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Review: The President is Coming

Small can be tall, a budget that’s low can glow, newcomers can be with you the rest of your life’s summers. Forget the popcorn-`n’-chais, writes Khalid Mohamed.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2009 19:56 IST
Khalid Mohamed

The President is Coming
Cast: Konkona Sen-Sharma, Shernaz Patel, Bush Statue
Direction: Kunaal Roy Kapur
Rating: ***

Small can be tall, a budget that’s low can glow, newcomers can be with you the rest of your life’s summers. Forget the popcorn-`n’-chais, just buck the formula guys.

Director Kunaal Roy Kapur’s The President is Coming surely deserves an A for effort. Adapted from a popular play, in execution though, it’s tacky. Shot in the manner of a student’s diploma film, it lacks that indefinable quality which elevates the unconventional into a power statement.

In addition, its arrival is much too late. George W Bush has come and gone (March 2006),the battle’s lost and won. A young team is having itself some fun but like it or not, critiquing America in its Bush era today is about as gutsy as travelling in a car short of fuel. Or lampooning Clinton-Lewinsky.

Even if you’re willing to view the Prez as Kapur’s take on the under-30 Indian’s obsession with the U S of Hey, you wish the farcical comedy had been filmed with a certain degree of chutzpah – or technical confidence. A stage hit, as directed by Kapur, is somewhat lost in its film translation. The stifling locations, the inconsistent camerawork, the often puzzling editing jumps and even animation charts (please!), don’t draw you into the madcap action at all. If at the end of the show, you’re still smiling it’s essentially because of the crackerjack writing and able performances. No jeers now, cheers!

In a wacko plot, a cackling hen-like bunch meets at a site resembling Mumbai’s U S consulate. The cacklers will be interviewed by a PR agency chief (Shernaz Patel) and her sidekick. Aim: to select a young Indian for a handshake with the visiting American President. Quick, then, meet the competitors: an America-returned dude and the high society girl he’s had a scene with (Vivek Gomber-Ira Dubey); a stock market loser who talks drivel (Anand Tiwari); a pseudo-socialist do-gooder (Satchit Puranik), a closet gay Kamal Haasan fan (Namit Das). And last and could be the least, a Bengali writer (Konkona Sen-Sharma), a kind of Jhumpa Lahiri who could some day win the Booker or Cooker Award. Or both.

Throughout, the dialogue is pretty funny, especially when it dwells on the young people’s felicity with the f-letter word. Also, the micro flashbacks to the contestant’s backgrounds are laugh-out-loud funny, like the stockbroker’s clumsily cool act in a five star’s glass elevator. Or the PR lady’s lapses into kleptomania. Everyone’s being fake, each with an agenda that’s sillier than the Bush mannequin in a pistachio sherwani. Haw haw.

Of the performances, the stand-outs are Vivek Gomber, absolutely convincing as a sleaze ball, Anand Tiwari with his deadpan droll expressions, and Konkona Sen-Sharma who gives the correct graph to her characterisation which moves from the ordinary to the head scratchingly incredible.

All said and guffawed at The Prez has its moments of absurd humour. And because of its fiercely independent spirit, this invitation to ha-ha is a must for every viewer who cares for the experimental. Never mind the flawed packaging.