*** / 5
Immediately after I saw that child character - Sexy - it struck me that there's a strong South flavour to the technical team of this movie.
The music director, the cinematographer, the southie's muse- Tabu, and the director himself....... and my suspicions were proven right.
And the movie has an almost maniratnam-style characterisation too - the over-smart kid, the young-at-heart matriarch, the melodramatic papa of the girl. These aren't your regular run-of-mill, loud, punjabi stereotypes of bollywood.
Cheeni Kum comes across as a fresh subject, keeping you in good humour for most part of the movie. The storyline is almost absent, but the treatment of the theme - a mature romance - deserves a round of applause.
The movie is about a London chef of indian origin, falling for a woman tourist from india, half his age, when she dares to stand up to his arrogance. The slow realisation of the growing attachment the characters develop for each other through a sequence of pretences to return a borrowed umbrella are beautifully conceived and executed. The chef falls all over himself trying to impress the damsel, and the women in turn senses his uneasiness and feasts on it by teasing him until she challenges his sexual prowess. The strong sexual undercurrents between these characters is portrayed in the most non-vulgar way possible, making it a complete romance and not just the usual fare of KJo's likes.
The movie takes a turn with the father of the bride aghast to find his son-in-law six years his senior, and dejected at the insensitive defiance of his daughter. He tries to reason out with her in vain, and then decides to take a crack at his pet gandhian theme of satyagraha to force her into submission. After a series of attempts to make him budge, and here the movie takes an uncharacteristic turn, AB delivers a forgettable logic to bend the man's resolve. And then, when one supposes the saccharine content is high again, a crucial character dies to reduce the sugar level - Cheeni Kum.....!
The highlight of the movie is the dialogue, the engaging banter between the lead characters. The chemistry between them is a striking aspect of the movie. Amitabh Bacchan proves his versatality once again, playing the character of Buddha, a 64 year old man with the attitude of a 30-something, self-assured, egotistical, yet charming perfectionist.
Tabu redefines beauty, with the flutter of her eyes, the whimsical smile, the child-like indulgence - the most believable character in the movie. Her character is a mixture of impish sense of humour, sassy arrogance, armed with a sharp retort and yet the extra-sweet romantic outlook of life. Why a character like this would fall for a 64 year old man, can only be explained by the characterisation of Buddha - the most unreal character in the movie.
Zohra Sehgal as Buddha's mom outplays the cliched 'old woman' roles conceived by southern movie-makers. We have seen it all before, haven't we? Remember the loud Lakshmi in Jeans and the repulsive nanny played by kamalhasan in a drag? Tamil movies are dime-a-dozen with comic old men and women trying to be 'cool', watching wrestling bouts and sporting i-pod accessories. But Zohra Sehgal underplays the 'loud' factor impressively and manages to carve out a loveable character, fit to be Buddha's mom.
The most jarring note of the movie comes from the unnecessary character of the young girl with cancer and her philosophies. The director/storywriter/dialogue writer's cloaked views on britain's role in iraq too were totally out of place in an otherwise sensitive drama.
Talking of drama, the one character that kicks up a storm in the smooth narration is Paresh Rawal's retired old man with gandhian leanings, righteously indignant at knowing the unlikely union. He plays his part well too.
Some disconnects here and there - totally absent cockney accents, mumbai lingo from delhi characters, the totally wrong mallu accent for the comic waiter, the recurrent obsession with 'blood cancer' - excusable offences.
The background score enhances the narrative style and the actors' performances. So does the camera work. The director certainly makes a brave attempt at an unusual subject, and almost pulls off the act. However, he needs to move away from stereotyping the support cast if he is serious about his art. Good performance may save even the most cliched character, but good performances are rarer than unusual stories.
I'm a food junkie and the usual hyderabadi in love with his biryani. Bachhan definitely made my mouth water when he describes the contents of the perfect Zafrani Biryani... the master does it again!
(recovered with 1st Jul 07 date stamp)