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American Chai
By Saibal Chatterjee, PTI
**, June 23, 2003
First Published: 20:53 IST(23/6/2003)
Last Updated: 20:53 IST(23/6/2003)

The tea's gone completely cold. With so many unsure hands having already stirred the NRI-caught-in-an-identity-crisis pot on the big screen over the past few years without achieving any major breakthrough, one more unexciting foray by a first-timer into the oft-visited territory can only draw another round of giant yawns. That is precisely what American Chai does.

While this chai may not be entirely yucky, the trouble is it tastes no different from the broth that has been served up ad nauseum by the likes of ABCD and American Desi. So, what does screenwriter-director Anurag Mehta really have on offer? He has his real-life kid brother, Aalok Mehta, playing one more of those seriously divided souls: American by birth, conservative Gujarati in terms of family and cultural baggage.

This guy's problem is that his dad (Paresh Rawal) wants him to become a doctor, but he has only one passion in life -- music. He pretends to be a pre-med student while he pursues a major in music. Misfortunes pile up: he is thrown out of his band for showing up late, his American girlfriend ditches him and when he finds an 'ideal' Indian girl, Maya (Sheetal Sheth), a skilled dancer who seamlessly combines East and West in her art, a misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart.

Worse, his indignant father kicks him out of the house when the young man decides to come clean about the ruse he has been pulling off for three years. Needless to say, the stuck-up old man is won over in due course and the protagonist is free at last to "follow his heart".  

American Chai has nothing new to say. If that isn't bad enough, even the tired debate revolving around tradition and freedom, cultural identity and personal yearnings is presented with flat-footed monotony. Characters come and go, speaking in general terms about confused sexual mores, immutable social hang-ups and crushing parental pressures, but rarely does any of that manage to inject a semblance of life into the film.

Indeed, American Chai never quite reaches boiling point. The blend is utterly unappetising. The film actually falls with an unceremonious thud between two wide-apart stools: it does not provide any real insights into the predicament of a young American desi nor does it tickle the funny bone enough to pass for reasonable entertainment.

The actors cannot add much spice to the gruel though the young lead actor, who has also scored some of the film's music, does a competent enough job, as does the winsome Sheetal Sheth as the protagonist's romantic interest. Some of the sequences between father and son also pass muster - that is the least you would expect when one of the actors involved is the supremely gifted Paresh Rawal. But what can a great actor do when the brew is as flat as this?  


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