Filmistaan is a delightful film. It has heart, imagination and intelligence. It is a celebration of our enduring love affair with Hindi cinema. And it is a touching exploration of the shared humanity between Indians and Pakistanis.
Debutant director Nitin Kakkar, who has also written the story, has created a comedy that is permeated by a profound sadness. Filmistaan tells us that the lines between people and nations are as arbitrary as they are permanent, but one thing unites us all — Bollywood. The film is about a wannabe actor who is abducted by jihadis and taken to Pakistan. At first, Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi) doesn’t realise that he has crossed the border. Ghar, khana-peena, shakalen sab same hain, he says.
Sunny brims with infectious good cheer. He makes friends with his captors, the family in whose house he is kept hostage, and the children in the village. Even when he is shot, Sunny doesn’t lose heart. His love for movies and fellow human beings keeps him alive. Most of the narrative takes place in one location but Kakkar imbues the space with texture. The film’s beginning is bumpy and the end is stretched but, for most part, the story moves at an even clip, alternating between smiles and tears.
At one point, Sunny is teaching his captors how to shoot his own hostage video, because, he says, no matter what the film, one must never compromise on quality. In another scene, he’s mouthing the entire dialogue of Maine Pyar Kiya. Filmistaan wouldn’t be half as effective without Hashmi’s stellar performance. Sunny is so engagingly sweet and sincere that he lights up each frame. Hashmi has also written the film’s crackling dialogue. But Filmstaan has impact because Kakkar has given all the characters flesh.
Inaamulhaq as Aftab, a Pakistani who sells pirated Hindi movies, is impressive too. Even the jihadi abductors are people, not straight-up villains. The other plus is that Kakkar isn’t lazy or over-the-top with the Hindi movie referencing. Filmistaan truly touched the Bollywood fan in me. Don’t be put off by the name or the lack of stars. This is a lovely little film that will sneak into your heart.