From the way the lettering has been designed on the poster — to look a little like Sholay — to the many references to other Hindi films, Filmistaan is an ode to Bollywood, but it is not only that. It is also the story of India-Pakistan harmony. And this is where one feels that director Nitin Kakkar pushes the envelope a bit too hard.
The film’s first half is the story of Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi), a Hindi film buff and a wannabe actor, who lands himself the role of an assistant director in a foreign film crew making a documentary on Rajasthan. Sunny needs the money to help him tide over the lean days until he is gainfully employed as an actor. Besides, what could be a better school to learn acting in front of the camera if not from behind it? So, he goes to Rajasthan with the film’s crew, where, in a case of mistaken identity, he is kidnapped by militants who whisk him away across the border to a Pakistani village.
So long as the film’s action is focussed on Sunny’s love for Hindi cinema, there is not a single hitch in the plot. In the house where he’s held captive, Sunny makes an unlikely friend in Aftab (Inaamulhaq), a hustler of pirated CDs and DVDs from across the border. Sunny gets quite a fan following in the village, courtesy a rescue act, when he mouths Salman Khan’s dialogues word-to-word in a scene from Maine Pyar Kiya to compensate for the missing volume of a defective CD. The villagers are in awe of this walking-talking “Bombay talkies”. For Sunny, it means his ultimate dream come-true.
As long as he can entertain — even if his audience largely comprises children — Sunny doesn’t mind that he’s a hostage in a foreign country. In a particularly hilarious scene, he even helps his captors make the video of him being held prisoner, in which they list their demands. Not satisfied with the take, he makes his captor-actors redo the scene again and again until he gets the perfect shot. After all, he lives for his passion, even if the message in the video is about his eventual death. For even in the worst of circumstances, Sunny is a child at heart, a paaq dil. As is Aftab, who promises to help him get back home.
This is where things get maudlin, an emotion otherwise appreciable, save for the fact that its best moments are when the film is funny. However, these are not deleterious moments that stand out like a missing note of a symphony, rather an odd crinkle in a cleverly written film. Using cinema as a device for cinema is an old trick in the book. But not many have been able to use it to as telling an effect as the writers of this film.
Hashmi, who plays the lead role, is also one of the film’s two writers, along with director Kakkar. It is perhaps because of this that Sunny becomes so endearing. The curiously named Inaamulhaq (without any pauses) is the film’s other star. As the peddler of pirated CDs and a film buff himself, his is the most kindred of souls Sunny could have hoped to find. Everything fits the Hindi film script to a T.
In a perfect tribute to cinema and its reach that transgresses boundaries, Filmistaan is Kakkar’s way of telling a heartfelt story of two people, who are separated only by a cartographical line. However, the real act of the film is film itself and a tale of friendship that has shades of other films.
It is, therefore, fitting that in a very Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of way, Sunny’s and Aftab’s relation too was meant to be forged on celluloid. Could there be any better? In cinema maybe.