The not-so-humble upstart, Nograj, has had quite a journey from radio to YouTube to cinema in the form of the successful 2018 Kannada film Humble Politiciann Nograj, directed by Saad Khan and starring Danish Sait. The two have teamed again for a ten-part series (on Voot Select) in which the paunchy Nograj (Sait) has moved up from corporator to MLA and has hopes of becoming the chief minister of Karnataka.
Nograj, with his loyal sidekick Manjunath (Vijay Chendoor), is the head of a party called One Big Party (symbol chameleon), which has managed to bag a few seats in the assembly elections. Its two big rivals are Most Secular Party with Krishna Gundu Bala or KGB (Prakash Belawadi) at the helm, and the Family Run Party, with an air-headed Karan Kapoor (Varun Thakur) as its leader. The parallels between real-life politics and the goings-on in the series are obvious, more so to residents of Karnataka who will get all the references.
KGB, who is three MLAs short of a majority, is desperate to become CM too; he has even rehearsed his seating in speech. But Nograj’s party and FRP together can form a coalition if they get one MLA on their side. It is obvious that there will be horsetrading as has been seen so many times after elections when no single party gets a majority. Again, as it has happened in reality, MLAs are ‘kidnapped’ and taken to the Illegal-ton Resort so that Nograj can ‘persuade’ them to back him. The distant PM (Tiku Talsania) and the stern MSP party president Mrs Dalal (Geetanjali Kulkarni) have a say in how the characters’ ambitions are fulfilled or dashed.
The series is amusing in parts, but politics in our country is stranger than what any comedy writer can imagine. So Nograj’s antics pale in comparison to what goes on around us, including control of the media, represented here in the form of an overeager anchor (Disha Madan) from the Paid News Channel. Jumping into the mix are Russian gangsters planning to expand their business from Goa to Karnataka.
The broad humour that worked in the film is stretched to breaking point in the series, and most of the gags don’t land, simply because they are overdone or the punchline is lost in the excessive verbiage. The makers should have understood the meaning of the adage ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’ If actors have to exaggerate their expressions and actions to get a laugh, then the comedy fails. If the jokes brush the borders of poor taste, the desperation to be funny shows. The makers of Humble Politiciann Nograj could have learnt some lessons from Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister—the two British serials, which are the ultimate in political satire, in which even a raised eyebrow conveys more than the cartwheels the actors have to turn in the Nograj series to get a point across.
The serial is in Kannada, with a lot of English and Hindi dialogue—the subtitles do the rest. Danish Sait makes the slimy character he plays endearing somehow, even though he is cheerfully crass and totally thick-skinned. Prakash Belawadi makes a perfect foil for Nograj. The exasperated look on the face of the Governor (Ananth Velu) is priceless– that is an actor who gets into the spirit of the craziness to just the right degree.
Don’t look for a clever satire and this one is entertaining enough. But if there is a Season 2, maybe the series could do with some polish, and acquire a filter or two.
(This piece first appeared in seniorstoday.in on January 8, 2022)