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At one point in Gali Gali Chor Hai, Akshaye Khanna's Bharat loses his patience and slaps his bureaucratic tormentors, a crooked hawaldar and an MLA, elucidating with great gravity, that "system ke gaal pe, yeh ek aam aadmi ka tamacha hai." His father, wife and friends, who are looking on, break out into applause. You wonder why they're clapping, though, given that Bharat spends the entire film, except this scene, in a state of indolence, just waiting for things to happen to him. This 'aam aadmi's irritating inertia, it seems, is another name for his helplessness.
In all fairness, forgiven its flaws, writer-director Rumy Jafry's Gali Gali Chor Hai is an honest attempt at making a comedy that is truly zara hatke. With his finger on the pulse of the nation, Jafry turns out a film that makes interesting comments on the system of bureaucracy and justice prevalent today. With a rickety old fan and scooter in tow, Rumy throws into focus the way money greases the wheels of our system, carving out situations that have potential for great hilarity.
Gali Gali Chor Hai is the story of a simple bank cashier, and part-time Ramleela Hanuman, Bharat (Akshaye Khanna), and his great travails, as he gets caught in the cogs of the system. When he refuses to give up some space in his Bhopal home to the local MLA Manku Tripathi's (Murli Sharma) electoral campaign office, revenge comes knocking on his door in the form of a court case around a stolen table fan that he doesn't even know he owned. Though Bharat is embroiled in the case as the plaintiff, dealing with the likes of Hawaldar Khushwaha (Annu Kapoor), the witness Bachchu Gulkand (Rajat Rawail) and the purported thief Chunnu Farishta (Vijay Raaz) is punishment in itself for him. Paying the price for justice, Bharat ends up spending a fortune on getting the unwanted fan back, and is then unable to even get rid of the cursed thing.
Along the way, Bharat also deals with the MLA's brother Sattu (Amit Mistry), who has cornered the role of Ram in the Ramleela for the last three years, without any acting talent whatsoever. To add to his troubles, there is also a pretty girl, Amita (Mugdha Godse), staying as a PG in his house, leading to problems with his school teacher wife, Nisha (Shriya Saran), even as his father (Satish Kaushik), keeps telling him to help out people in need.
Though it's an inherently interesting story, where Rumy slips up, is in his characterisation of Bharat as a person content to just go along with the things that happen to him. The sort of helplessness that he espouses is at odds with the reality of things as they are happening today, with the common man actually stepping out onto the street to bring about a change. It is especially disappointing to see that in a film about corruption, Bharat himself has to indulge in corruption eventually to get the system working for him. When he finally doles out that aforementioned slap, you heave a sigh of relief, thinking things are about to get better and Bharat will give back as good as he's been getting. And then… nothing.
That apart, Gali Gali Chor Hai also tends to just amble along, at a gratingly slow pace, getting caught in unnecessary side-tracks that demand no attention. The storyline about Bharat's wife Nisha suspecting him of having an affair with Amita doesn't make any sense here, and adds nothing to the film. Why so much time is devoted to it, then, is a mystery. Instead, the Ramleela scenes, which could have been used as an interesting metaphor, and are genuinely hilarious, are used in a bare minimum manner by Jafry.
However, Gali Gali Chor Hai is a film redeemed by its performances, with Akshaye Khanna in the lead. Khanna's Bharat is the very epitome of the common man, evocative of the great Pankaj Kapur's Mussadilal, from 'Office Office'. Khanna turns out a truly sober performance as Bharat, his suffering at his situation coming across in a genuine manner, capturing the vibe of a real aam aadmi, a character who's never larger than life.
Akshaye apart, another actor who deserves kudos is Annu Kapoor, whose Hawaldar Khushwaha is a highpoint of the film. Getting into the very skin of his Bhopali policiya character, Annu delivers a turn to watch out for, his scenes as Khushwaha, where he leads Akshaye from home to court, are a true highlight of the film. Though he may not be a mainstay of Hindi cinema now, Kapoor shows off how he's made his comic chops, here.
Amongst the other actors, Amit Mistry is effective as Sattu, as is Akhilendra Mishra as Bharat's lawyer friend, who also plays Ravan in the Ramleela, though neither gets a very well chalked out role. The veteran Jagdeep entertains again in his cameo as a hawaldar. Satish Kaushik is quite fair as Bharat's retired father, while Murli Sharma is menacing as Manku. And while she has little to do, Shriya Saran is also quite decent, though the film's other leading lady Mugdha Godse needs to improve her acting as soon as possible.
The film's cinematography, by Gururaj Jois, stays quite simple, though the editing, by A Muthu, could have been managed better, with few jumps in the scenes.
Though the film's title track, gali gali chor hai, makes for an interesting opening scene, especially with singer Kailash Kher himself featuring in it, the other two songs, also composed by Anu Malik, don't quite fit in. The romantic track, suno suno, seems to be forced into the narrative, the item number Chhanno, featuring Veena Malik at her revealing best, is just garish, and quite crude for a film that would otherwise be counted as a family comedy.
Though it has its share of flaws, Gali Gali Chor Hai needs to be appreciated as an honest effort from Rumy Jafry to make something different. Perhaps what one looks upon as a flaw in Bharat's character, is in fact Rumy's comment on the only way that the aam aadmi can get by the corruption inherent to the system today. In any case, Gali Gali Chor Hai is a film worth a watch, at least; though not for its premise, certainly for its performances and its situations.