkar’s party’s election fund, just so that Shivalkar would sign and approve a tender in his favour

Now you can’t possibly keep track of who wants who to do what to who, and, “Hear hear,” the writer-director duo too have the same problem, so they introduce an animated graphic, like the recap at the beginning of so many TV serials, which answers the seminal question above, with the help of names and arrows. Brilliant, but the graphic is far from enlightening, and most viewers who actually got confused with the goings on will be none the wiser.

Debutant director Vishwas Paandya has co-written the film, with actor-turned-writer, Sunjiv Puri. I guess the language flavour comes from Puri, while the tropes come from Paandya or from both. Logic is at a discount--just about anybody is able to shoot and kill, or inflict third degree torture on, just about anybody, anywhere. What does the contract killer do for a decent living cover? Sell cashew-nuts. I am surprised they did not bring in cashew liquor, Feni, the other Goan staple.

A hit-man who is about to retire and receives some five contracts during the duration of the film itself would have received maybe 1,000 in his 40 year career, assuming he is now 65. And he’s still in business, undetected. That would make Goa the murder capital of the world! Are the makers taking advantage of the fact that the real-life Chief Minister of Goa is currently abroad, for treatment of a serious ailment? Surely he would have something to say about the Sharmas. He might also express outrage at a child shown playing with a high flying drone that is commandeered by Baba, a weapon loaded on to it, and sent miles away, to eliminate a target, by remote control. Sharma Sr. wears soda-bottle glasses that were de rigueur with some comic relief characters in the films of the 50s-80s, although his vision is normal. Worn without prescription, they would cause him to bang into everyone and fall all over every minute. Instead, he merely looks in the wrong direction, for effect.

Three talented actors are wasted in over-the-top antics which they seem to be thoroughly enjoying... is such a clash of the real and the make-believe worlds. Anupam Kher is Charudutt Sharma/Charlie, Annu Kapoor is Brian Morris/Santa Claus and Kay Kay Menon is ACP Shivraj Naik. Anupam is seen with wigs, on and off, and monkey caps on other occasions. He is left to improvise  some scenes to bring them to a cutting point, but he merely contorts his face. Annu’s crystal clear intonation is at variance with both his personæ, with mockingly delivered lines like “Cinderella kee shaadee kisee ‘Baba Baba’ black sheep’ sey naheen ho saktee.” And what has happened to Kay Kay Menon? Haggard and skinny, he just cannot pass off as a ruthless ACP, however stylised he may want to be. Badly type-cast, to boot.

TV’s well-known anchor Maniesh Paul plays Baba. Maniesh, who had a small role in Farah Khan's Tees Maar Khan, played himself in Maruti Mera Dost and ABCD, made his leading man debut in Mickey Virus. He also played the main role in Tere Bin Laden 2 and Ranbanka. One must admire his sinews and his confidence, not his hamming, both at home, with his girl-friend, and while dealing with his prospective father-in-law. Manjari Phadnis (Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na, Kis Kisko Pyar Karoon, Grand Masti) is Angelina Morris, showing off her figure and grimacing, at Baba and her father, in turns. Manish Wadhwa (Utpal Shivalkar) has been around since 1998, mostly on TV, but gets two opportunities to make his mark in a matter of weeks: Padmaavat, and the film at hand. He handles the role with aplomb, and should be noticed for this outing.

Natasha Suri as Kamya is a ruthless climber/blackmailer, and fits the bill. Aakash Dabhade as Johnny Fixer and Vineet Sharma as Daniel cannot be blamed for hamming away. Ah yes, do watch out for writer Sunjiv Puri as the fake attacker, hired by Kher, to stage a murderous attack on him. Surely, Puri deserved a better role.

Music by Roshan Balu, Gourov Dasgupta and Shaan comprises three songs. Shaan's band ‘Superbia' is the backing group. One number is sung by Sonu Niigam, the others by Shaan, Manisha Chakravarty, Mika Singh and Mahalakshmi Iyer. ‘Heer, Heer, Heer, Heer’ goes one repetitive track, without waking the Ranjha in you. Cinematography by Chaudhary Amalendu and Film Editing by Bakul Matiyani are just about passable.

Counting sheep is a time-tested method of inducing sleep, sleep that brings great relief to insomniacs. It would be tragedy if audiences went to sleep while watching Baa Baaa Back Sheep. Besides, audiences are not sheep that will flock to cinema-halls in the first place, when a film that, admittedly, had potential, turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Rating: * ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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