Getting Nowhere

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CHANDNI CHOWK TO CHINA is Bollywood’s bid to conquer America. Backed by Warner Brothers, which is giving it the largest North American release of any Indian film, Chandni Chowk could, if successful, forecast a veritable monsoon of Bollywood imports. But only if American audiences accept an action hero who talks to potatoes! So what has the American reaction been so far?

Michael Hardy, film critic of the Boston Globe: “Although Americans may be overwhelmed by the dizzy mix of music, dancing, and kung fu, they should have no trouble appreciating the talent of this extraordinary entertainer”. USA Today’s Claudia Puig: “There are inventive and engaging moments in this broadly comic action saga.” Richard Corliss in Time: “A decent sampler for Americans who’ve never seen a full-out Bollywood musical.”

I can only exclaim in disbelief: What is going on?

For a movie that can more accurately be described as an MSG headache, why is the American press being so generous? Is it the marketing might of Warner Brothers, the aftereffect of Slumdog or has the west finally discovered how cool it is to “be Bollywood”? The cinema graph seems to have come full circle. As Indian audiences are beginning to demand more logic, more plausibility, and more thought in their cinema, Americans are embracing Bollywood’s shameless slapdash excess.

Of course, this movie is not meant to be taken seriously; it’s a live action looney tunes cartoon. Even if it were to deliver on the level of a farcical comedy, Chandni Chowk would work. Instead, it rehashes old formulae — judwaa behene, punar janam, bachpaan main bechedna, badle ki aag — and wraps them in computer generated graphic effects. Akshay Kumar is good, having polished his bumbling idiot turned superhero to the T. He even receives groin kicks cheerfully. But it’s a character we’ve met in Namastey London and Singh is Kinng. How often can we laugh at the same antics?

It all seems like a monstrous waste of money. But what more should we expect from a film that started life as a poster? The story goes that producer Rohan Sippy went to Akshay and said, “I want to make a movie but I have no ideas. All I have is this poster.” Akshay so loved the visual of him in a Chinese hat holding the seekh kabab-style swords, that he signed on. And so was born Chandni Chowk to China.

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