Despite my best intentions last year, I never got to see the few festival showings of Loins of Punjab Presents in New York. Then I had to endure all the ads on Indian TV when it released there last autumn, knowing that it would still be ages before the film would come this way again. Then, with such anticipation building, I wondered if the film would disappoint.
Happily, Loins lived up to all expectations.
Directed, co-written and starring Manish Acharya (stay tuned for an interview with him), the story rolls out in a contained space (a hotel in New Jersey) and over the course of one weekend, like those Agatha Christie films set on, say, a cruise ship on the Nile. Rather than wonder “Whodunnit?”, we ask ourselves “Who’ll win it?”, as a diverse group of Indians, Indian-Americans and a few goras gather together for a Desi Idol competition.
And what a group they are! There’s a scheming suburban society matron (Shabana Azmi), a lecherous promoter (Jameel Khan, who also played a similar role in Rock On), a statistic-spouting Amitabh wannabe who’s looking for love (Manish Acharya), an over-protected Patel clan protégé (Ishitta Sharma), an angry would-be Punjabi who raps (Ajay Naidu), a pretty actress whose faking it in Hindi gets her into trouble (Seema Rahmani), and on and on.
As the group is whittled down to the finalists, Azmi’s character methodically does what she can to knock off the competition. The Patel family (some 10 or 12 including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, all wearing shirts emblazoned “Preeti Patel is Number 1″) divide the labor as they try to increase Preeti’s odds of winning.
The humor is dead-on and pokes fun at a lot that you will recognize, be it linguistic or cross-cultural misunderstandings. One Gujurati friend in Bombay remarked recently “I have some family who are just like the Patels in this movie!”
As in Alan Parker’s The Commitments, the auditions are particularly wonderful, funny little scenes to savour. Ajay Naidu’s had me literally doubled over with laughter, and, as one commenter pointed out earlier, Acharya’s is great too (with the various costume changes).
See it or skip it
See it! It’s a smart, funny film that demonstrates a great affection for its characters and for Bollywood, and is ably borne on the shoulders of veterans such as Shabana Azmi, Ayesha Dharker and Ajay Naidu, as well as newer faces like Ishitta Sharma, Michael Raimondi and Manish Acharya.
Loins has successfully escaped the stiff, self-conscious dialogue and acting that dragged down many of the early indie films attempting to chronicle The Indian-American Experience a decade or so back.