Irony Enters Soul

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ADAPTED FROM a play by Anuvab Pal (who also co-wrote the endearingly loopy NRI comedy Loins of Punjab Presents), The President is Coming spins a ‘plot’ out of a one-line premise: George W Bush wishes to meet a ‘young Indian’. The US Consulate hands over the task of choosing one to a convent schoolteacher type called Samantha (Shernaz Patel) and her easily-cowed colleague Ritu (Shivani Tanksale), who conduct a series of increasingly bizarre tests — from ‘Body Flexibility’ to ‘Striking American Poses’ — to select the winner.

The President is certainly a kind of a first in Indian cinema. Besides positioning itself as the country’s first fake documentary, it is refreshing simply for being willing and able to poke fun at pretty much everything that populates the India Shining bubble and the new American order of which it’s a part. In one scene, the redoubtable Samantha announces that they’ll be choosing the final candidate “the American way”. “Through democratic voting?” asks someone. “Reality TV,” says Samantha. The six contestants, too, are deliberate caricatures, chosen to show up the weirdness of a universe that hogs the headlines every morning, masquerading as the face of post-liberalisation India: an airheaded Delhi heiress, a Gujarati stockbroker with eyes for nothing but the Sensex, a nerdy Bangalore techie, a supercilious Bengali authoress who clings to her Hamlet but doesn’t shake hands because “we’re Indian”, a cool dude who runs an accent-training institute in Gurgaon and an IIM-trained “traditionalist” who doesn’t deal with divorced women or non-Hindus.

The first clue that the filmmakers don’t really think this cast of characters represents ‘young India’ comes early, when the consulate guard, asked about the “big people” he sees daily, makes this deadpan comment: “Kya karein sahib, desh in logon ka hai. Ham toh bas reh rahein hain.” Before the film takes its inevitable left turn towards a socially-conscious denouement, though, there are lots of twists and turns — several characters turn out to have secret lives, some more interesting than others — and many laugh-out-loud moments. The quotable quote awards go to “Ritu, you play the person with the lowest status. Just be yourself,” and “Madam, if you were a stock, I would buy you”, but there are also gentler gems like “Al-Qaida Madam” and the Dharmendra episode. A witty film that isn’t without heart — what more can you ask from two hours in the cinema hall?

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