SF mutineers, together with writer / director Manish Acharya imbibed the Loins of Punjab last night as part of the SF South Asian film festival. Two word summary – it rocked.
Two word summary – it rocked.A crowd numbering several hundred packed the Castro theater in San Francisco for the laugh out loud ride and presented Acharya with a standing ovation and even a little bit of spontaneous singing (“Bole chudiyan… bole kangana…“) for his work. Although, as expected, Desi’s dominated the audience, the movie really resonated with the surprising gora / gori representation and the hispanic lesbian couple I was seated next to laughed most of the time as well. Still, much of the appeal of the genre comes from being in on the joke and the real magic is best experienced if you’re ABCD and perhaps even moreso if you’ve spent time in New Jersey.
Nevertheless, Loins is, by a wide margin, my new title holder for “Best ABCD Comedy.” My previous candidate was the (panned by many) Where’s the Party, Yaar about a group of desi college students in Houston. Both movies transcend the usual “cultural idenity” story line and instead solidly demonstrate a new, hybrid culture that’s neither here nor there but nevertheless confident about where it is and where it’s going. American and desi stereotypes blend fluidly and we’re far from feeling sorry for the folks with one foot on either side.
Probably owing to the respective backgrounds of the film makers, WTPY is a bit more “American” in its character portrayals while Loins was far more Desi. Although both Manish Acharya and Benny Mathews of WTPY are 1.5 gen, Benny undoubtedly got most of his material from the Music Masala parties aimed at Houston’s desi young adults – hence, a more overt “hormones gone wild” and, unfortunately a generally less flattering FOB portrayal. By contrast, Loins of Punjab brings in a much broader audience of heroes and heroines sporting both ABD and DBD colors.
Loins, however, is yards ahead of Where’s the Party in the quality of its writing, execution, fit, and finish. Some critics weren’t impressed by the “gimmicky” humor but, as an audience commentor noted, Manish does a fantastic job of making old punchlines fresh and unexpected. I know we’ve seen the hero’s significant other defect and return a million times before… But, in Loins it’s so well executed that even a sophisticated, and sometimes cynical audience in a place like SF was still taken by surprise.
The casting was superb and, as Acharya emphasized in Q&A after the flick, character development is the backbone of the movie. Their quirks and interactions had me solidly entertained for its hour and a half duration and I can honestly say that I wish the movie overall was longer. The title leads one to expect more story / character development around the Loin King, for example – a promising angle but one which is unexplored. Jameel Khan’s sleazy event producer made the most of his on-screen time and yet, I still wanted more. Ajay Naidu’s Turbantorious BDG was so well done I had a hard time believing it was really him dancing, rapping and shooting off angrier-than-thou lines. Still, going further down all these avenues while keeping within acceptable bounds for movie length would probably have been impossible and I’m forced to credit Acharya for his restraint.
It is critical to note that while poking fun at character and ethnic quirks (the individual Guju family members captured the panoply of stereotypes so well it’s scary), the comedy was ultimately good natured and uplifting. Yes, we’re often laughing at them but we also all recognize that the world would be a worse place without them. Acharya firmly believes & demonstrates that there are many paths to being a movie hero. And when the foundation for your story is a diaspora as diverse as India and America, it’s a fitting moral.
Good news for mutineers in other cities – Acharya says that Loins is aiming for limited release in the US in March 2008.
After the movie, a dozen mutineers & I tried to converge on Samovar Tea Lounge for a mini-meetup…. However, the venue turned out to be far more of a restaurant than an alternative to Starbucks and menu’s + white-linen table service tends to be pretty antithetical to the flow of a meetup. So, we ended up rerouting ourselves across the street to Urban Bread for coffee and pastries. Consensus at the table was strongly positive and with many surprised by the negative reaction other mutineers seemed to have to the flick. To each his own, I suppose.
[related - Manish Vij's Loins of Punjab review & link compendium]