Since Khosla Ka Ghosla recently clocked in 15 years, here’s a lowdown on how the film attained something of a cult status despite struggling to get distributors or sizeable production budgets.
Khosla Ka Ghosla was Dibakar Banerjee and writer Jaideep Sahni’s love letter to the middle-class of Delhi. A lived-in comedy of conmanship, Banerjee’s ensemble was anything but flashy, or even anything akin to what trade analysts reductively term “commercially viable”. The story follows a conscientious gentleman Kamal Kishore Khosla (Anupam Kher) as he tries to cope with the intricate network of property sharks who dupe him of his lawful land.
In trying to narrate this tale of betrayal and a consequent justice, Banerjee stitched into his narrative an ensemble cast that lived, breathed, and ate the film during its shoot. Known to have a shoestring budget and negligible production backing, the actors would often go and take shade under trees between shots since vanity vans could not be arranged. Understandably then, the artists were on board owing to pure love for the craft and not for any monetary profits. In fact, in a detailed on the film’s 10th anniversary, the cast and crew opened up about the struggles of trying to distribute and market this film after they somehow crossed the hurdle of making it.
This brings to question why Khosla Ka Ghosla has aged this well, and what innate quality in it did the production houses miss, while Banerjee and Sahni grappled to launch it properly across India. Firstly, Banerjee hit the bull’s eye with Sahni’s unassumingly charming script on middle-class quirks and ways of life. Khosla and his associates were all one of a kind. From his ever-prevalent insecurity that his worth in the family unit is not more than the morning newspaper, or the washed-up laundry list tucked underneath the pile of clothes; to his irritation on being given pizza without the accompaniment of any “chutney”, Khosla was a multi-dimensional wuss, compromising his way through life just so that he could have a better one.
Banerjee’s filmography has anyway always steered clear of ostentatious methods of storytelling. But with Khosla Ka Ghosla, he successfully transported audiences back to the era of on-the-nose realism that upheld normal people as everyday heroes, alá Hrishikesh Mukherjee or even Sai Paranjpye.
Khosla Ka Ghosla was every middle-class family’s wish-fulfilment, where the harassed actually take a stand and punch up to privilege. In the interview, Sahni mentions what he feels is the crux of the story. Having witnessed a similar incident within his own family circuit, Sahni he was flummoxed by “how our entire system can so callously and efficiently come together in no time to exploit a common man in trouble.” Sahni and Banerjee confessed that while the first half of the film was a snippet from reality, the latter half (with the reverse con) was purely fantastical, an artist’s vengeance if you will (but only on script). That Khosla’s counter bamboozle would be an almost impossible feat in real life is never a deterrent for Banerjee. The filmmaker pumps the story with so much heart that it feels completely relatable; and the characters with so much sincerity that you invest in them like your own family members.
That brings us to the characters that Sahni and Banerjee both instilled life into. Sahni’s account drew heavily from real life, having grown up in middle-class pockets of Delhi. Each cast member was assigned a wacko streak within their overall veneer of normalcy. Leading the pack was Kher’s KKK, an intimidated man of perfect ‘decency’. Afraid of the excesses of life, he quietly smuggles a bottle of cheap whiskey (lest his society members think him to be too ‘forward’) to celebrate their new house. Boman Irani’s Kishen Khurana was the spectral opposite of the timid Khosla. A property shark, Khurana was all about his garish tiger taxidermy interiors and bright, synthetic full shirts. Oozing the uncouth aura of unculture, Irani’s proud Parsi self seamlessly donned Khurana’s aggressive plebian ways. Khurana was both unapologetic and entitled about his unethical ways. Years of exploiting unsuspecting victims enabled him to build his real-estate empire. Yet, when Navin Nischol’s (frankly brilliant) alter ego, Mr Sethi enters his life, Khurana is completely undone. Bapu, (Nischol’s character) a theatre veteran in constant penury, takes five nervous seconds to slip into the confident shoes of Sethi, a pedigreed uber-rich businessman. Bapu and Sethi both function on integrity, but hardly ever make a show of it. Both occupy different spaces in the economic realm, yet, have a similar set of principles. Bapu’s integrity oozes out of his role-play too, completely enticing Khurana. The latter even laments his inability to rub shoulders with the truly sophisticated on a particularly drunken night, promptly bringing down his trusted secretary saying, “Kya karu, chhote logon ki company hai na sir.” (What to do, I keep the company of lesser men).
Apart from the oddities of the Khosla members, Sahni embellished his side characters with enough quirks as well. Vinod Nagpal as KKK’s best friend was always the voice of reason, pushing Khosla senior to open up more and be one with his sons. Vinay Pathak’s Asif Iqbal (a role that was especially curated for him when the makers felt guilty to not hand him Khurana’s role after a brilliant audition) was the perfect foil to the street smarts required to best Khurana. The quintessential fixer-upper, Iqbal was a blend of a throbbing heart and an incisive mind.
Khosla Ka Ghosla’s universe was everything Delhi and everything nuanced within it. Yet, it connected with masses alike, considering how universal its themes of family, friendship and love were. Banerjee’s satirical lens added the spice to an otherwise common occurrence that every third family witnesses one time or another. Like Kher of the film’s underrated nature, “Khosla Ka Ghosla is and will always be Dibakar and Jaideep’s Saaransh.”