‘Madgaon Express’ – A Mischievous Romp Through Goa an Ode to Friendship and Folly

Imagine a scene soaked in humor from the Bollywood classic ‘Dil Chahta Hai,’ where Saif Ali Khan’s character Sameer is stripped of more than his illusions of romance in sun-soaked Goa. Years down the line, Kunal Kemmu, as a young spectator of this comic gold, might have been brewing thoughts that would manifest into his directorial debut, ‘Madgaon Express.’ With a hat tip to the original, his film brings with it a whiff of nostalgia and all the ingredients for a mischievous escapade, albeit with some hiccups along the way.

Taking the helm with not only directorial duties but screenwriting and dialogue as well, Kemmu crafts ‘Madgaon Express’ as an implicit nudge against the idolized Goa of ‘Dil Chahta Hai.’ Far from just a dreamy, idyllic escape, we’re told, with a playful jab, that putting your heart on the line may just cost you your wardrobe. His film is brought to life under the wings of Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani – the duo behind the much-revered original – serving as producers.

Embarking on the journey are Pinku (Pratik Gandhi), Ayush (Avinash Tiwary), and Dodo (Divyenndu Sharma), three childhood buddies tethered by promises of a Goa adventure. Hopes and plans are often waylaid by life’s trivialities – parental control and slim wallets – and so the trip remains an unturned page as Pinku and Ayush set roots overseas. Distance does little to discourage Dodo, grounded in both geography and social strata, who maintains the facade of success through the lens of social media trickery to his now-global friends. His ruse nears exposure as travel plans force a Mumbai reunion, compelling him to reignite their deferred Goa excursion.

The thrilling adventure kicks off at the railway station, Dodo’s underprivileged status wrapped up as seeking an ‘authentic’ experience, followed by an eventful baggage switcheroo — a prelude to the whirlwind of deranged escapades awaiting them: binge drinking, narcotic mishaps, firearms mishandling, comical criminals, and hectic police chases. The laughter is bolstered by industry stalwarts Upendra Limaye and Chhaya Kadam, playing amusingly rivalling gangsters haunted by their intertwined histories.

While the promise of crime-comedy antics is met, Kemmu’s focus on the concrete over grandeur – evident in a poignant scene with Pinku high on cocaine bearing his soul to Ayush about his cross-faith relationship, set against a bare backdrop of a stifling beach – suggests a director who appreciates the unembellished slices of life.

Yet, there’s an occasional slide off the tracks when ‘Madgaon Express’ overplays its comedic hand. A gun brawl, a tad overindulgent, falls short of the comedic precision mastered by the likes of Priyadarshan in his prime. Kemmu’s attempt to tip his hat to a pantheon of cinematic greats, ranging from his own ‘Go Goa Gone’ to ‘The Hangover’ series and even ‘The Godfather Part I,’ at times feels overbearing, overshadowing his accomplished visual storytelling.

‘Madgaon Express,’ rather than assuming the mantle of a radical offbeat ‘Dil Chahta Hai,’ nestles more comfortably as a spirited comedy — a film aspiring to be a raucous party rather than an introspective journey. The characters, while comically sketched, and the rapport between Gandhi, Sharma, and Tiwary, which smacks of authentic camaraderie, ultimately leave something to be desired in emotional depth.

Yet, to its merit, ‘Madgaon Express’ sparkles with fits of genuine humor and touching moments, capable of transporting audiences back through the laughter and absurdity of youthful folly and friendship. A concoction of mirth and light-hearted narrative, the film stakes its claim on theater screens across India, inviting audiences to hop on board for its frolicsome ride through the colorful landscape of Hindi cinema.

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