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.


When Katherine at Totally Filmi announced Kapoor Khazana, a month long celebration of the Kapoors, I leapt at the chance to write about some of my favourite Shashi Kapoor films. They’re not all that great but they do have a certain watchability and charm, and lend themselves to excessive screencapping in lieu of analysis.

Fakira is not a particularly good film, but it has style, panache and Shashi in a fun jaunt through masala clichés and excellent interior design. Having said it is fun, the first fifteen minutes is a bit bleak.

Fakira opens with young lads Vijay and Ajay forced to stand by and watch their parents die in a blaze caused by rowdies who are trying to cover up evidence. Shortly afterwards the boys are beaten, chased by the evil rowdies and, of course, separated.  They start new lives that will take them on very different journeys, although Vijay still has his friend Popat to hang on to. It’s all quite depressing and badly acted (I cheered each time a kid got slapped) and I think you could safely start the film about fifteen minutes in and not feel the lack. Just make a mental note to keep a lookout for a photo and a significant song. And if you hop in at the fifteen minute mark, you will see this display of Shashi’s driving style:

Vijay grows up to become Fakira (Shashi Kapoor!) – Master of disguise, scourge of smugglers and general ladybait. He has an excellent lair, although I have concerns about fumes from cars driving into the lounge.

Fakira is a Robin Hood, stealing from the thieves, taking a cut and returning honest folks money. Naturally this makes him of considerable interest to both law enforcement (Iftekhar!) and law breakers (everyone else!). In fact, the bad guys also have a stylish approach to lair design right down to the bad mural and a stuffed tiger.

Shashi looks rather fine in this – hair at optimum curl and dishevelment, those eyelashes, tons of fab outfits and a sense of delight that he is getting paid for the dressing up.

He does have a dark side though, scarred by his traumatic childhood and possibly aware the subtitle team are up to their hijinks.

Vijay/Fakira has Popat (Asrani) and Neelam (Aruna Irani) as accomplices, and relies on them as well as his fine array of disguises and stick on moustaches to protect his identity. The supporting cast are all well and truly better than this material but they approach it with a relaxed good humour that makes Fakira so enjoyable to watch. It is the ‘spirit of making do’ in action. Asrani is particularly effective as the nattily dressed sidekick with a sideline in pigeon training and pertinent quotations.

Shabana Azmi is Neeta, daughter of Iftekhar and an undercover policewoman assigned to catch Fakira. She pretends to be an orphan called Geeta and infiltrates Fakira’s lair and heart. I like Shabana in masala films as she seems as tickled by what is going on as I am. Iftekhar’s house is quite stylish for a policeman’s residence, so Fakira’s lair doesn’t seem to impress Neeta as much as it did me. Shabana gets the memorable bed breaking scene with Shashi after they are secretly married (it was an I love you I hate you I love I hate you you lied I love you forgive me I love you too quickie wedding).

Ajay becomes Toofan, the contract killer and all round menace, played by Danny Denzongpa. Toofan is hired by Chimanlal (Madan Puri), the local crimelord, to deal with Fakira. Naturally he discovers the truth, but only after a lot of enjoyable sparring and banter with Fakira. Theirs is the adversarial kind of bromance.

Neelam is in love with Vijay, and his preference for Neeta/Geeta tips her into a foolish alliance with the bad guys. I suspect there were some underlying wardrobe envy issues as Shabana got the good wife sari collection and Aruna was stuck with a puffy sleeved princess pink frock.

Fakira’s sound activated lights are used to great effect when Neelam decides to go the biffo. I know I shouldn’t enjoy a catfight this much but come on … It’s Shabana Azmi in a fight scene. You don’t see that every day.

In the last hour or so the plot turns into a series of things (in no particular order):

So you know, it isn’t a masterpiece but I find it lots of fun. I doubt it would convert anyone to Shashi Kapoor fandom, but I think it’s a good example of vintage masala entertainment. And for those who have wondered what Iftekhar and Danny Denzongpa might look like in a qawwali showdown, Fakira does provide the answer.

It’s worth it for the star cast, the dedication of the set design team and C.P Dixit’s commitment to using every trick in the masala book. 3 stars!