Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Tabu, Paresh Rawal, Zohra Sehgal, Swini Khara
Director: R. Balki
Walking out of the theatre, there was one thought on my mind: these are the kind of films Bollywood needs to make. This is what I call new. This is what I call different. This is what I call a comedy. This is what I call progressive cinema.
These days, it’s not unusual to see Bollywood tackling themes outside its comfort zone. However, to take an interesting theme and make a good film? This is almost unheard of. Cheeni Kum succeeds.
First things first. All comparisons with Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd need to be thrown out the window immediately, as the films are as different as chalk and cheese. R. Balki’s film is an out-and-out romantic comedy with refreshingly light humour.
Buddhadev Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan), an arrogant, conceited yet brilliant chef owns an Indian restaurant in the heart of London. However, you must know, that this is no ordinary Indian restaurant. It is the finest, I repeat, the finest, Indian restaurant in London. While Buddha may not pay attention to many aspects of his life, he is unbelievably passionate about his work. Each dish is meticulously crafted to perfection.
So naturally, when Nina Verma (Tabu), a tourist from Delhi, sends back her dish out of dissatisfaction, all hell breaks loose. Buddha, whose ego has been damaged severely, proceeds to confront Nina, giving her a taste of his personality. What he doesn’t expect, is a fight. Nina is no meek mouse, she fights back with full force. And this is where the story takes off.
Love is sparked by initial hatred. However, there’s a simple problem. Well, not so simple, actually. He’s 64. And she’s 34. After some awkward courting, the couple decides to get married. Convincing Buddha’s spunky mother (Zohra Sehgal) and child confidante, Sexy (Swini Khara) is not so hard. The real battle begins when Buddha travels to Delhi to ask for Nina’s hand in marriage from her father (Paresh Rawal). Here’s where the recipe gets exciting. Feast your eyes on what turns out to be a deliciously sarcastic comedy!
To take a serious theme and make a serious film is hard. To take a serious theme and make a light-hearted flick, however, is a thousand times harder. And here is where debutant director R. Balki deserves a round of applause. Cheeni Kum is not your regular Bollywood comedy with over-the-top acting, exaggerated situations and extra nonsense. It’s restrained, it’s witty and is executed very well. The film is completely real, including the dialogues, which is why it’s impact increases tenfold.
The thing about this film is that not once does it look cheap. It could have turned out as a tacky and low-class film easily, but instead, it’s sheer class. Contributing to this is the striking cinematography by PC Sreeram. Each frame is gorgeous, especially the shots in the restaurant. Music by Ilayaraaja is used well in the film, though I wish the title track played for a bit longer, as each of the songs were cut off by a bit. In particular, ‘Baatein Hawa Si’ looks great on-screen and makes you chuckle with Amitabh’s dialogue.
Still, there are a few missing ingredients. While the dialogues are simply brilliant and almost flawless, the script remains loose. If the script and screenplay could have been pulled together, it would have raised the film’s quality by leaps and bounds. Also, Chandan Arora’s editing could have been crisper. There are times when the film gets tedious.
The scenes in the first half warm your heart almost instantly. Even the post-interval portions are well done. Towards the end, the film falls apart just a little bit with the dialogues losing their edge.
The performances are raw and delectable.
Amitabh Bachchan never seizes to amaze. His screen presence is magnetic, and his performance is perfect. Each time I watch a Big B film, I think it’s among his finest performances. Honestly, where does this man go wrong? This is yet another completely different character in his lengthy career. The fact that his character is believable speaks volumes about his acting ability.
Matching him at literally every step is Tabu. Though she is rarely recognized, I believe Tabu is one of the finest actresses from Indian cinema. She literally re-invents herself with each film. Holding your own against the towering Bachchan is no ordinary feat, and Tabu succeeds amazingly. Looking beautiful at each turn, she delivers a lovable performance. Gold, simply gold.
Plus, their chemistry is perfect.
Paresh Rawal is, as usual, awesome. Though I believe his character deserved more depth, he was completely efficient. Zohra Sehgal had me in splits with each of her lines. For an old woman, she breathes tremendous life into her character! Swini Khara is one of the best child actresses I’ve seen, because she seems real. As a little girl who’s been forced to mature faster than she should, she leaves a huge smile on your face. Unlike other child actors/actresses, she doesn’t seem fake even once.
The rest of the supporting cast, mainly the workers in the restaurant, are one of the best parts of the film. Hats off to the Colgate guy, he’s hilarious.
Though many won’t agree, I do believe Cheeni Kum is path-breaking. Simply because it takes a unique theme, turns it into a comedy, and on top of that, looks wonderful. It doesn’t try too hard, and that’s what makes it so good.
While there are holes, Cheeni Kum is one dish that possesses all the ingredients to please audiences. If you’re looking for a David Dhawan comedy, stay away. Otherwise, indulge yourself in a feast and make sure to relish each bite. It’s worth it.