Okay, let me throw some titles out there for you: Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Desperado. Johnny Gaddar. Burn After Reading. Dishoom. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Bang Bang. Get Shorty. Jhankar Beats. Now, are you smiling? Are you happy? Are you remembering good times? Or are you rolling your eyes because these are all stupid worthless fluff films? If you are one of the first people, this is the film for you (and also, we should be friends). If you are one of the second people, this is not the film for you (and we can still be friends, but maybe should only watch classic movies together not new stuff) (spoilers review here)
I loved this movie, my friend Dina loved this movie (our podcast is going up soon), and everyone in the theater with us loved this movie. Constant laughter and smiles the entire time. The only thing is, I’m not sure if anyone else will love this movie.
It’s an incredibly specific thing, which is why it is so funny. I’ll give you an example, our hero and his fellow desi friend from the office have lunch every day from the hot dog stand in front of the office, “Patel’s Veg Hot Dogs”. The “Patel”, the ludicrousness of a “veg” hot dog, and the idea of two desi guys from a computer office casually having lunch from it every day and talking with the uncle who runs it, all of that is so funny and so perfect for an audience of desis in America, and for people like me and Dina who grew up around them. But will that audience find this movie? And will that be enough?
(Yes, I know this movie is wonderful and hilarious. No, I still haven’t gotten around to watching it)
You have to be willing and ready to laugh at yourself. This isn’t a movie that is going to make you think “oh I am so proud of my Indian heritage”. This is a movie that makes you think “oh that is so true! Indian Americans are ridiculous and funny.” I mean, part of the plot is activating the desi shopkeeper network, showing a bunch of gas station owners, convenience store owners, and of course motel owners, getting a call and agreeing to help. This isn’t the fantasy of the American dream, not the fantasy that the Indian audience likes, or the fantasy that the Indian-American audience likes to pretend is true, this is the reality. And then laughing at the reality.
Oh, and mixed in is super light black comedy action film. There is no higher moral value, there is no deeper meaning, it’s just a guy accidentally getting shot and then us all laughing at it. But clever! I mean, he is accidentally shot in a really great way.
Just overall watching it, I was very aware that this was not an “Indian” film. It didn’t hit those beats the way it would if it had been made out of India, it didn’t have the big emotional moments, the moments of spectacle, the romance. Even the structure wasn’t quite Indian. There was a definite interval moment (although no actual interval, at least at the theater we saw it at, which was odd), but otherwise it didn’t really follow the pattern. There was no build over the first half, no slow part before the finale, no song 20 minutes in, none of that. And the characters certainly didn’t fit exactly right, our hero isn’t the usual kind of tormented action hero, and our heroine is certainly not the usual saintly heroine.
(They get a really pretty love song, but it’s a love song over having sex in a motel)
However, it was also not not-Indian. There were constant visual homages to the past of Indian film, ranging from a Sholay napkin holder, to Agneepath appearing on the TV. This is an Indian film made by people one step removed, who grew up with those old movies and love them and connect with them, but can’t make something exactly like that any more, who have other influences as well. So there’s a lot of stuff, really most stuff, that is non-Indian. But there is nothing that is definitely unIndian. We still have a couple who have a sweet love story that will naturally end in marriage. We still have a loving respectful relationship between parent and child. There’s nothing that felt aggressively disrespectful of Indian film values. It just wasn’t that kind of film that they were making. Heck, they even put in songs!
(Although not this song, you have to stick through the end credits to hear it)
Here’s the thing I found really fascinating. I knew Raj & DK, the writer/directing team, were Indian-American, but I didn’t realize that most other people on the film were as well. Watching through the end credits, there were a lot of American companies listed. And it was a Fox Star Searchlight production as a whole. But almost all the names in the credits, the people who worked in the American companies on this film, were desi. The location shooting was handled by a company called “Bollywood/Hollywood productions”. This isn’t like Jagga Jasoos, it’s not a film made entirely by overseas artists. And it isn’t like Bareilly Ki Barfi, made entirely by Indian talent. It’s something new, a film made by and for the overseas market.