The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox onesheet 695x1024 The Lunchbox

On the morning commute to the office, while staring out the window and watching the scenery roll by, an image came into my head out of the blue, of the interior of a Druk Air Airbus making its approach to Paro Airport on a sunny day – and the following scene:  little Yashvi is in the window seat on the left side of the plane.  She looks out at the green hillsides, seemingly almost within grasp, as the plane threads through the valleys.  In the middle seat next to her is her Mom, Ila, relaxed and with that flush of someone newly in love.  And beside her in the aisle seat is Saajan.  At first glance you would think he too is absorbed in the thrilling, sometimes hair-raising Himalayan views out the window.  But if you watch him a bit more closely, you’ll observe he’s actually focused on Ila and Yashvi, and his normal reserve barely contains the smile of an average Joe who just won the Lotto.

I think it says something about the impression a film leaves, when weeks later you suddenly find yourself fantasizing about its characters and what you imagine could become of them.

The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra’s beguiling debut, which was the darling of Cannes and TIFF and Telluride but managed to avoid running in the Oscar race (through absolutely no fault of its own), stayed with me long after each of the two times I saw it.

From the first frame we’re plunged into the noisy, frenetic surges of people, vehicles and even pigeons moving around the overstuffed, sometimes shiny, sometimes crumbling, city of Bombay, but then it’s as if an unseen hand rises up, demanding us to “STOP!” and from thereon, we retreat mostly to the small apartment that the serious, determined young wife, Ila (Nimrat Kaur), inhabits with her oft-absent and roving husband and their pensive little daughter, Yashvi.  When we’re not in Ila’s apartment, we’re following Mr. Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a taciturn, soon-to-retire insurance company man, whose life is contained mainly within the box of his office, with its grid of row upon row of desks and piles of files everywhere, when he’s not commuting by packed train and bus to his silent, empty apartment.

With the help of her neighbor, Mrs. Deshpande – whom we never see but whose shrill voice comes to embody a fourth member of the household – Ila is trying to recapture her husband’s attention by cooking him something really special for lunch.  But, in an almost impossible fluke, the tiffin-box gets carried to Mr. Fernandes by mistake, and the restaurant-prepared lunch that he normally receives, goes instead to Ila’s man.  This one-in-a-million mix-up is the catalyst for what becomes an epistolary romance between the two joyless and love-starved individuals.

Batra’s Ila (he wrote and directed the film) is pretty, even without make-up and her hair pinned up, sweating over a pressure cooker, and she craves the regard and affection that her husband is clearly depositing  elsewhere.  Fernandes, bespectacled and greying, has lost his wife years before, and he too carries an emptiness with him.  It’s then by way of short notes in the tiffin-box that goes back and forth each day that the two strangers slowly open up to each other, and share their observations about life, as well as their worries and disappointments.  He begins to anticipate the mystery of what each day’s tiffin will contain, and she begins to relish the delivery each afternoon of the tower of empty metal bowls and the letters, allowing herself the brief luxury of a cup of tea as she sits and pours over each new installment.

Ila reading 2 The Lunchbox

Thrown into this mix, is the ever-so-smarmy Sheikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui),  the overeager new employee who will replace Fernandes.  The two are brought together so that Sheikh may be tutored by his senior.  While you may initially be put off (I was!) by his cloying stickiness, he soon wears us all down, by dint of his sheer gumption.  Sheikh’s fervent striving is what so many throng to Bombay to do: jam themselves in whatever sliver of space they can find (or make), and hold on for dear life while reaching out to take another step and another and another until they can grasp some small foothold in the middle class.  Most amazing, this guy never lets his precarious circumstance wear him down.  Sheikh is always smiling, always looking forward, doing whatever has to be done to keep moving.   And if he, an orphan, has to choose his own name, or invent an unknown mother who disperses inspirational platitudes, so be it.  The character who begins as an annoying, overly solicitous mosquito buzzing about our ears, soon endears himself to one and all.  (Watch him closely in the wedding scene, dwarfed under a huge garland or standing uneasily in a sherwani with too-long sleeves – how can you not love him?)

Nawaz 1024x576 The Lunchbox

Irrfan Khan inhibits Saajan Fernandes fully, and he moves in a way that at times makes me think of the quirky Christopher Walken, just a beat or two off where you’d think he’ll be.  So much is contained inside and barely hinted at on the exterior.  Khan uses the smallest of gestures – the surreptitious glance around the office cafeteria before tucking into a letter, the use of the heel of his hand to push up his eyeglasses, a constant stiff posture – as brush strokes of how Mr. Fernandes is.  As Ila, Nimrat Kaur is wonderfully natural, owning the cramped space in that kitchen and all of the utensils therein as if she’d lived there for years as wife and mother, and when her character’s husband lets slip a seemingly innocuous lie about the lunch she sent him that day, just the tiniest, almost imperceptible, shift of her features reveals her reaction.

Saajan reading 2 The Lunchbox

And then there’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui.  Of course, we recognize his body type, his height, the cleft in the chin – we know it’s him, Nawaz – the hottest thing in the Hindi film biz in the last year or two.  But that guy disappears, and instead we’ve got this overly solicitous chamcha who makes us roll our eyes at first, but then grows on us like he does on Saajan.

Sheikh and Saajan train 2 The Lunchbox

Beyond the very spare writing without a word wasted anywhere, and the talent of the actors, there are a ton of other small details in the film that I loved: the overlap in Saajan and Ila’s worlds, where a shot of a ceiling fan in her bedroom will cut to a shot of one in his office, the little boys on a commuter train screaming the song “Pardesi, pardesi” at top volume as they beg up and down the aisle, which then is playing on the radio when Ila’s husband arrives home (and if you watch carefully, that train car carries both Saajan and the unfaithful husband, separated by a few rows of seats), Saajan confessing to Ila in one letter that he “treated himself to an auto” on the way home, the same thing anyone who’s in or has come from a family where income was spent with great care and forethought will recognize immediately, and even Ritesh Batra having Saajan mention a painting of Bombay “with a stray dog gallantly crossing the street” which he bought.  Those charming dogs, so ubiquitous throughout India, do indeed frequently trot about with a gallant air.

Final thoughts

When noting that neither of us were terribly tall, my mother used to add as a consolation “Good things come in small packages.”  The Lunchbox is one such small package, which contains huge delights.

See it, at least twice.  You’ll appreciate even more details of what makes this film so lovely the second time around.

This Friday, the film opens in NY (on two screens at the Angelika and also one at Lincoln Plaza) and in LA (at the Laemmle Royal).  For next weekend, it opens on March 7 in DC, Chicago, San Francisco and other major cities.  For a full list of the opening dates this month and next, go here.

Interview with Imran Khan: Kareena has this internal light bulb

GoriTereposter21 226x300 Interview with Imran Khan: Kareena has this internal light bulb

Such a nice boy.“  That’s always the first thought I have when I think of actor Imran Khan, though at 30, he’s not really a boy any more.

But still, he looks younger than his real age.  In the mainstream Hindi film industry, this will be a terrific asset as he progresses into his mid-40s and early 50s and is directed to romance women young enough to be his daughter.

But looks aside, in person he could not be more pleasant.  His mother must be very proud of the good manners and unassuming nature of her son.  The last time I was across the table from him was for the press tour of Break Ke Baad.   On that day, after you would introduce yourself and ask your question, he’d begin his reply with “Hi Jyoti, actually, you know, when we were shooting ….etc etc etc.”  And next person, same thing “Well, Priya, the challenge that we had was to…… etc etc etc.”  And so on.  If it ever comes out in the news some day that he kicks the family dog around or is rude to his staff, I’ll be sorely disappointed, because all that niceness seems so genuine, not that fake modesty you get so much of in this biz.

This time around, Imran Khan was in New York for a day, probably less than a full 24 hours even, to promote his latest film Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, a love story which reunites him with his Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu co-star, Kareena  Kapoor Khan.

This time, the interview was over the phone, but even in this situation, as he’s handed the phone by the organizers of his tour, his “Hello??” makes him sound a little shy and almost unsure of what’s coming next (as opposed to some other filmi people who either answer in the most distracted, blasé manner, or who come bounding onto the call, full of the wonderfulness of being them, and thrilled to share that with you, the vessel):

Filmiholic: One couldn’t help but notice from the trailer this looks like another romcom, though I was reading somewhere that Vishal Dadlani says this isn’t a typical romantic comedy.  So tell me, what would you say is special or different about this one?

Imran Khan:  It really is the second half.  To be fair, the first half is very much in the classic romcom space, and it has a lot of overtones of I Hate Luv Storys, the last film I did with Puneet (Malhotra).  And in the second half, Puneet very consciously wanted to break away from that.

I was onboard with his initial drafts of the screenplay.  I said “Listen, man, the first half is great, why are doing all this in the second half related to this damn bridge?” And Puneet had something in his head which was very different from what I was expecting.  And it took a while for me to get onboard and see what he was seeing.  We went through a couple of drafts and I’m really glad he stuck it out, I’m really glad he continued to dwell with it and show me those drafts, because ultimately we come out with a film that is a lot better than I would have settled for.

I read that your character is South Indian, is that correct?

IK: That’s right.

And why was he written as South Indian specifically?

IK:  A major reason for that is because Puneet wanted to create a cultural disconnect.  In the second half, he lands up in a village in Gujurat, which is further up in the north.  He wanted as wide a cultural gap, as wide a divide as he could have.

For the village scenes, where did you shoot?

IK: We actually shot in a whole bunch of places.  We went to a village a little bit outside of Kutch, which is in Rajasthan, it’s about 60 kilometers off the Pakistan border.  Funny enough, that’s also the village set for Lagaan.  So we shot some stuff there, we shot some stuff in Wai which is Maharashtra, and a lot of the key scenes with the bridge, we built that on a set in Film City.  We married all these places together to create the village.

How much time did you spend in the countryside filming?

IK:  You know, it was not that long at all.  We actually finished ahead of schedule.  80- day schedule, we finished in 79 days.

This is your second film with Kareena, what would you say is some unique quality that she brings to the set compared to other people you’ve worked with?

IK: Kareena has this energy, this thing that you can’t quite define.  I refer to it as her internal light bulb.   I swear, when the camera rolls, something goes “Click” and she just lights up and she’s the kind of actor – and I remember this on Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and throughout Gori as well – that the director will be talking to her about the scene, and the background and the emotional baggage of the character, bla-bla-bla, and you get the sense that she’s not even paying attention.  And you’re thinking “She has no idea what’s going on in the scene” and the camera will roll, and suddenly she switches on, and she will give you the most breath-taking performance.  And you’ll be left there thinking “How did she do that?

And if one were to ask her or Deepika or any of your other co-stars, what do you think they’d say you bring to the film set that’s uniquely yours?

IK:   Uhhhhh…..interesting……..(stammers)  a kind of awkward humor …..(long pause) that would be my evaluation of it.

What has brought you back to the US?  Solely to promote this film or are you here for other things as well?

IK: No, no, only this whirlwind promotional tour.  I landed here a couple of hours ago and by this time tomorrow I’ll be back on a flight.

What is it about the US audience – why do your people see it as a value to bring you all the way here for a day?  Is the dollar value of the film-viewing population that high?

IK:  Yeah, it’s two things: it’s the population and the distribution.  We were just talking about this a couple of hours ago.  The fact is there’s a huge Hindi movie audience here who until recently didn’t have access to the movies.  They wanted to watch the movies, but there were no theaters that were running the movies.  So they ended up watching pirated prints of VHS, then VCDs, then pirated DVDs.  So now it is important for us to nurture this audience.  On one hand, there are a lot of guys here setting up theaters with the intent of showing these films.
It is equally important for the industry, for those of us making the films, to nurture them and to help that audience grow.

Are you seeking, or is your agent seeking, or are you talking to any of your friends from when you were in film school in the States – do you have any interest in doing a film here?

IK: It’s never comes up.

Do you still stay in touch with your classmates here?

IK: I do, but unfortunately, none of them are working in the industry.  It’s a tough business to crack into.

As you get older, and as you grow in the industry, would you like to take on other roles behind the camera, writing, directing?

IK:  It’s always been something I’ve been excited about, I’ve been interested in, definitely.  But probably not in the near future.  I know that right now, I’ve got my hands full with the acting gig.  And I’m getting to do work that I really enjoy, and work with people that I like a lot.  But yeah, it is on the cards, definitely.

 Delhi Belly was such a great film – and honestly, I went in dreading that it was going to be some frat-boy comedy with nothing but bathroom humor – but it was such a fun caper and you had such a strong female lead with you, the humor, the pace of it – it was all great.  So when are we going to see, not another Delhi Belly, but another film with you that is something of that….

IK:  ….caliber.


IK:  It’s hard.  Every producer in town passed on that script.  Every single one.  The fact that most people don’t have the guts to make films like that.  And most writers and directors will not hold themselves to that standard.  People want to do something that is a lot safer.  Scripts like that are very, very, very rare, very hard to come by.  In fact, there’s only one.  But, we’re in a very good time now, we’ve reached a point where writers, directors, producers are backing the kind of films that a few years ago would not have found an audience, that a few years ago I don’t think would have found backers.  Now they are being backed and the audience is supporting them.  So it gives me hope.


Diana Final LowRes 202x300 Diana

Having heard a snippet of rather groan-inducing dialogue from this film several weeks ago, namely, Diana asking heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan, “Can someone actually die from a broken heart?” (or words to that effect), I had serious doubts about this movie, but I was willing to plunge in and watch it, because it’s directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, whose work on his last film (Five Minutes of Heaven) I admire very much.  Interestingly, when you read the film’s press notes, you see that many involved in making Diana had doubts about tackling such a famous and beloved personality, but – to a one – all are quoted as saying some variation of “But it was Oliver directing, so I decided to do it.”

Naomi and Oliver 300x200 Diana

Well, the good news is Diana does give you a sense of what life must have been like for the Princess of Wales in the last two years of her life.  In Hirshbiegel’s biopic, we see Diana Spencer living among what looks like some very uncomfortable antique furniture, her childhood teddies cuddled together in her bedroom on a floral-patterned chair that would surely give Billy Bob Thornton nightmares, and we see her often seated before a large vanity, its mirror framed with light bulbs like you would see in an actor’s dressing room, as the princess lines and mascaras those big blue eyes that peered out at us from under the blonde fringe in so many thousands of photographs.

Diana land mines 216x300 Diana

For a woman surrounded by the media and attended to by a retinue of palace staff, she seems to have been quite alone most of the time.  Aside from her butler Paul Burrell, and a woman, Oonagh (Geraldine James) who appears to have been a mix of masseuse/aromatherapist/confidante and a composite character known as Sonia (Juliet Stevenson), we see little of anyone else in Diana’s life in this film, which sets out to closely examine the relationship Diana had with the Pakistani doctor before her untimely death at age 36.

The other reason I had for wanting to see Hirschbiegel’s Diana was the casting of the generally excellent Naveen Andrews as the love interest.  For me, it was a bit of an adjustment to see him playing the far more straitlaced Hasnat, since I always associate Andrews with his petulant bad-boy roles in The Buddha of Suburbia, The Peacock Spring and Kama Sutra.  He succeeds as well he can, given the dialogue he has to work with, which includes some howlingly painful lines like “If I marry you, then I marry the whole world as well.”

Naveen 300x200 Diana

Naomi Watts should be given a lot of credit for having the guts to sign on for this project, and she plays the titular role well enough (down to Diana’s gait, her body language, and her voice) but regardless, throughout much of the film, a voice in my head kept saying “Oh, look, there’s Naomi Watts playing Princess Diana” and that voice almost never went away.  I don’t blame Watts or Hirschbiegel for that – I think that dissonance is due in large part to absolute media saturation of images and footage of the Princess of Wales in the ‘90s, which makes it hard to see and accept anyone on screen attempting to re-play that role in those scenes.

Diana black dress 300x200 Diana

The film was shot in London as well as Croatia, Mozambique and Pakistan, and you do feel as though you are present in those famous, global vignette’s from Diana’s life, but beyond the surface, the rest just feels hollow.

Final thoughts

For any die-hard fans of the late Diane Spencer, this film may satisfy a hunger to see something, anything about the Princess, since the floor-to-ceiling coverage at the time of her death 16 years ago has abated, but ultimately, it feels like empty calories, like eating cheese puffs while watching TMZ.

But for just about everyone else, this film may feel as sappy as a made-for-TV movie you’d see on the Lifetime or Hallmark channels, and not even Naomi Watts or Naveen Andrews can save it.

Singam 2: Too Lite

Singam 2 white shirt 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

First time in all my Tamil movie-watching in New York and New Jersey, I witnessed in person Friday night that massive hero worship of Tamil film fans.  When the opening credits of Singam 2 started rolling, folks were already clapping and whistling, and when Surya appeared on screen for the first time, they burst into hoots and roars, and this went on for a couple of minutes.  The girl in front of me snapped a couple of pictures of the screen with her phone and promptly sent them off to her friends.

Interesting too – and also my first time seeing this here – was the very notable Sri Lankan presence at the cinema.  When an ad was run for some satellite channel’s upcoming cricket coverage, when clips of the Lankan team were shown, several clusters of moviegoers in the crowd went crazy – you’d think we were actually watching a big Sri Lanka vs. India match right then and there.

One group were seated right in front of me, mainly older teens, one of whom jokingly scolded a relative as he slowly progressed up the stairs in the darkness, searching for the rest of the family: “Oh, that’s mad lame!  Uncle, you’re so funny – wearing a shirt and tie to the movies!”  To which the now embarrassed, middle-aged man stammered “Er, well, I wasn’t sure….” before scuttling off to sit with the family members closer to his own age, leaving me to enjoy the engsters’ entertaining commentary throughout the film.

The hard thing about sequels is (usually) that everyone remembers the predecessor fondly and how great it was, so you have that Sword of Damocles to contend with from the get-go.
In several important ways, Singam 2 feels more like Singam Lite.  The music itself is nothing as fun or memorable as songs like En Idhayam, Kadhal Vandale or even Naane Indhiran were from the original, and the biggest gap for me was the one left by Prakash Raj.

Whereas he was Mayil Vaaganam,  the big don, in the original, here, there is a combo of three villains-in-one, and none of them are that compelling to watch.  Moreover, dialogue comments directed to the African member of that triumvirate were racist: at one point he was referred to as “…, you African monkey.”  And I write “African” because while I might guess the actor playing Danny “King of the Indian Ocean” was from West Africa, perhaps Nigerian, I don’t believe the film actually specified a country of origin for him.  But the people of the African continent aren’t the only ones targeted, there’s also a supposedly humorous bit where Singam’s sidekick Susai (Santhanam) is trying to evade some goons at a tea stall and when he turns around to face them, he pulls his eyelids sideways and make some jokey Chinese reference.

SIngam 2 under cover 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

The story itself (set primarily in Tuticorin, which allows for some beautiful coastal and ocean shots) has the honest cop Durai Singam undercover as he tracks the goings on of some drug smugglers using the cover of salt exports to ship out their product.  This posting – which has him pretending to have resigned from the police force and now managing a high school – has also set back his plans to marry Kavya (Anushka Shetty), since his own father (not hers) finds the whole thing so humiliating, he can’t go through with the union of the two families.  Throw into the mix Hansika Motwani as Sathya, a well-to-do and rather spoiled girl who develops a heavy crush on the hero and pursues him relentlessly.

Singam 2 cut baniyan 2 Singam 2: Too Lite

It’s an action flick and so yes, there are some engaging fights sequences, one in particular that I enjoyed, with a ripped and dripping Surya in a plain white short-sleeved shirt over a crisp veshti which he has hitched up to mini level, in order to be able to fight in a soaking downpour that suddenly erupts  (thank you, director Hari).  But the m.o. becomes repetitious quickly – beat one thug up, fling him through the window of his SUV, beat the next thug up and do the same, and on and on.

Happily, this film did come with subtitles – something you can still never be sure of when going to see a Tamil film in the U.S. – and they provided occasional moments of puzzlement and mirth.  I don’t know when the last time was that I saw the word “fillip” included among song lyrics (in Hindi or Tamil) and I did raise an eyebrow when Durai Singam scolded Sathya after one of her bigger attempts to claim him as her own and told her she was behaving “like a brazen hussy.”  I often wonder who it is that does these subtitles, but whomever they are, I’m convinced he/she must have degrees in English literature, with specializations in Dickens or Austen.

Final thoughts

If you’re a die-hard Surya fan, then po.

He seems to do so few movies lately that you appreciate anything he appears in, though I did find myself thinking at times “Jeez, I wish someone would give this guy some other kinds of roles where he can stretch a bit more than his muscles.”

Otherwise, think it over.  It was interesting to me that the two elements I felt most lacking compared to the original Singam, the better music and Prakash Raj as Surya’s foil, were both referred to repeatedly throughout Singam 2.  Maybe they can bring Prakash back as his own twin in the inevitable Singam 3

Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

Fukrey bobblehead poster Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

As some folks may have heard me comment more than once lately, my patience is starting to wear very thin for films whose stories revolve solely around some (young) guys and whatever their challenge is, and the gals are secondary characters, when not simply window-dressing.

(This is why I couldn’t get myself to watch Kai Po Che in spite of all the good buzz around it, and why I would have passed on Ayan Mukherji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, had it not been for two good chums urging me not to discount it, as the roles for Deepika Padukone and Kalki Koechlin were fleshed out as much as of those of Ranbir and co.)

“Oh ho,” you may say, “if you’re bummed about the excess of youth-oriented, male-centric films on offer, then what, in the name of Nana Patekar in a loud floral shirt, are you doing at the deep end of the mainstream Indian movie pool?”  Good question.  Short answer, umm, I’m an optimist?

And I did think that my perceptions were not deceiving me as far as the US film industry’s portrayals of women were progressing, especially after this recent story in The Hollywood Reporter, until I saw the results of this study.   Not too upbeat as far as those of us with the double XX chromosomes areconcerned, is it?

But I digress….

When I received the invite to an advance screening of Fukrey, based on having only seen the bobblehead poster, a voice inside my head said “Erm, no thanks,” but then I gave the trailer a dekko and my ears pricked up when I saw Richa Chadda as the tough-talking gangster Bholi Punjaban giving the boys what-for, and I thought “Hmm, ok, I’m intrigued by her and the film is produced by Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar  – let’s see how this turns out.”

(One thing I learned two summers back with Delhi Belly was to try and set aside any snap judgements.  I feared it was going to be nothing but a bunch of dumb bros and puerile bathroom humor, but I went because it was a big release and an Aamir Khan film and hoped that might mean something worth watching, and I was so pleasantly surprised.  Not only was it a zany caper with great music, it had a totally kickass, bindaas female character, played to perfection by Poorna Jagannathan.)

So this week, after seeing the Fukrey trailer and a bunch of guys fleeing down narrow city lanes, I went in to the theater expecting possibly a Delhi Belly-esque romp, and that was not the right frame of mind at all.  This film does not have the manic energy that DB did.

HunnyChoocha2 Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

Fukrey, also set in Delhi, is the story of two harmless but ne’er do well buddies, Hunny (Pulkit Samrat) and Choocha (Varun Sharma), who can’t get into college because of all their goofing around at school.  Together with Lali (Manjot Singh), a young sardar in a similar bind, they devise a plan to borrow some money (from the aforementioned Bholi Punjaban) in order to make a big bet on a sure thing in a horse race and bankroll their entry fees bribes.

Lali2 Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

Of course, it all goes for a toss and something ensues.  I won’t say mayhem.  (That would be Poorna Jagganathan and Imran Khan having mad, flayling, pretend sex under a quilt as they try to dodge some irate goondas.)   A lot of sluggish pursuits and side-stories happen.

The trio of Hunny, Choocha and Lali are ok, not obnoxious and crude, but just not terribly compelling.  There’s a fourth face on the poster – that of Ali Fazal (of 3 Idiots fame).  He plays Zafar, a soulful, good-natured musician whose muse Neetu (Vishakha Singh) has escaped him, taking his inspiration with her, and he becomes involved with the betting plan because he needs to raise money for his father’s hospital bills, but no sooner has his handsome countenance been dangled before us, than he gradually recedes to the background.

Zafar2 Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

Same with la Bholi Punjaban.  She storms onto screen, brimming with fast, foul-talking  energy, but like a Grucci firework, she’s barely caught your eye and burst into shimmery trails, then she’s gone.

BP2 Fukrey: What a tease you are, Mr. Lamba

Seriously, what a big tease you are Mr. Lamba – the two actors I would have loved to have seen more of and whose characters’ back stories I’d like to have known more about, and you took them away too soon.

I did enjoy most of the film’s songs, especially Kailash Kher’s expansive vocals on the very lively Karle Jugaad Karle (which also has a cute picturization) and Sona Mahapatra’s gorgeous voice on Ambarsariya.

Final thoughts

If you’re a teenager or in your early 20s (or that’s where your mind or sensibilities have remained), you may find Fukrey to be a total laugh riot.

If you’re older than that – and can convince yourself before going in to not expect, or even allow, memories of Delhi Belly to float through your consciousness – then you may experience two hours of light entertainment.

All others, you may wish to walk on.

That said, I never saw Teen Thay Bhai, so for me, Fukrey is my first experience of the director’s work, and I saw enough promise here from Mrighdeep Singh Lamba that I’d check out his next film.

Riz Ahmed: I get pulled aside every time I come here

RizAhmed2 Riz Ahmed: I get pulled aside every time I come here

As part of the press junket for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a group of seven of us had a roundtable interview with Riz Ahmed (who plays Changez Khan) and Kate Hudson (who plays his girlfriend, Erica).

On a purely gossipy notes, one could not help but notice that Ms. Hudson was wearing this massive emerald-cut rock.

Riz, did I read correctly somewhere that you were detained for several hours at an airport in the UK when you returned from the Berlin Film Festival a couple of years ago?

RA: I was, yes, you did read that correctly.

Then let me ask you, did you have any concerns coming to the US, and have you had any issues here?

RA:  Concerns… I get pulled aside for three and a half hours every time I come here.  Not so much the last 3 or 4 times since I got a work visa, but it’s funny, this film nearly fell apart because my US visa was delayed indefinitely.   There’s something called sec 221.G which is a blanket security measure American authorities impose on most Muslim males ages 18-50.  They check your name against an international database of suspected or known terrorists and associates, and it’s a process that can take up to nine months and we needed to start shooting in a month.  So, yeah, it’s something that’s a reality and it’s sad and in my opinion it’s a slightly ham-fisted and counterproductive way of leading an intelligence operation, or managing your borders.

KateHudson2 Riz Ahmed: I get pulled aside every time I come here

Kate, you said that taking on this role was a no-brainer, could you tell us why?

KH: When I met with Mira I was eight months pregnant  and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the movie because of that, but Mira somehow didn’t know and I walked in and was so excited to talk about the movie and she says “Wow, you’re so pregnant!”  And  I said “I thought you knew!  I just wanted to talk to you, it’s such an interesting script!”

We talked, we fell in love with each other, she just felt very familial to me.  I don’t if it’s my mother’s going to India since the ‘70s, I’m just surrounded by my mother’s Indian friends, I just felt like it was meeting a soulmate and I just felt like if it wasn’t this, whatever she would ever want me to do, I would be there to do with her.  Fortunately, the movie pushed and I was able to do it.

I had just had Bing, I showed up and it was more than just Mira, it’s when I read it I had to read it two times in a row because there was just so much material and it was so rich in its themes.  I really wanted to know how Mira was going to tackle it.  It felt like a really brave project.  When I heard her talk about using these themes and this political thriller backdrop as a way to tell a story about a young man’s journey in finding himself and human connection and the human spirit and how do you find it and get to that place in your life and being authentic with yourself, and I thought only Mira could tell this story.  I’m happy I was able to be a part of it.

What’s she like as a director?

KH: Wonderful, nurturing.  Riz likes to say “holistic”.  She knows the story she wants to tell and I like talking about Mira and the sense of she’s very sensual in how she brings people together and how she gets the creative juice out of whether it be your DP or her actors.  When she knows she has to say something to tell her story, she is adamant about getting what she wants and I think within that, she creates that world where everybody wants to deliver for her.  And she’s very passionate, on a daily, hourly, minutes, seconds basis as you can tell if you’ve already spoken to her just now.  It’s infectious and you can’t help but go there with her.

For both of you, what stayed with you after shooting the movie was over?

RA: Wow, I mean, there’s a lot that stayed with me.  Going to Istanbul was amazing.  I’d never been, always wanted to go, and a lot of the film is about trying to get beyond the labels or divisions that we try and put up between people and even different sides of ourselves, and Istanbul is a city that kind of evaporates lots of dichotomies, East and West, secular – religious, it’s a special place.  Going there and visiting ancient Roman temples that were turned into grand Byzantine churches and then turned into huge mosques, in the same building.  That says something, it has an important energy.  So ending this film’s shoot in that city was amazing – it felt really fitting.

KH: For me, it was how exhausted I was by the end of it, emotionally & physically…breastfeeding and handing Bing to Riz, ….. It was funny, I was so into it when I was there I didn’t realize how much I was working.

RA: It was kind of amazing, to be honest.  I found it really impressive, you were hardly sleeping, breast-feeding, hand over the baby, “Action!”, burst into tears – you were amazing!  (laughs)   Like…what the hell – she’s a machine!

KH: When I got home I did say only Mira could – if I had another child – she’s probably the only one to convince me to do that again, because I was tired and it wasn’t even that long of a shoot.  But I think it worked because I really was emotional.  I had no moment where I had to take time to get there.  Between the material I was working with and how closely connected I felt to Erica, and her guilt and her trauma, and the exhaustion that I was feeling somehow connected and made for a good harmonious experience for me to get it out.

Riz, you guys have really good chemistry together.  What really struck me was the theme of an inter-racial relationship and how the challenges that there are already in one, then set against the backdrop of 9/11.  Could you talk about that and how you portrayed the relationship in the film?

RA: Well, I think the important thing for those characters is they don’t go into it, or at least they don’t go into it consciously thinking of each other as a collection of labels.  He doesn’t think “Oh, Upper East Side, comes from money…” and she doesn’t think “Pakistani, Muslim…”  I think what emerges down the line is they start realizing maybe there is a hint of exoticism in the attraction and the extent to which that is healthy – just to want to investigate that which is previously unknown to you – and the extent to which is kind of objectifying and turning someone into this kind of fashion accessory or something.  I think there is that tension in this relationship, but I don’t think it’s common to all interracial relationships.  I think the kind of prevalence and rise of interracial relationships is one of the beaut things about modern cosmopolitan societies and there are many that are totally healthy and just grow and blossom.

Riz, can you talk a bit about the audition process – is that right that you were asked to come to Mira while you were in the recording studio?

RA:  I was on my way to the shoot the album cover for MICroscope, my debut album, and at that point I’d already been turned down like, four times, because I kept sending in tapes and Mira just didn’t vibe with them.  My agent said “Look, Mira Nair’s in London, go and see her.” And I said ”I’m done with that.  There’s no point.”  But I went and met her and it’s so different when you’re in the room.  We just clicked and it just kinda’ went from there very naturally.”

Riz, any Hindi movies in your future?

RA:   I want to work with this new wave of Indian filmmakers and Pakistani filmmakers, not quite Bollywood.  I don’t have the dance moves for Bollywood.

Note: After its initial release last Friday in Manhattan and Los Angeles, today The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens across the US in these cinemas:

Camera 3 – San Jose CA
Cinema 100 – White Plains NY
Clairidge – Montclair NJ
Manhasset Cinemas – Manhasset NY
South Coast Village – Costa Mesa CA
Rancho Niguel – Laguna Niguel CA
Garden Cinemas – Norwalk CT
Montgomery Cinema – Rocky Hill NJ
Playhouse – Pasadena CA
Town Center – Encino CA
Bethesda Row – Bethesda MD
Century Centre – Chicago IL
Embarcadero – San Francisco CA
Kendall Square – Cambridge MA
Mayan – Denver CO
Frontenac – St. Louis MO
River Oaks – Houston TX
Ritz 5 – Philadelphia PA
Shattuck – Berkeley CA
Magnolia – Dallas TX
Seven Gables – Seattle WA
Smith Rafael Film Center – San Rafael CA
Uptown – Minneapolis MN
Kew Gardens – Kew Gardens NY
Malverne – Malverne NY