Total Dhamaal



Main Cast: Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Mishra

Director: Indra Kumar

Well, my intimate and exclusive little estate sale here at Casa Maine did not go quite as well as we had all planned. Things started out perfectly in a sedate and refined way. A few people arriving in twos and threes, carefully masking and slowly going through the west wing to look at all of the little treasures I had the staff so carefully lay out for perusal. (I will admit, we didn’t have quite enough to fill up the tables in the green salon, so I had to make a quick trip to the Dollar Store for a few items to finish up the display. I do believe in truth in advertising. Every single item for sale was indeed a possession of Vicki Lester – we never said how long any of them had been in my possession…) However, starting about ten am, hordes of people started racing up the driveway, determined to grab a bargain. Somehow my discreet little sale had gotten placed in the Thrifty Nickel Classifieds last week and word had spread.

jewelry market pixabay
I do understand their enthusiasm I suppose…

The numbers of arrivals kept increasing. We ran out of masks. I could make no headway with social distancing. A couple of zaftig women of questionable morals got into a knock down drag out over a pair of earrings that I had once worn while guesting on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and several tables of costume jewelry were positively destroyed before the situation could be brought under control. I hope Mr. Michael’s camera crew were busy in another room as that sort of indecorous behavior is not what I want associated with the MNM label. It was about then that the health department showed up and declared my intimate little gathering an illegal health hazard and chased everyone else out before writing me a ticket for a rather enormous fine. I’ve turned it over to Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys to deal with. I really thought the authorities parting comment on my running a bawdy house was over the line, even if Leah had had to break up a spontaneous ménage a trois on the service stairs.

I was in a bit of an excited state as I wandered into home theater with a bottle of gewürztraminer that I snagged from the cabinet in the kitchen and I turned on the first movie channel I came to which was, as luck would have it the Hindi Channel. I was exhausted and a little Bollywood singing and dancing always restores my spirits, so I poured another glass and settled in. The film just beginning was something called Total Dhamaal. (There’s apparently a whole dhaamal series – the Hindi word means fun or comedy). It was apparently the biggest Bollywood hit of 2019 with an ensemble cast of well-known Indian performers and raked in a tidy sum worldwide, even though, like most Indian movies, remained entirely unknown in the US. The title fit my recent experiences quite well, so I kicked off my Jimmy Choos, curled up on a settee and began to watch.

Total Dhamaal is a zany road comedy loosely based on It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and it’s unofficial remake Rat Race with elements of the Vacation movies thrown in for good measure. The high-spirited romp starts with Ajay Devgn and Sanjay Mishra as a couple of thieves pulling a heist in a hotel and stealing an enormous sum of money from corrupt police commissioner (Boman Iriani). After various stunts involving hanging off of high balconies with firehoses and a descent stolen from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the pair reach safety, only to be double crossed by their partner Pintu who is driving the getaway car (Manoj Pahwa). In his haste to escape, Pintu hides the money and then grabs a plane but mistakenly hijacks the janitor rather than the pilot. The plane crashes and the dying Pintu is found by a bunch of disparate motorists whom we meet in a series of comic exposition scenes. They include the double crossed thieves, the bickering upper class couple (Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit), the doofus brothers who manage to destroy an art gallery and are escaping in the owner’s super charged futuristic car and who seem to be based on Martin and Lewis (Arshad Warsi and Javed Jaffrey), and the crooked firefighters who were busted for taking bribes to rescue victims and who seem to be based on Laurel and Hardy (Riteish Deshmukh and Pitobash Tripathy). The dying Pintu blurts out that the money is hidden in the Janakpur Zoo under a giant OK and soon it’s everyone for himself as they all compete to cross rough Indian countryside to get there first. We have collapsing bridges, flash floods, train crashes, helicopter crashes, accidental sky diving, and encounters with cobras all played for comic effect. Eventually, despite all the mishaps, everyone arrives at the zoo, together with the police commissioner to find a nefarious developer (Mahesh Manjrekar) determined to poison the animals and raze the zoo to the ground over the objections of the beautiful zookeeper (Esha Gupta). More mayhem ensues and you can probably guess how it all ends without too much trouble.

So how is Total Dhamaal? It’s intermittently funny. Most of the cast are decent physical comedians who can make the most out of their scenes. The biggest issue is most of the over the top situations don’t seem to flow out of the characters or situations they find themselves in but feel forced upon them and then the characters overreact in off putting ways. This may be a cultural difference in what the people of the subcontinent find funny versus what Americans find funny. Comedy is one of the hardest things to translate between cultures and its why action and adventure movies are the huge international hits. There’s no need for cultural translation of explosions or car chases. I imagine most of the intended audience of the film would be unfamiliar with the source material and wouldn’t spend the film thinking about where they stole each particular scene or action set piece from like I did. The film making is fairly pedestrian with some very choppy editing in places that made me wonder how the various characters got from point A to point B.

Most of the performances are perfunctory but I did enjoy the scenes between the bickering couple. Anil Kapoor as the male half will be familiar to American audiences from Slumdog Millionaire and from the TV show 24. He does a great job as the exasperated husband who slowly begins to understand his wife and her strengths. Madhuri Dixit, as the distaff side, lives up to him and the two have great chemistry together. I understand they have been paired in other Hindi films and I’ll have to see if I can find one where they aren’t trapped by too much silly dialogue or cheesy special effects. I also liked Ajay Devgn as one of the original robbers who plays his part like an Indian James Bond on too much caffeine. The Martin/Lewis pair also have good chemistry together but would be way too much if given their own film. An ensemble comedy like this gives us just enough of their antics to enjoy them.

The final sequence in the zoo nearly brings Total Dhamaal down as it’s such an obvious studio set. I half expected a dancing hippo to come out and sing the theme to The New Zoo Revue. It’s jarringly out of tone with the rest of the film which is done on location and features some interesting photography of the varied features of the Indian countryside. At that point, we’ve also got about a dozen characters chasing the money and it gets a bit confusing to remember quite who is who. There are some ridiculous costume choices to help us keep some of the men straight but it’s not enough to make us care too much about who is running from the lion or from the man in the gorilla suit.

I ended up giggling occasionally. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time in sitting through Total Dhamaal. And I did get a big Bollywood dance number for the final credits sequence.

Fire hose hauling. Domino bookshelves. Divorce court. Diving mistakes. Backing out of train tunnels. Gratuitous poisoned bananas. Elephant CPR. Girder clutching. Easily guessed gate codes. Cobra abuse.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at

image by mi_bnu from Pixabay

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