“Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana”… You’ve got meal

A smart young man, driven by reasons beyond his control, leaves London for his roots in a Punjabi village speckled with the yellow flowers of mustard fields. There, he’s enveloped by a largish family. He’s an instant hit with almost all of them, except the stern and suspicious patriarch. And then there’s the looming wedding of the girl who makes him whistle the tune to Tujhe dekha hai to jaana sanam… It’s hard not to leave Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana wondering whether the director, Sameer Sharma, saw Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge as a child, and, unimpressed, vowed that he would one day show the Bollywood establishment how a Punjab-based romance should really be made. And in the process, he’s made the quintessential anti-Bollywood movie, hitting the same notes as a family-friendly crowd-pleaser but underplaying each one. Even the customary Lohri song (one of which was in another Yash Chopra production, Veer-Zaara) isn’t choreographed with synchronized steps, but as a lived-in celebration that a family member could have captured on a handycam.

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Family is the motor that revs up this wonderful romance, which is as much about the ways we love people as the ways we love food – and this is only fitting in a film whose title embraces both “luv” and “chicken.” At times, the reignited romance between Omi (Kunal Kapoor), a wastrel who stole from his family and sped to London without looking back, and Harman (Huma Qureshi) seems an afterthought to the lusty love the people around them have for food, especially for the Chicken Khurana whose recipe is known only to Omi’s daarji (Vinod Nagpal). Omi’s chachi is defined by her failures in the kitchen, which drive the rest of the family to the langar in the gurudwara or else to vendors of sweets for midnight snacks of jalebis. And when Omi returns to his family and has his first meal, there is so much talk of butter on parathas that your stomach may begin to rumble.

And how do Omi and Harman find their way to each other again? By cooking together, of course. Theirs is the quest to find out – after daarji’s demise – how to prepare Chicken Khurana, whose recipe will make Omi a rich man. Or at least, rich enough to return the money he owes a hood in London, the sum of “Queen di photo wali pachaas hazaar pound.” (These early London scenes are the weakest in the film. Thankfully, we’re soon transported to India.) Omi and Harman sit around drinking cups of tea and lassi, while Omi bonds with his cousin Jeet (Rahul Bagga) over bottles of beer – Jeet, who has one glass eye, is the man Harman is engaged to – and writing this, I feel pangs that compel me to warn the viewer: “Do not see this movie on an empty stomach.”

Or a cynical heart. It’s been a while since we’ve been ensconced in so much familial love – in our yuppie multiplex movies, there are hardly any parents anymore. Sharma’s vision of the great Indian family isn’t just that they fuss around you at the dinner table or while you’ve just stepped out of a bath, in a towel, looking for a way to dry your damp underwear. (Omi packed his bags in a hurry; hence the lack of innerwear options.) What ensues is one of many hilarious scenes that show how rural India still swears by the motto of the Musketeers: All for one, one for all. I nearly bust a gut when Omi’s chachiremarked about his “V-shaped” briefs. The film’s minor fault is that it doesn’t clue us enough to Omi’s life in London to show how much this lack of respect for personal boundaries is affecting him – after all, he isn’t here on a nostalgia-fuelled holiday – but compensation arrives in other forms.

The flashbacks, especially the one that shows how daarji accidentally stumbled into Chicken Khurana, are simply lovely. We’ve seen this man as a senile wreck, given to unabashed flatulence, and to be transported to his vigorous youth, alongside his beautiful wife, gives the feeling of flipping through pages of a family album. And a chance remark by the wife – that she’ll haunt him as a crow – develops into a running riff in the present, courtesy a bird that roosts on the Khurana terrace. This, of course, is just another way of saying that the great Indian family isn’t just with you while alive, but also after death. Will Omi learn to love and respect this family, which has welcomed him as if his transgressions had never happened? Does the sun rise in the east? But predictability isn’t the same as passionlessness. The quiet scene where Omi whips up a meal for his family reminded me of the closing stretch of Big Night, another movie whose priorities were aimed at the palate, where a man prepares an omelette for his brother. The act comes to feel as atonement.

This quietness is characteristic of Sharma’s approach elsewhere too. When Omi realises he belongs here, with this family, we are not subjected to a jangling-violins shot with tears, but a near-wordless epiphany that involves seeing people and finally seeing them for who they are. And where a traditional Bollywood romance would punctuate his relationship with Harman with outbursts of rage – after all, he abandoned her ten years ago and never bothered to keep in touch – we have, here, just one high-pitched scene where she says she had the right to expect at least a call from him. Afterwards, even when she begins to warm towards him, we simply see them sitting side by side, sipping tea, or else standing in front of a stove, slicing tomatoes and onions. Huma Qureshi is well-chosen for this part. Apart from her graceful presence, she also carries the kind of curves real women have – and next to this grownup, Kunal Kapoor provides an unwitting visual joke, looking as if he stepped into an age-machine and transformed himself into an anorexic teenager.

In the first half, Omi is a man without a plan, and the film, accordingly, is content to amble along, delighting in the quirkiness of its characters. (Luckily, not everyone is drenched in colour. Omi’s chacha, played by Rajendra Sethi, plays it straight; the conflict of emotions on his face upon Omi’s return is a sight to behold.) And then, as Omi gains focus in the film’s second half, the film too attaches itself to a plot that builds towards a finish that left me laughing through tears. The tears came from the honest warmth in a scene where everyone makes a confession around the meal Omi has made, and the laughs came from Titu Mama (Rajesh Sharma), who can see why people are getting so emotional, but cannot see why they can’t eat at the same time. That’s the other characteristic of the anti-Bollywood movie – that the heroes and heroines often end up looking like supporting characters to marvellous performers who keep us laughing long after we’ve left the theatre. Bas karo gyaani-ji.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

20 thoughts on ““Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana”… You’ve got meal

  1. “Apart from her graceful presence, she also carries the kind of curves real women have” – i havent seen the film but looking at the promos , i spotted Miss Qureshi and this was exactly my first thought – she is well chosen , how real Punjabi or otherwise Asian women look.

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  2. Aside , I am already scared for Mr. Kashyap , he can;t seem to keep a foot wrong now – just exactly the same place where RGV was about a decade ago.

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  3. So I came here (hello, once again!) to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, but got sidetracked as usual. Re: the director… apparently his first job was as AD on DDLJ :) That’s a fine nose you’ve got.

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  4. Another foodie movie…. Good!! Have you seen usthad hotel? I wonder why there are not many Tamil movies that circle around food, Especially since we boast of such wonderful mouth watering delicacies.

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  5. Sameer Sharma grew up knowing Aditya Chopra and was an AD on DDLJ’s sets. That might add an interesting nuance to the comparison you draw between DDLJ and Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana.

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  6. Very nice review overall, but that “carries the kind of curves real women have” feels casual and stereotypical to me. (Yes, such is your stature now – pedants will pluck out individual phrases and scrutinise them for depth and nuance.)

    Interesting to contrast the Huma-Kunal pairing with the Huma-Nawazuddin one in GoW, no? In a strange way it puts me in mind of Diane Keaton working with Al Pacino in the first two Godfather films while simultaneously working with Woody Allen in Play it Again Sam. Two very different varieties of short, intense men in very different types of films.

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  7. venkatesh: Actually, “Aiyyaa” didn’t work as well as it would have seemed on paper. It was certainly an interesting film, but something was lost in the execution.

    Amrita: Thank you. And thank you. And if you feel like ordering copies of my book as Diwali gifts for everyone you know, please feel free :-) Seriously, though, have you reviewed it or written about it anywhere? Would like to see…

    And wow. An AD on DDLJ. That’s a really interesting twist, biting the hand that fed you and all :-)

    meera: Nope. Not seen “usthad hotel.” Speaking of food movies in Tamil, Venkat Prabhu’s next is called “Biriyani” :-)

    Jabberwock: Well, I was making a comparison with the stick figures we usually see on the Hindi screen (except Sonakshi Sinha, and look how successful she’s become in such a short time)…

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  8. The film has a terrific cast, a realistic, lived-in atmosphere, and a great sense of familial bonds. The parts that are good are fantastic. It has a low-key Punjabi flavor that’s a pleasant change from the turbo-charged, Punjab-glam-on-steroids thing we mostly see in films. But it needs tightening up, and the Indian gangster was a weird caricature. Even the main character is not as well-developed as the wonderful side characters. The end was pretty bad too.

    To steal an idea from another review I read, it has great ingredients, but it is missing one key ingredient to make it shine.

    Between Aiyaa and LSTCK, I’m glad to see that Anurag Kashyap isn’t just producing films that are clones of the kind of films he tends to direct.

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  9. Oh I got your intention all right – was just (pedantically) pointing out that the way you’ve phrased it seems to imply that a curvaceous woman is more “real” in some meaningful sense of the word than a naturally thin or skinny woman. No big deal anyway.

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  10. Haven’t managed to catch Aiyaa either – it didnt get a big release here , waiting for the DVD , but a flawed AK film is still better than most of the dreg that comes up.

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  11. Nicely written as always. Haven’t seen it yet but looking forward to watching Kunal Kapoor on screen again. I’ve always thought it a bit unfortunate that an easy to watch actor like him doesn’t get more work to do.

    As an aside, a more general question – is it a relatively recent choice on your part to add these one-phrase-summary taglines in the titles of your film reviews? Have been following your blog for a while but don’t recall them being as much of a fixture as they seem to be these days. Or maybe my memory is just playing tricks :-)

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  12. Was gonna wait for your review to let me know why I didn’t like it, but you had none. It just didn’t sit well with me, I felt like it was too plain, too bland. At least the gun on his head could have been real instead of a silly bald one.
    Or maybe I’m just not a foodie.

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  13. Saw the movie yesterday and it had my 2 sisters and I in splits! The authenticity of the punjabi culture (we are from Jalandhar originally) was amazing. Not an airbrushed face in sight nor fake houses with picture-perfect paint jobs. One of my sisters commented that the older female mourners at Daarji’s funeral (took me straight to my grandmother’s funeral over 30 years ago) and also the guests at the Lohri party were not actors for sure! That kind of authenticity only comes real people. My favorites out of maybe 2 dozen quotes were: Baksho Gianji and Milnia pher kar liyo!

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  14. Enjoyed the film but I thought that Kunal Kapoor lacked jaan of any kind whatsoever. The guy paled heavily in comparison to almost everyone else in the movie. I felt no connection to him; he simply lacked energy. When you stop rooting for the main dude in the movie, it is a little sad. But the most excellent cast, great music and smart lines made up for KK’s complete lack of enthusiasm. Huma was great, so also Mama, Chaacha, Lovely, Titu, Jeet, etc.

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  15. Kaushik Bhattacharya: Reg. “one-phrase-summary taglines in the titles of your film reviews,” do you mean the cheap puns like “You’ve got meal?” Man, do you know me AT ALL? :-)

    Lakshmi: Yeah, he (actually the character) was kinda wan, but he didn’t wreck the film for me. It wasn’t enough of a deal-breaker performance as he was almost always surrounded by other actors.

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  16. Pingback: Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana – External Reviews | Bollywood

  17. The authenticity of the punjabi culture (we are from PUNJAB PAKISTAN originally) was amazing. Not an airbrushed face in sight nor fake houses with picture-perfect paint jobs.
    Enjoyed the film , It is a little sad. The most excellent cast, great music and smart lines . Huma , Mama, Chaacha, Lovely, Titu, Jeet, etc was great.

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  18. Could anyone PLEASE PLEASE, tell me the name of the Song that plays when JEET is going with the Bengali Girl in the JEEP ?

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