A story about the greatness of Indian culture makes you long for the glory days of Manoj Kumar. Surely that can’t be good!
MAR 25, 2007 – I WALKED OUT OF Vipul Shah’s Namastey London in a daze, finally knowing what it must feel like to be the solitary Martian in a roomful of earthlings. I sat there utterly unmoved as the people around me weren’t merely laughing… they were bellowing. It got to a point where Akshay Kumar had to merely show up, and the guy in the next seat would begin to crack up – and I wondered if the problem was with them or with me. Okay, okay, don’t bother to answer that – but before I’m accused of class or snootiness, let me present in my defense that my all-time Top Ten comedy moments include the glorious farting-around-the-campfire sequence in Blazing Saddles, as well as the sight of a grown-up Kishore Kumar in half-pants, lollipop in hand, pretending to be a child in Half Ticket. There’s only one gag here that made clutch my sides, one that owes its existence to Ekta Kapoor’s saas–bahu serials. This bit is truly a gem. As for the other jokes, the highlight may well be the plot itself, which asks us to invest in the outcome of a stale love triangle: Will Jasmeet (an awful Katrina Kaif; she usually gets away with her terrific looks, but here she’s made up and shot so unflatteringly, she appears at times like the world’s loveliest drag queen) opt for Punjabi lad Arjun (Akshay Kumar) or an Englishman called, uh, Charlie Brown? Phrased differently, who would a girl of today like her prospective husband to be named after: the great archer-hero of the Mahabharata, or the bald kid from Peanuts?
The problem with Namastey London is that it just can’t pick a mood and stick with it. An early scene revolves around a church wedding, but the music in the background isn’t Wagner’s bridal chorus. It’s one of those ear-shattering female solos with gooey lyrics – Did you ever think of me as your best friend – that Celine Dion would have typically sung during the closing credits, and your mind screams chick-flick. But before you can settle down with that categorisation, the flag waving begins. Indians good, non-Indians bad, we’re told, as we suffer through neo-Manoj Kumar-isms like Rishi Kapoor’s (infusing charm and humour in a film that otherwise has neither) cell phone going off to the ring tone of Saare jahaan se achchha, and Akshay Kumar’s enumeration of India’s achievements down the ages (to a bunch of mocking Brits) – a bit of screenwriting that, in terms of misguided patriotism, ranks up there with the K3G moment where Kajol’s kid breaks into our national anthem at his lily-white school. (If they’re really worried about India’s image in the eyes of the world, not making these movies would be a good start.) Then there’s the comedy. Something like Purab Aur Paschim was at least all-out drama – well, except for the unintended laughs from Rajendra Nath as a swingin’ hippie – and therefore easier to take, but what to make of the bizarre, meant-as-funny episode here when an Englishwoman is introduced as Pauline, and someone exclaims about the former’s nude pictures (on the beach) that got printed in the papers? Is this a nod to Eric Rohmer of all people, to his Pauline at the Beach?
Namastey London offers intriguing insights into the hypocrisy of NRIs, who raise their children as products of their new environment – so that this younger generation can escape the awkwardness of adapting to new clothes and newer accents – and yet insist on “Hindustani‿ spouses when it’s time for marriage. And it’s a nice touch that the film treats India and Pakistan as being part of the same subcontinental mass. But these digressions don’t amount to much, because the characters driving home these points are gigantic clichés. The Brits are offensive twits. The Indian-born kids are debauched smokers and drinkers and disco-goers just waiting to be enlightened about the glories of our 5000-year-old civilisation. And our hero is a reincarnation of Mr. Bharat himself, a milk-white martyr who sees the heroine in a towel in her bedroom, and preserves her modesty by pulling the door shut. And did I mention he oozes empathy from every pore? If you thought the metrosexual male was all about Shah Rukh sobbing in Chalte Chalte or Saif in a pink tee in Salaam Namaste, you haven’t seen Akshay here. He waits and he waits for his girl to stop partying and come home to him, and he comes off like Shabana Azmi’s doormat-wife in Swarg Narak, who waited and waited for her husband to stop partying and come home to her. All this saintly sensitivity almost makes you wish for the old days, when all it took for the man to bring the woman to her senses was one tight slap.
Copyright ©2007 The New Sunday Express