Film >HAM SAMURAI
Just about every Baz Luhrmann film opens the same way: Manic energy meets MTV jump cuts, serving to dispense with exposition and get to the melodrama. Once his sugar rush is over, Luhrmann settles down and commences with a pretty good film, but that first act can be tough to suffer through.
Indian director Nikhil Advani, who showed thrilling prowess with his 2003 debut, Tomorrow May Never Come, has clearly taken a cue from Luhrmann’s worst instincts. Billed as the “first ever Bollywood kung fu comedy,” his Chandni Chowk to China isn’t just manic, it’s spastic; dorky, even.
It’s a simple, wildly derivative tale (elements of the Bond series, Kung Fu Hustle, Life of Brian, The Matrix and even The Road to El Dorado desperately throw themselves at the viewer in hope of recognition) of a loser from the tiny burg of Chandni Chowk in New Delhi, Sidhu, who’s mistaken by a Chinese village as the reincarnation of their warrior-savior. When Sidhu is welcomed in China as a deity, he finds himself launched headfirst into the heart of an ancient grudge, a clumsy evil twin–good twin subplot and the search for his own strength within.
Bollywood megastar Akshay Kumar is utterly charmless as the lead, bringing to mind the stunted, overgrown and needy American “comedy” of Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. Kumar doesn’t just hit a joke, he bludgeons it into pulp then cries over its lifeless mass, which mirrors the sledgehammer touch of Advani, actually. When Sidhu’s father dies at the hand of his arch-nemesis, the film is transformed into a puerile training montage while the climactic battle waits in the wings, ready to stomp along footsteps so worn they’ve turned to sludge.
Love interest Deepika Padukone, so full of life in 2007’s Om Shanti Om, carries the burden of the twin role – as an Indian girl, she’s tasked with looking great and shedding a single tear in nearly every scene; as an Asian femme fatale, she can only impersonate Zhang Ziyi. Padukone is so wasted in Chandni Chowk, my mind often wandered back to Om Shanti Om during her scenes, possibly as a defense mechanism.
Finally, Sidhu sets course for revenge and Chandni Chowk runs through the motions of wire-fu and family honor, which is likely all that Advani wanted to try out in the first place. Any hopes of stylistic experimentation or genre fusion are quickly dashed and it becomes evident that this is simply two films: the first half singing, dancing Bollywood and the second a middle-of-the-road martial arts flick. In hitting the highlights of both settings, however, Advani sucks the romanticism from India and the wit and absurdist humor from the Shaw brothers. What remains is a disgrace in any language.