Is Farhan Akhtar growing nostalgic for Dil Chahta Hai, the definitive Mumbai coming-of-ager he directed in 2001? Some of his recent production choices certainly betray that yearning. Last year, I was sufficiently charmed by his quirky Netflix offering Eternally Confused and Eager for Love, about a virgin twentysomething and his trash-talking toy. The series didn’t fly; I’m guessing the zany but off-colour humour turned some of its target demographic away. As if to tone it down, Akhtar has now produced the Netflix film Friday Night Plan, which is so coy and inoffensive it could easily have aired on Disney Channel.
Brothers Sid (Babil Khan), 18, and Adi (Amrith Jayan), 16, attend the same private school in Mumbai. Sid is nerdy, unpopular, awkward – other than the fact that he’s stalling his college applications, he has nothing in common with Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now. Adi, on the other hand, is a typical movie character – the twerpy younger sibling who drives you mad with unsolicited tips and pep talks. “You should totally ask her out,” he advises his brother, wisely, over a girl in his class. The opportunity for the same presents itself when Sid unexpectedly scores a goal in a crucial derby and gets invited to a ‘Friday Night’ bash after school. Adi, all too eager to hang with his cooler ‘seniors’, tags along.
Friday Night Plan (Hindi, English)
Director: Vatsal Neelakantan
Cast: Babil Khan, Amrith Jayan, Juhi Chawla, Aadhya Anand, Medha Rana
Run-time: 108 minutes
Storyline: Siblings Sid and Adi, who attend the same school, strike out for a night of fun while mending their spiky relationship in the process
With their mum (Juhi Chawla), a single parent, out on a business trip, Sid and Adi decide to take the car (never a good omen in frisky teen comedies). One prank leads to another, and soon Adi ends up ‘egging’ a khaki-clad officer on duty. It’s a moment, one of many, that made me wonder if Friday Night Plan has enough ignition for its 108-minute runtime. “That was freaking epic, man,” says a kid, evidently having the night of his life. Director Vatsal Neelakantan and co-writer Sapan Verma are probably being true to the experience of sheltered high schoolers, where the slightest antic or misadventure can take on the proportion of a crime. When the rich degenerates in Shaitan(2011) took off in a Hummer, the threat was a potential jail term. Here, all Sid and Adi have to do is apologize and retrieve their mom’s car.
This safe, sanitized feeling never quite leaves the film. The bullying Sid experiences in school is limited to verbal slights and barbs. The school itself is one of those elite joints, with Macs and gym showers and personalised career counselling for all. At the party, the kids play beer pong and flip the cup – instead of Uno or dumb charades. Adi being underage isn’t allowed to drink (Neelkantan is wary about losing that 13+ rating). The emotions, too, are papered over lest they upset the film’s ‘feel-good’ tag. When Sid and Adi finally come to blows and there’s a mention of their deceased father, I expected a carnage. Instead, it’s all resolved swimmingly with a pillow fight.
Babil Khan made a haunting debut in last year’s Qala, a highly stylized and esoteric film. As striking as that performance was, it’s sometimes hard to judge actors in a setting or world far removed from their own (Ranbir Kapoor was arresting in Saawariya but truly hit his stride with Wake Up Sid ). Friday Night Plan, in this regard, is a better test for Babil’s talents. Juhi Chawla plays a widowed single parent with a nice mix of affection and exasperation. I would like to see more of Amrith Jayan too – if he isn’t typecast in sidekick roles. Protagonists named Sid tend to flourish in Hindi films. The Adis not so much.
Friday Night Plan is currently streaming on Netflix