Rajma Chawal movie review: Rishi Kapoor and Netflix cook up discomfort food
Director - Leena Yadav
Cast - Rishi Kapoor, Anirudh Tanwar, Amyra Dastur
Rating - 2/5
Rajma Chawal is prepared as a Sunday special in north Indian - mostly Punjabi - households. Some like it slightly on the sweeter side, while others pile on the masala. The colour can vary, too. Certain recipes produce a lighter, more runny curry, while others are thick with onion, tomatoes and garlic. The point being, no two households will have the same Rajma Chawal; and the uniqueness of their recipes is a matter of pride.
Curiously, Rajma Chawal isn’t a dish one would have at a restaurant. Unlike other north Indian delicacies such as Daal Makhani or Butter Chicken - which are rarely, if ever, made at home - Rajma Chawal’s almost exclusive association with family lunches and gossipy gatherings, for the millions who tuck in every Sunday, represents just that -- home, and family.
Watch the Rajma Chawal trailer here
We meet Kabir Mathur at a time in his life when he has become disillusioned with both. He has been uprooted by his father, played by Rishi Kapoor, and plonked in the sweaty gullies of their youth, in ‘Purani Dilli’s’ Chandni Chowk. His old home in New Delhi, like the memories of his dead mother, have been snatched away.
It’s a classic fish-out-of-water set-up, which the movie milks for about an hour. Kabir has a difficult time settling into the controlled chaos of Old Delhi, and his new neighbourhood -- a secular community of old friends of his fathers’, a ‘sardarji’ and a ‘chacha’ and various other uncles and aunties - feels more like a crumbly old prison to him.
Fearing that his son might slip away, and desperate to rebuild their relationship, Kabir’s father concocts the most ridiculous plan. With the help of his friends, Raj Mathur (that’s Rishi’s character) purchases a smartphone, learns to use it in a day, and then proceeds to Catfish his own son. He picks a random picture of a girl online, and pokes Kabir with a friend request as Tara, a student from Canada.
Kabir being the angsty teen that he is - he’s also in a band and is inseparable from his acoustic guitar, you guys - immediately accepts Tara’s request and they begin talking. She seems inquisitive about his relationship with his dad, which he accepts is troubled, but not entirely without respect.
Very soon, it is clear that Raj has been caught in a web of his own lies. The momentary gratification of having a conversation with his son - although under disguise - forces him to continue the charade. But when - through one of the film’s many moments in which convenient coincidences are introduced to propel the plot - the real Tara bumps into Kabir, instead of taking the logical route out, the film doubles down on the nonsensical set-up.
What could have been an engagingly funny story is bogged down by its insistence to add dramatic heft towards the second half, and I’ve never seen a movie derail as quickly and spectacularly as this. Alright, I probably have - there’s a Spike Lee movie in which it is revealed midway that the protagonist you’d been rooting for is a child molester - but this was rough.
The real Tara, as it turns out, is called Seher (Amyra Dastur), and she comes with her own baggage. Ideally, she could have remained a supporting presence, but the decision to try and establish Seher as a full-fledged character halfway into the movie adds unnecessary complications to the plot. This was supposed to be a film about a father and son, and the rushed love story angle can’t help but feel tacked-on.
It doesn’t help that the performances are universally poor - with the exception of Rishi Kapoor and his cronies, played by Harish Khanna, Manu Rishi Chadha and Jeetendra Shastri. And I’ve figured out half the problem - the other half is still the actors’ fault. Because the film is so clearly dubbed -which means they did not record sound on set, or if they did, they didn’t use that track - every line of dialogue in Netflix’s Rajma Chawal (the film) feels like a voice-over. It’s so poorly mixed that you can often see the actors’ mouths moving in complete disconnection to what we hear - it’s sort of like watching those old Bruce Lee movies, in which his mouth would continue delivering threats well after we’d stopped hearing them.
Debutant Anirudh Tanwar plays Kabir like a whiny child, which is disconcerting because he looks like he’s in his late-twenties. Rajma Chawal feels like it has been directed by someone who entirely skipped the angsty teen phase of their life, because Leena Yadav’s idea of being a rebellious teen begins with miscasting the role, and then overwhelming the character with cliches - being in a band and walking aimlessly around Connaught Place is just the beginning.
The most obvious example of this uncertainty can be seen on Kabir’s bedroom walls. He has posters of The Who and Led Zeppelin - hardly the Emo, goth stuff a kid like him would be listening to. Yadav appears to be just as out of touch with the empathetic sadness of millennial culture as Rishi Kapoor’s character.
But at least she gets Delhi right - sort of. The bar has been set so low when it comes to the cinematic representation of the capital - perhaps because hardy anyone from Delhi seems to be making these movies - that I’m even willing to forgive calls of ‘daulat ki chaat!’ and the sight of random monks (they live 10 kilometres away, in Majnu Ka Tila). Only a handful of recent films have done right by Delhi - Titli, Vicky Donor, BA Pass, Gurgaon (close enough) and the best of the lot, Khosla Ka Ghosla.
Rajma Chawal does a far more commendable job of capturing the wicked passion of the city than Netflix’s own Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, but it can’t capture the passion of its people.
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