By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Loins Of Punjab Presents"; Cast: Shabana Azmi, Ayesha Dharker, Jameel Khan, Darshan Jariwala, Manish Acharya, Seema Rahmani; Director: Manish Acharya;
Rating: *** 1/2
"Are you ashamed to be seen with me?" the only white-American contestant in the all-desi US-based music contest asks his strictly brown girlfriend Ayesha Dharker.
And you wonder, not for the first time during the nimble narration, at the fistful of farce that first-time filmmaker Manish Acharya facilitates into this 'funny-on-the-top, tragic-at-the-bottom' film. It provides a glimpse into the quirks, quibbles, eccentricities and other cultural excesses of a bunch of Indians in the US trying hard to keep the Bollywood spirit alive in the land of opportunities and, yes, dreams.
First things first. Writer-director Manish Acharya's 90-minute film leaves you with enough characters to populate two big-budget Karan Johar spectacles. Broadly assertive Indians swarm the posh hotel that hosts the music contestants.
Yes, there's plenty of anger underlining the film's utterly blithe and amusing subtext. On the surface, the eccentric and isolated NRI community seem to represent the most apparent fall-out of cultural displacement.
Within half-an-hour you warm up to these naively ambitious characters as people whom you've probably bumped into during your last visit to the US at the neighbourhood curry canteen.
These include the chic socialite, played by Shabana Azmi who sports a dazzling smile and a new haircut, whose raga-rich guru teaches her to sing "Chura liya hai tumne" sexily, the 17-year old singing prodigy (Ishitta Sharrma) of a stifling Gujarati family and the earnest but talent-less Bollywood-fixated bimbo (Seema Rahmani).
Also present are the Bollywood-Bachchan fanatic (played by director Acharya) and the belligerent gay Bhangra-rap duo who walk hand-in-hand with aggressive amorousness across the hotel lobby. They all gather together in a hilarious huddle of NRI eccentricities, Bollywood norms and Hindi songs belted out in voices that often belong to the bathroom.
Given the time limitations, every character still brings to his or her role a delectable participative spirit.
"Loins..." could not have worked without the same cast and its tough to single out any one performance. But Jameel Khan's evil-eyed, boorish and vulgar performance as the show's organiser stands out. As for Shabana, in her 10-minute appearance she brings fire, ice and a bit of wicked sunshine to the table.
Watch her in the sequence while addressing a press conference in the hotel lobby where she's interrupted by the only non-Brown contestant Josh for a wrong reference to a Bachchan flick.
The steely glance she throws at the poor chap could de-freeze an igloo. To play people who are parodic and silly in their self-importance with such warmth and understanding isn't easy.
But on the surface, the actors and the gifted director make it look easy.
"Loins Of Punjab Presents" is all about scratching the surface to discover the painfully embarrassing dreams and ambitions of a generation that has moved as far away from 'home' as India has moved in the world of globalisation.
See the film for the layers of sadness it secretes while telling a tale of preposterous self-promotion by people who can't look beyond their own voices. Or watch the film for its unstoppable flow of brilliantly witty one-liners and for bringing into play Bollywood's film-song culture without being a musical.