Loins of Punjab Presents
Cast: Shabana Azmi, Jameel Khan, Ayesha Dharker
Direction: Manish Acharya
Chaalo bhai Umrika. The Patel brood is rude. Berating a waiter for no ‘non-wage snakes’ in a New Jersey fleabag hotel, Papa P, brothers, uncles, aunts, kids, the works, then, lunge for their khakras. Crunch munch.
That’s Loins of Punjab Presents, a refreshing crossover effort. Every white, brown or caramel person you meet in this NRI Ville is quirkily cute or downright hilarious. Indeed, first-time director Manish Acharya’s curry-com is downright hilarious. Hyuk hyuk.
And it’s even sweater-warm and humanely compassionate. It never patronises the desi log abroad, but has one helluva blast freaking out with them. Indeed, here’s the best laugh-out-loud comedy in eons.
So move over Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta, funny bro Acharya is here. With a giggle-friendly concept – what if there were a Desi Idol contest in Jersey promising an award of $ 25,000? – the co-writer-director gathers a bunch of contestants. Practically, every one of them has a bag of woes, smelly toes and the kind of macabre sense of humour that would even shock Edgar Allen Poe. So?
So plenty. A sleazoid fixer Mr Bokade kicks off the contest but not before checking his hotel bed’s mattress springs (just in case he gets lucky). A pair of Bhangra Bandidos insists on a queen-sized bed, firing the ‘f’ word constantly (effdeee da balle balle, efff da eff, they go). The dozens of Patels squeeze into a room meant for one. A white Bollywood fan dreams of crooning a Gulzar song, a westernised mem sahib doesn’t know enough Hindi to distinguish between a bibi aur ghulam.
<b1>And there’s the deliciously cruel Mrs Society Butterly. She’s just one of the merry maniacs who sing (very off-key), dance (an Amitabh Bachchan impersonation by Acharya himself is a hoot) and make love (to all the wrong people). Fun. To be sure, the comedy does wallow in cliches occasionally (fat kiddo watching porn, gay man subjected to a striptease), but that’s okay. Who’s perfect?
As much as the gags and smart one-liners, it’s the emotional undertow that grabs you. Take just two stirring scenes: the Indian national anthem rendered by the American Jew contestant and the use of the K3G song Bole chudiyan to serenade a girl in a sardine-packed auditorium.
Technically, the shoestring budget does show – particularly in the overuse of close-ups. Arvind Kannabiran’s cinematography is inventive but evidently, low on resources.
It’s in the jazzier moments, like a girl talking directly to the camera, that Acharya’s direction rocks. Otherwise, the indie effort is remarkable specially for its excellent screenplay and a marvellous ensemble cast, spearheaded by the reliably fantastic Shabana Azmi.
Jameel Khan, as the greasy Bokade, is so comic that he could well become Boman Irani Part 2. Seema Rahmani, Ajay Naidu and Darshan Jariwala are first-rate, too, in this mirthquake. Go for it guys.