Loins of Punjab Presents

 I originally sought out Loins of Punjab Presents because I really like Nina Paley’s Sita Sings The Blues  and read that my favourite shadow puppet, otherwise known as Manish Acharya, had made a film. I watched it with a hint of sadness and regret in light of his untimely death. But that didn’t stop me enjoying this lovely mockumentary with a near perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

The film takes place around a singing competition, ‘Desi Idol’, sponsored by the Loins Of Punjab company. A local news crew is on site shooting a story about the competition. Their presence allows characters to talk directly to the camera, and the captions add some pithy observation. The characters are introduced out in the wild, but then observed at close quarters in the hotel where the competition is based. There is a villain, a hero, romance, drama, tears and laughter. Mostly laughter.

The master of ceremonies is the wonderfully repulsive and Gypsy Kings obsessed Mr Bokade (Jameel Khan). He is horrible yet noble when it counts. He just has no idea, and it is oddly delightful to see his unswerving belief in his own magnetism.

Bokade’s mangled explanation of insiders and outsiders and race relations is pure gold, and somehow it made perfect sense. His bewildered sidekick is the offical representative of the Loin King, the very anxious Mr White (Kunaal Roy Kapur).

Manish Acharya not only directed and co-wrote, he stars. Vikram Tejwani is the nice guy, a sensible businessman whose job has been outsourced to India. He likes to plan ahead, using his time wisely.

He researches film heroes and based on his data believes in the power of Amitabh Bachchan to appeal to all generations and to the judges. Manish Acharya gave Vikram a wry sense of humour that made him really endearing.

Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani) is a struggling actress who decides that it might be easier to trade on her hitherto neglected Indian heritage and make it big in Bollywood. Her knowledge of Hindi is limited to a few phrases learned by rote and some filmi songs. She bluffs her way through and while her mistakes and vulnerability are usually played up for fun, she is a sympathetic character.

Seema Rahmani managed to play an average actress brilliantly, and subtly show the difference between Sania and Sania acting. It was clever and very funny.

Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma) is talented, and overwhelmed by her large family and their expectations. Her parents are ambitious, protective and trot out every old chestnut about ambitious, protective parents.












Quiet and mousy when she isn’t singing, as soon as she takes the stage she lights up. Singing is an escape, and Preeti has the talent – does she have the will? Much of her performance relies on reaction and expression rather than dialogue or fireworks.

Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) is the white boy who loves India. He is naive, idealistic and frankly a bit of a drip. Not only did he ‘find himself’ in India,  he also found love with Opama Menon (Ayesha Dharker). He invented Joga, a ludicrous combination of jogging and yoga that is probably being sold on a cable TV station as I write this, and the couple are out to sell the big idea and make their fortune.

Opama is fond of Josh but not so happy with the negativity she encounters from other Indians when they see her with him. The singing competition brings out her insecurities as she is thrown into an almost all Indian environment and the judgements fly thick and fast. When Opama tells Josh to choose between Joga and music, their relationship is also in the balance.

Josh also has to face up to some aggro as people question whether a potential Desi Idol should in fact be desi. It shakes his rosy notions of being at one with everyone, but is resolved in an appropriately filmi way.

The wild card is Turbanotorious BDG (Ajay Naidu). He is angry, urban and loud and travels with his African-American partner Otto (Kory Bassett). I read a few reviews that described them as ‘best friends’ but I say, based on the loud and proud demands for a queen sized bed and the public handholding and other incidents, they were more than just friends.

Ajay Naidu played it loud and abrasive mostly, but his relationship with Otto and his family showed another side to the character. His response to being judged on appearance or first impressions is in your face aggression. And his insane energy turned the whole show upside down at a crucial point. Lesson to judges – do not even think about eliminating the Turbanotorious BDG! This clip isn’t in the film as such, but it is animated by Nina Paley so that seems very fitting:

I promised a villain and this film delivers. Shabana Azmi is socialite Rrita Kapoor, the shark amongst the minnows.

She is determined to get one up on her rival by winning the competition and donating the winnings to charity. Rrita is polite, elegant, and always has a gleam of malice in her eyes. Her murmured hints and compliments derail the opposition and she cuts a swathe to the final showdown. I always like seeing Shabana in her rare masala film appearances, and she seems to be having a lot of fun as the posionous Rrita. But can a villain ever win in a Bollywood inspired film?

The three judges, played by Samrat Chakrabarti, Sanjiv Jhaveri and  Avantika Akerkar are dead ringers for the washed up and wannabes that infest reality TV. And I must give a special mention to Rani Bansal and Dhruv Singh who played the terrible Eurovision style MCs – they nailed the stilted pointless banter.

Shaan did a special appearance that got him the very special guest chair. I personally would have preferred a seating arrangment that didn’t include electrical wiring. Alexx O’Nell hammed it up as a hotel manager, but the rest of the supporting cast played it more or less straight and suited the fly-on-the-wall style of film.

The easy option would have been to sketch broad outlines and take a few cheap shots. Anuvab Pal and Manish Acharya gave it more love than that and allowed the actors to flesh out the characters. The laughs are all the sweeter for seeing people overcome their pain or sadness. The same jokes often deliver a rebuke for the human race’s apparently endless capacity for stupidity. When Sania and Vikram start stumbling towards romance, they seem genuinely shy and awkward, not just funny. When Turbanotorious BDG is told he is out of the competition, Ajay Naidu looks straight down the barrel of the camera with silent despair. An unassuming man called Saddam Hussein loses his job in the post 9/11 tide of fear and he and his wife struggle with the unfairness of it all. And there is a running gag with a paranoid elderly white man who thinks he has stumbled into a nest of terrorists. There’s commentary but it doesn’t derail the comedy.

The script plays with a lot of Hindi film tropes including the Angry Young Man. In one of my favourite scenes Vikram challenges Bokade who had disqualified Sania (at Rrita’s behest) because she didn’t really speak Hindi. Inspired by the Big B, Vikram launches into an impassioned plea about the diversity and democracy that is India, and when logic fails he appeals to the emotions. Then he caps it off with a bit of a song and dance before meekly resuming his seat. It is glorious!

And that is what I loved about Loins Of Punjab Presents. It takes filmi cliches and stock characters and translates them into something close to real life. There is a feeling of playful affection for the filmi heritage that really worked for me. There is also a bit of a wink, or maybe it was an eyeroll, that saves it from being too sweet for my palate. I’m a cynic who likes a good laugh and this delivers. If only there had been a proper big retro dance number. 4 stars!

PS – if you’re the kind of person who likes to know what happens to your favourite characters after the film, the end credits will make you very happy.


I picked up Madrasapattinam with a little trepidation; after all Indian historical films featuring a cast heavy on English actors don’t usually bode well. But I was pleasantly surprised as, although there are tinges of Lagaan and a few cringe-worthy moments, overall Madrasapattinam fares somewhat better than expected. There is still the issue of almost uniformly ‘evil English’ and ‘good Indian’ characters, meaning most of the supporting cast are very one-dimensional. However the leads give good enough performances that apart from one notable exception, I could ignore the clichés and just enjoy how beautiful the film looks.

The film begins with the elderly Amy Wilkinson determined to return to India and find a man she last saw some 60 years previously. Ostensibly she wants to return a Thali necklace given to her as she feels it does not belong to her. As she is also quite seriously ill she travels with her increasingly whiney and irritatingly useless granddaughter Catherine who is supposed to be looking after her. To aid her search Amy has a photograph she took in 1945 but little else other than a name.

When they arrive in Chennai Amy starts to relive her time in India, when she was the young daughter of the Governor, and this is when the film really comes alive.  The young Amy is picked up at the station by the Commissioner of Police, Robert Ellis (Alexx O’Nell), and straight away he’s my biggest problem with this film. Why does every English bad guy have to be the most evil and despicable person on screen? It’s very obvious from the first time we meet him that this is a man with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever and it’s difficult to keep watching and not just skip his scenes. In my opinion he could have been made much more interesting if he was just thoughtless and greedy rather than consistently evil, but sadly he’s just vile and repulsive and it’s very obvious from the very beginning how he is going to behave throughout the film.

On the trip to the Governor’s residence Amy meets Parithi (Arya) in classic ‘meet the hero’ style since she sees him running to save a donkey from the path of her runaway car. Parithi works as a dhobi and in his spare time he wrestles with local trainer Ayyakanu; a man with an impressive moustache who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty in the ring himself. Added to Partithi’s ability to run, wrestle and save animals is his most perfect feature – he can iron. Naturally Amy falls in love with her ‘brave man’ as he fights against the English plans to build a golf course on the area where the villagers work and live. It becomes a personal vendetta between evil Robert and Parithi as they are both also competing for Amy’s attention and since they are playing by different rules you know that it’s not going to end well.

Amy and Parithi meet each other in secret, and there are some lovely scenes as they struggle to overcome their language barrier. They have an ingenious if somewhat laborious method of communication, as Amy draws pictures on her clothes of where and when they will meet which Parithi then has to launder off. Amy spends much of her time in the village with her camera, and the villagers seem to love her just as much as she loves them. However when Indian Independence finally arrives it means the end of her romance unless she can escape with Parithi. Their plans are naturally foiled by evil Robert who chases them through the Independence celebrations determined that if he can’t marry Amy then no-one will.

The romance between Amy and Parithi is the best part of the film. Amy Jackson is stunningly beautiful and is convincing as a young English girl in the post-war period. She is nicely restrained in her scenes with Parithi, but charmingly natural with Parithi’s sister Selvi and the village children. Arya is excellent as the strong and mostly silent Parithi who is determined not to back down in the face of the English oppression.

There are many genuinely funny scenes which are well integrated into the narrative, and these help the film from getting too bogged down in all the drama of the fight for the village and the seemingly doomed romance. Tension is well build up in the chase scenes although these could have been cut a little without losing too much of the suspense. Cochin Hanifa as the translator Nambi and Nassar as Ayyakanu are the best of the supporting actors but the story revolves around Amy and Partithi and no-one else has an awful lot to do.

The film does look beautiful with well constructed sets which seem to be representative of 1940’s Madras, particularly to someone like me who’s only ever seen the modern version from 1990 onwards. There are one or two instances of rather dodgy CGI but these are fleeting and don’t really disrupt the story so they are ignorable. The end credits feature old pictures of Madras landmarks followed by their current appearance which really was fascinating. One anachronism for me was one of the actors had an apparent artificial eye. While this was possible from the time period, I don’t really think it’s all that likely that a dhobi would have had access to this especially post WWII where prosthesis were a luxury. But that’s just my obsession and I’ll just see how many people spot him.

The modern day scenes are somewhat hampered by an incredibly wooden performance from Lisa Lazarus as Amy’s granddaughter although Carole Trungmar is rather better as the elderly Amy and her periods of abstraction fit her character well. The story is compelling and the final scenes in the present day give a satisfying conclusion. While the soundtrack by G. V. Prakash Kumar is perfectly adequate it doesn’t stand out as particularly memorable. The first song is set in the dhobi village by the river and I’m sure intentionally, is very reminiscent of Ghanana Ghanana Ghir from Lagaan, although in this case they are asking the rain not to come. The rest of the songs have less dancing than I would have preferred but we do get the opportunity to see Arya in an outfit that looks as if he has just escaped from a totally different period film as consolation.

While evil Robert and the standard ‘English opression’ storyline did annoy me in this film, the romance is quite charming and I think the two leads manage to carry the story well. The parts of this film that I like, I really do like very much but the parts that I don’t like, I really do dislike very much. Which means a lot of fast forwarding when rewatching. As far as historical romances go it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen and I give it 3 stars, although one of those is for a hero who can iron!

Temple says: I don’t have the same issue with evil Robert that Heather does. He shouts, snarls, twitches, bullies his underlings, has a pit full of decomposing bodies in his backyard and constructs overly elaborate revenge plans. In short, he’s like almost every other filmi villain. I do have an issue with the atrocious acting by the guy who plays Amy’s father. Distractingly bad. Given to long….pauses. For no reason. And delivered other lines. Like this. Staccato. Caroline Trungmar was not impressive as the older Amy as she seemed catatonic for most of the film but her Titanic inspired role was mostly to sit and look like she was remembering so I may be a bit harsh in my judgement. The tradition of really bad acting by white extras seems to be alive and well and was embraced by many in this cast.  As they were mostly caricatures rather than fully developed characters I don’t know that a more nuanced performance would have been much help. The Indian supporting cast were all pretty good, and Cochin Hanifa is lots of fun as are Parithi’s friends.

I was more distracted by the indeterminate historical period of the costumes and dialogues. As the film starts in 1945, the European costumes are often very wrong indeed and the dialogue sounds as though some of it was lifted from Dickens rather than a comparatively modern family. And the Europeans’ manners at the dance…well.

But the film is really about Parithi and Amy and if you can enjoy their developing love story, then it is a pleasant enough timepass. Arya is excellent as the strong silent type, prone to flexing and ironing. Who could ask for more? Ok well, if you want more, he also wrestles.  Amy Jackson looked more like a footballer’s girlfriend than a 1940s heroine but I think she is one of the least embarrassing gori love interests in an Indian historical film that I have seen. Their interactions are simple and often Amy follows Parithi about as he works, allowing us to observe the villagers life and see the diverse supporting characters in play. They have a nice rapport, and the scenes with Selvi (Parithi’s sister) are genuinely touching.

The look of old Madrasapattinam is very picturesque and the olden days scenes are pretty and dominated by sepia tones that help keep the mood of past times. The modern city of Chennai is a contrast in grey and blue, cold and confusing. This feels very much like a pastiche of Lagaan and Titanic with a dash of Kisna and it is entertaining rather than informative.

I give this 3 stars – for a good looking film, with good looking stars and a positive message that men who iron are heroes.