Manish Acharya’s Loins of Punjab Presents is freaking hilarious! After I missed the first screening at NYU’s First Run Film Festival (where the film won the award for Best Feature), I hounded Manish to show me his film. It just so happened that NYU held a marketplace for their graduating students. And that is where, at 2pm in the afternoon on a weekday, I finally watched this film, in a screening room of the basement of Tisch.
Loins of Punjab Presents (let’s just call it Loins for fun) is about a bunch of random characters who are thrown together over a weekend in New Jersey as they compete for the title of Desi Idol.
Who are these people? Well, there is the rich-bitch socialite, Mrs. Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) who is desperate to win, but even more desperate to show up her socialite competitor, Bubbles Sabharwal.
Ajay Naidu is Turbanotorious BDG, a quintessential angry young man who also happens to be a gay bhangra rapper. Oh and his partner in his act is also his life partner – an African-American-bhangra-rapping sidekick.
Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) is the token white guy in the competition (hey, Hollywood has token black guys and token international guys! We have truly arrived when Indian films have token white guys 😉 ) who loves all things Indian, including his girlfriend Opama Menon (Ayesha Dharker), who loves the fact that he loves all things Indian.
There’s sugary-sweet Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma), who’s been ruled by her parents her whole life. The poor kid is surrounded not just by the overly controlling parents, but the entire clan of Patels, at least one of whom is constantly attached to Preeti. The true talent of the competition, she seems fated to win.
Sania Rahman (Seema Rahmani) is the good-looking ABCD wannabe-Bollywood-actress who can’t speak a word of Hindi. Ah well, she’s convinced she can just fake it.
And finally, the director takes on the role of Vikram Tejwani, the stats-addicted geek who’s job has been outsourced. The competition is his last chance to make enough money to give him some financial freedom.
Confused? Not at all. Manish manages to introduce the audience to a whole host of characters very effectively, each in his or her own element. For example, Turbanotorious BDG is introduced in a club as he does his own version of gansta rap as his family looks on, aghast at the cursing. Mrs. Rrita Kapoor is learning music from her guruji when she receives a call about how her rival Bubbles is one-upping her. Reaction? A severely-arched eyebrow and a furiously-churning brain. Preeti Patel and her parents are introduced in her counselor’s office as her parents plot her life for her. Despite the plethora of characters, I never really had to struggle to remember them since each one was introduced in a way that imprinted their key attributes in my mind. ((Apparently this film may be used to teach NYU grad students about how best to introduce multiple characters to the audience.))
Take these characters, a slew of others including judges and random family members, put them in a confined space two days, shake vigorously and you get a cocktail of humor that is Loins. Oh wait! I forgot to mention one of the funniest characters, the event manager for the competition, the I’m-laughing-at-you-not-with-you Bokade (Jameel Khan). I mean look at him – an over-the-top choice that is perfect for the character who will have you rolling on the floor laughing!
There was so much to like about the film, but before I make this a dedicated rah-rah review, let me quickly hit a couple of things that I didn’t love. Sometimes it felt like there were snippets that were thrown in there just because – Preeti’s overweight, porn-watching kid-brother was “eh, whatever”, almost a been there done that, “haven’t we seen that character before?” moment. And some of the Idol contestants were a touch over the top and not that believable. However, these and a few other small cinematic things are minor quibbles in an otherwise really enjoyable film.
One of the things I loved about the movie was the instant association. You feel you know some of these people. You start laughing from minute one because you know what they are going to say and it is just the perfect thing for them to say! Part of feeling you know some of these people is the casting – it was close to ideal. And the acting was excellent – Shabana shines with her nuanced gestures, Ayesha Dharker nails her role as the tougher half of the in-love and idealistic couple, Seema Rahmani is sexy and touchingly sweet when she needs to be and Jameel Khan is… brilliant!
The first part of the film introduces you to all the characters and gets them into the hotel for the competition. The second half of the film is where things come together really nicely as the true characters are revealed. In the intro, Manish sets up each character in the way in which he wants you to see them. But is that who the person really is? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The “Ahh, ice runs through her veins!” realization makes the characters much fuller, much more real.
This is a film that has stayed with me since I’ve seen it. Yes, there are some underlying messages of what it means to belong, but that’s not why it stayed with me. It stayed with me because the characters were so funny, so real and so endearing (slimy Bokade is now a favorite!) that any time I think of the movie, I smile.
Want more Loins lovin’? Watch the teaser!