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May 08, 2009

Chadni Chowk to China

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Nikhil Advani - 2009
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Even when I'm not intentionally contrarian, the films that I usually like are the ones that pass by the radars of the general public, or the critics who just cover the wide release movies. Could Warner Brothers have been more effective in selling their first Bollywood film, or are American audiences simply too xenophobic to take the time to see a Hindi Kung Fu musical comedy? I don't feel like being the scold here, but will instead alert the adults reading this post that there is indeed a movie with comedy that is actually funny, with musical numbers featuring singers and dancers at least several years out of high school. For those puzzled by the title, it refers to the Dehli neighborhood that is home to the "hero" Sidhu.

Akshay Kumar's performance is full of the kind of physical comedy that might remind some of Peter Sellers work with Blake Edwards, along with the kind of work Steve Martin did in films like All of Me. Looking further back, some of the gags may even recall Bob Hope. Sidhu, a cook on a street side restaurant is so inept that he accidentally burns his winning lottery ticket with the oversized flame at his personal shrine. His strong Hindu faith also leads him to believe he has seen the image of Ganesh, the elephant god, on a potato. Meanwhile, the citizens of a village outside of the Great Wall of China are convinced that the reincarnation of their legendary hero lives in India. Two emissaries set to seek their their new savior stumble upon Sidhu, who goes along with what he thinks is a joke until he finds out he's in more trouble than anticipated.

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Sidhu is also in love with Sakhi, the star of television commercials for a Chinese company called TSM. The most popular product offered by TSM is a set of ankle bands that allows the most arrhythmic person to dance any popular style. Other items include an umbrella that is both bullet proof and serves as a parachute, and a device that translates any language. Sakhi tricks Sidhu into taking his place in the long line for visas to China. From there the plot becomes more complicated with the story of twin daughters separated at birth, a father with amnesia, and a gangster who's best know for having a bowler hat as deadly as the one belonging to Oddjob in Goldfinger.

Someone better verse in Bollywood than myself would be able to identify some of the parody elements. Even those with some general knowledge should at least identify takeoffs on Rocky and The Karate Kid, or laugh when Sidhu complains about some missing subtitles. The best parts of the film, like most Bollywood films, are the musical numbers, especially those of China as Sidhu imagines it, with a nod to The Last Emperor, that morphs into a dance featuring old time gangsters with their girls in cheong-sam dresses. A movie starring Amitabh Bachchan is briefly seen on television. Chadni Chowk to China not only as Gordon Liu, known by many for his roles in Kill Bill, but also that films martial arts coordinator, Ku Huan-Chiu. A music video shown during the closing credits features several dancers dressed at Kill Bill's The Bride.

Credit should also be given to Deepika Padukone, who takes on dual roles as Sakhi and twin sister, Suzy. Not above some mugging for the camera, Padukone fearlessly is also up for some of the films sight gags and dances. Almost any actress can look good while lip synching, but there are few that look this good while making the audience believe they have two left feet.

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Posted by peter at May 8, 2009 12:09 AM