Sajit shredded Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World as being unfunny and culturally inastute. I come bearing a lukewarm defense: having seen the movie, it is much better than its trailer and is on balance good for the South Asian brand launch.
The main flaw of the movie, a simple-minded farce, is that it’s done by Albert Brooks. Brooks is the Jewish Bill Cosby, his character a throwback, a Mr. Smith Goes to Delhi; his humor is suburban, family-friendly, with all its edges rounded off. The centerpiece of the movie is a comedy show Brooks performs in Delhi, funny to neither the Indians on-screen nor the American audience off-. He does have some choice one-liners, though none stray beyond the safety of stereotype (he gets neither green M&M’s nor a greenroom in Delhi). Even the inevitable outsourcing jokes happen only as background chatter. It isn’t insightful, but for the most part it isn’t brain-dead or offensive either.Sheetal Sheth plays a clueless, shiny-haired chipmunk. I couldn’t decide whether to smack her or take her home
You also get a Brooksian touch like Sheetal Sheth’s character, a wide-eyed naÃ¯f. Sheth plays the role like a shiny-haired chipmunk with saucer eyes and a bottomless supply of perk and oblivion. She’s Clueless in Connaught Place; I couldn’t decide whether to smack her or take her home. Sheth gets second billing in the credits. My college buddy Shaheen Sheik also got two brief closeups; it’s always cool seeing someone I went to school with.
The central elision is intact, India is not the center of the Muslim world, and the exculpatory hand wave fails even on screen. But the India-Pakistan subplot is cute in a Sleeper kind of way. And in one witty riff, the sitar on the score switches from desi ishtyle to ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’
There are some cultural oddities about the script. Brooks is way overdressed in formal sherwanis for a day at the office. A Native American teepee makes a baffling appearance and leaves you wondering whether exposition was cut from the script; it’s not Brooks’ style to make you think. The Iranian boyfriend’s accent sounds like a cat in a blender, the unhappy coincidence of an inflated resume (‘Dialects: Hindi’) and actually landing the role. Sheth’s own accent is painfully inexact, but you get used to it as the movie wears on. At least they’re attempting Indian accents (Casanova: the Venezians speak in British accents? Really?).
Here’s where the movie delivers: it shows some desis as regular Joginders. It splashes Delhi across American screens without being a City of Joy. That’s progress. And it shows the actual streets of Delhi, which Bollywood rarely does. True, the soundtrack is amped up with sitar, and in real life you don’t hear cows lowing every time you pass. But you rarely see Bollywood showing a city street without packing it full of Eurotrash wanna-bes. For me the movie carried a tinge of homesickness and familiarity: yes, that’s Air India; yes, that’s Indira Gandhi International; yes, that’s the airport taxi stand where my relatives meet me without fail; yes, that’s Connaught Place in all its orotund, rotund glory. Like Where’s the Party Yaar?, it trades on affectionate recognition rather than raw merit.
Biju stepped out of the airport into the Calcutta night, warm, mammalian… Thousands of people were out though it was almost eleven. He saw a pair of elegant bearded goats in a rickshaw, riding to slaughter. A conference of old men with elegant goat faces, smoking bidis. A mosque and minarets lit magic green in the night with a group of women rushing by in burkhas, bangles clinking under the black and a big psychedelic mess of color from a sweet shop. Rotis flew through the air as in a juggling act, polka-dotting the sky… Sweet drabness of home– he felt everything shifting and clicking into place around him, felt himself slowly shrink back to size, the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner ebbing– that unbearable arrogance and shame of the immigrant.
– Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss