By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "Ramji Londonwale"; Starring Madhavan, Samita Bangargi, Raj Zutsi, Harsh Chhaya, Akhilendra Mishra; Directed by Sanjay Daima; Rating ***
Madhavan scores a sixer. As Ramji, the Bihari cook who migrates to London to exercise his culinary skills on dysfunctional souls, Madhavan spreads that trademark sunshine smile over the well-developed narrative like melting butter over hot toast.
Not since Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Bawarchi" has the do-gooder's act been so warmly spread across a film that begins in a village in Bihar and ends exactly where it started.
Stories about the rustic Indian hero's adventures abroad aren't new to Hindi cinema. From Manoj Kumar's "Purab Aur Paschim" to Rahul Rawail's recent "Jo Bole So Nihal"...the Hindustani abroad has always created cultural ripples in an alien nation.
"Ramji Londonwale" is special for the way debutant director Sanjay Daima pitches his script at just the right tittering tilt. As Ramji makes his way through London's expatriate snare, the laughter never gets raucous.
From that memorable shot of the utterly vulnerable Ramji clinging to his belongings in a London subway to the mighty Amitabh Bachchan's sudden appearance at the end to egg the vegetarian cook to greater glory, there's a sense of comforting familiarity in the way Madhavan's Ramji fixes lives.
And yet he isn't seen as a miracle worker, but a man who believes in the goodness of the heart and nimbleness of the fingers.
Cooking up smiles and curries come naturally to Ramji. The characters that he encounters in London or leaves behind in Bihar to earn his sister's dowry, aren't quite the creatures you'd have liked them to be.
But their predictable patterns of existence are cutely and deftly countered by the cleverly written lines, which pun on the protagonist's Bihari-abroad predicament without going overboard.
The film gets high marks for formulistic contraventions. The prologue in Ramji's village with garishly dressed Biharis hit the right notes.
Once director Daima takes Ramji to London, the adopted city isn't a touristy prop, just a quiet non-judgemental character in the backdrop watching the artless cook win palates and people with equal aplomb.
What strikes you bang-on is the director's vision. Portions where Ramji brings around the autistic child tilt the topic to Sanjay Bhansali "Black", and that whole song after Ramji is driven out of his adopted home in London pays homage to the "Tanhayee" number in "Dil Chahta Hai".
But nowhere do you feel you are viewing a story done before. Daima's take on Ramji's adventures remains fresh and engaging even when the goings get serious in the second-half.
The supporting cast is a great support to the satirical drama. New faces such as Zarin Bhasin as the heroine's granny, Harsh and Sunita Chhaya as the couple who take Ramji into their home, Shalu Vema as the deserted wife of the heroine's sneaky fiancé (Raj Zutsi) and - back home in the village - Asmita Sharma as Ramji's sister, add a dollop of newness to the exuberant tale.
Leading lady Samita Bangargi has nothing much to do. But she wins your heart in the telephone sequence where Ramji and she get together to make her ex-fiancé jealous.
The film is a straight-off vehicle for Madhavan. From the endearing smile, to his well-modulated voice and discreet Bihari accent, Madhavan goes at Ramji's character with a gourmet's greed. Without trying to win brawny points here's a role and performance that shows what being a real man is all about.
Ravi Varman's cinematography takes you from the kitschy kitchen colours of rural Bihar to the elegant genteelness of London without skipping a beat. But how you crave for more music and songs in this film that has music in its soul!
Bollywood.com Rating: 2.5