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Loins of Punjab Presents

4 stars out of five

Reviewed at the 2008 Vancouver International Film Festival
A lighter shade of brown

Director Manish Acharya (who also co-wrote with Anuvab Pal and appears as Vikram Tejwani—an American resident who finds his livelihood as a number cruncher outsourced to India) has done the world a great favour by using the mighty tool of humour to poke apart racial profiling and reality shows in a manner that will have ingrained bigots squirming on his satirical points before dashing to the exits to resume their ignorance-is-bliss existence.

The set-up is a Desi (“of the homeland”) Idol singing contest held in New Jersey over the space of one weekend where judges whittle down the field to 10 semi-finalists and two finalists before the studio audience chooses the $25,000 winner employing the old-fashioned applause meter. This event is the public relations brainchild of the hugely successful meat processing company Loins of Punjab (whose owner, of course, is The Loin King) and a lecherous/bribe-taking producer Mr Bokade (hilariously brought to shady life by Jameel Khan—don’t miss the bed dry-humping sequence witnessed mouth-wide-open by the expectant hotel manager as he’s giving the hostelry pre-tour).

The troupe of contestants provide the creative team enough fodder to tackle nearly every cultural/societal issue in the universe. Sania Rahman (Seema Rahmani) a “not Indian enough” actor pretends to understand Hindi but ends up on the short side of a nuance of language and temporarily disqualified from the semis; queer rapper Turbanotorius B.D.G. (played loose and loud by Ajay Naidu) has a tears-in-your-eyes funny check-in as he and his cucumber-eating boyfriend scold the innkeeper for running out of queens (er, beds) and being offered a pair of twins: how will they navigate the crack?

The Patel family (who travel as a herd, sporting identical T-shirts with their relative positions stencilled on the back) have come to cheer-on and overprotect Preeti—the seventeen-year-old songbird hopes to win the loot and lose her domineering parents. But first she must overcome the wily Rrita Kapoor (veteran Shabana Azmi plays the win-at-any-cost villain with delectable skill) and—incredibly—the magnificent pipes of a Jew.

Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) is currently bedding Opama Menon (given a warm treatment from Outsourced star Ayesha Dharker—cross-reference below) and seems to have a hard-on for all things Indian. This irony is key to the yuks and social commentary as the “foreigner” is chided by American-Indian citizens who are officially aliens in their own country. It takes more than a few songs to break down the reverse racism and hear the slogan “we’re brown but fair.”

Along the journey, Acharya uses an aging couple (they’ve won the chance to see the entire competition) of white-bread seniors to call in the FBI whenever they feel that “you people” might be planning another terrorist attack. Tellingly (and way over the top, but “Hey – it’s a comedy!”) there’s a contestant whose name happens to be Saddam Hussein—that allows the notion of guilt by association to fuel another round of uncomfortable (for the employers in the house) truth.

The weak link is the judges. They cavort too easily with the contestants (couldn’t happen in real life) afterhours and the few chuckles produced only serve to diminish the rest of the production’s zingers and insights into cultural identity of a land almost completely populated by immigrants (the indigenous massacres clearly weren’t as successful as hoped).

Still, there’s more than enough entertainment and self deprecation to fill theatres everywhere and, through the magic of transference, realize that all of us—at one time or another—are in the same boat. JWR

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Director/Producer - Manish Acharya
Cinematography - Arvind Kannabiran
Original Music - Michael Cohen
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