Friday, October 12, 2007

Cheeni Kum

My curiosity about Cheeni Kum was piqued by the story line which is definitely unconventional by mainstream Bollywood standards. The movie begins with the boss and chef of “ the best Indian restaurant in London” taking a diva turn in the kitchen. The staff, cowers in fear as he works himself into a fury over their lack of professionalism and passion in their job. Amitabh Bacchan’s histrionics in the time of Sholay and Deewar was one thing but as the sixty four year old Buddhadev Gupta (the uber chef of Cheeni Kum) it is quite another.

There is only so much expression-less cacophony that anyone can tolerate. It felt pathetic watching a faded super-star from yesteryears trying to relive the old glory and have only raw lung power left to do so. I was afraid things were going to head further south from this point and wondered if it was worth sitting through the rest of it. Bacchan playing at being a pitiable imitation of himself, namely the angry young man from several decades ago did not sound promising. I am glad I let that moment pass for I was well rewarded for my patience.

Tabu plays a thirty four year single woman visiting friends in London. The movie really gets going when she comes to the aforementioned restaurant with the friend and sends a below par Hyderabadi Zafrani Pilaf back to the kitchen. This time Bacchan hits the roof. The ongoing diva episode, climaxes with him telling Tabu she is a “tourist” without the pedigree to pass judgment on food that came from “His” kitchen. He fires the sous chef for good measure. Apparently, the guy had put sugar instead of salt in the pilaf and Tabu was right to reject it. He eats crow most grudgingly, she takes a fancy for him. From then on an unlikely boy meets girl love story unfolds and holds our attention.

The witty repartees Tabu and Bacchan exchange during their tentative courtship are entertaining, natural and believable. An older man’s awkwardness as he gets romantically involved with a woman thirty years his junior is portrayed beautifully. Bacchan shows his mellow side which is not preoccupied with super-stardom and you like what you see. Zohra Sehgal plays his mother and their short conversation volleys are incredibly funny – the right mix of love, respect and irreverence makes them memorable.

This movie is about a cast of unconventional and somewhat eccentric characters who work well together just for that reason. There is the thirty four year old spinster who decides to romance a man older than her father and have him propose marriage. A terminally ill child who is precocious beyond belief is Tabu’s romantic rival but in a good natured way. Paresh Raval plays Tabu’s father and a dyed in the wool Gandhian. He decides to go on hunger strike like a true Satyagrahi to voice his disapproval of the matrimonial alliance between Tabu and Bacchan.

There is yet more rabble rousing by Bacchan towards the end of the movie as he works on Raval to accept him as the son-in-law. You learn to grin and bear. Bollywood typically rewards tolerance. In this case you have among other things a music score than meanders gently in and out of the storyline instead of being loudly oppressive. Overall, a refreshing little movie though some may say that it is "pile of ingredients that no one had no one has bothered to form into a recipe".

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