Stars: Vir Das, Neha Dhupia, Lisa Haydon, Boman Irani
Runtime: 1h 52min
Released: 22 April 2016
Synopsis: Two friends and their sweet and endearing misadventures and one of these misadventures sees them land in the middle of a kidnapping investigation.
Review: The film stars Boman Irani and Vir Das as small-time crooks Santeshwar Singh and Banteshwar Singh from Patiala. The two are mistaken for a duo of renowned and skilled spies going by the nicknames Santa and Banta, and are consequently roped in by India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) to solve the kidnapping of the country’s High Commissioner to Fiji, Shankar Roy (Ayub Khan). Since the agent responsible for the confusion – a guy called Arvind played by Vijay Raaz – cannot afford to admit to his faux pas, Santa and Banta are packed off to Fiji.
There they meet the ambassador’s wife Kareena S. Roy (Neha Dhupia who also plays the love of Santa’s life, Billo), the wealthy antiques trader Sonu Sultan (Ram Kapoor) who is also the Roys’ friend, a RAW agent called Akbar Allahabadi (Sanjay Mishra) who is Santa-Banta’s pointsperson in that country, an undercover RAW operative called Queenie Taneja a.k.a. QT (Lisa Haydon), a Nepalese underworld don (Johnny Lever) and the gangster Antonio Kapoor (Ranjeet).
The multiplicity of characters introduced in quick succession justifies the text plates flashing on screen with their names and photographs in the beginning. You might assume that confusion over who is who would be the risk this film runs. That ends up not being the problem at all. The problem Santa Banta Pvt Ltd ends up with is: who cares who is who?
It is perhaps illogical to expect better from a film that takes itself so casually. When the opening Hindi voiceover speaks of “Hindu, Muslim, Isaai, Sikh”, the English words flashing on screen are “Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, Sikh” (umm, Catholics are only a sub-set of Christians). Actress-model Lisa Haydon’s name is spelt differently in the opening and end credits. And Ram Kapoor suffers from inexplicably inconsistent lighting and makeup – he is pink and perspiring in early scenes, after which his face seems to be cast in shadow. These are not crimes, as less finicky folk may point out, but they reveal a lackadaisical attitude towards the filmmaker’s own product which is bound to be in evidence in the rest of the film too.
It’s the sort of light-hearted nonsense that should have filled the film. There’s simply not enough of it. Every 20 minutes or so, there is one really good, enjoyably silly joke (which proves the writers’ potential for this genre) and then – yawn, yawn, yawn – it is back to the dull grind. Considering that the film runs for about 113 minutes, that adds up to a total of approximately six jokes. Why?
Santa Banta also features too many noisy, unmelodious songs with redemption coming in the form of just one foot-tapping number, ‘Machli Jal Ki Rani Hai’ sung by Sonu Nigam and Vikas Bhalla, both of whom make guest appearances to sing it.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh also has a cameo of sorts in Santa Banta Pvt Ltd. Sadly for him, like the government he headed till 2014, there is little he can do to save this film.