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Film Review - Cheeni Kum

Simran Thadani

Cheeni Kum
Director: R. Balki
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Tabu, Zohra Sehgal, Paresh Rawal, Swini Khara
Much has been said about the premise of this offbeat, non-Bollywood film, especially since it follows close on the heels of Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd (which saw a married father enter into an affair with a teenaged girl his daughter’s age). I didn’t watch Nishabd, so even the idea of Cheeni Kum, a movie involving a love affair between a 64-year-old man and a 34-year-old woman, made me squirm!

However, the relationship between Amitabh Bachchan – a cantankerous, perfectionist chef who lives with his mother and assiduously avoids going to the gym – and Tabu – a naturally-beautiful Delhiite with a mischievous streak who is on holiday in London – is charming and not at all disturbing.  

Perhaps this is due to advertising guru R. Balki’s light directorial hand. Certainly the film is set in London, which is colored in a blue/grey palette. And certainly the central relationship develops over the pretext of returning an umbrella in the unpredictably-rainy city, which implies getting drenched at any given time. But the playful banter between the protagonists, Nina and Buddha, never stops, right from the time Nina sends Buddha a plate of her own Hyderabadi zaffrani pulao to show him how it’s done. The quick, feisty interactions give the first half of the film a warm, fresh glow reminiscent of puppy love.

In addition, whether or not it has to do with their romance, almost every scene comes across as carefully unstudied. With these two, there is no forcible dancing around trees, nor any cheesy filmi discussions about the normalcy or abnormality of their relationship and how the world will take it. They are comfortable together, they have their reasons for still being single, and it is clear that they will be happy together (there is no “despite their ages” clause). Other laugh-out-loud real-life moments and characters abound: the British waiter who cannot pronounce the items on the restaurant’s Indian menu, the quirky waiter with protruding teeth and a clever double entendre, Buddha’s inability to confess his real age to the woman he is trying to impress (which leads to his removing a few candles from his birthday cake), Buddha’s awkwardness even at his age when it comes to taking the next step, Buddha and Nina’s carnivore/herbivore argument and ensuing nicknames for each other… I am hard-pressed to think of a Hindi film I have enjoyed more for its exploration of both characters and relationship. (Not to mention that the catchy title track plays in the background every time some new spark flies between Buddha and Nina… Perfect accompaniment, and not too sweet!)  

To add to the fun, there is Buddha’s 90-something-year-old mother (the perky Zohra Sehgal), who watches Sex and the City and refuses to take her medicine… And Sexy (Swini Khara), the next-door neighbor, afflicted with leukaemia, who serves as Buddha’s confidante and inquisition panel (although I have to ask, what kind of name is that for an 8-year-old? And how come she got so smart so young?)  

Given the varying ages of the main characters, the moral of the story clearly has to do with how age is immaterial in relationships. The only person who cares, really, is Mr. Varma (Paresh Rawal), Nina’s faux-Gandhian, cricket-obsessed retiree father, who in the second half dominates the action with his resistance to the man whom his daughter wants to marry. This part of the film, set in Delhi, is where the understated story devolves into melodrama, right through to the weepy end at the Qutb Minar. We could have been saved the excessive tears and Varma Sr’s slightly-ridiculous tactics, but the second half is still spot-on in many ways, from the contrasts between its two cities to Nina’s bright Indian clothes to the Varmas’ rooftop barsaati to Buddha’s failed attempts to cook his way into his future father-in-law’s heart.

This lightly-spiced love story is easy to digest. Go watch it!  

Movie buff and freelancer Simran Thadani, 24, hails from Bombay, India. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2005, and will begin a Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

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