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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 27th September, retrieved from

Cast: Vinay Virmani, Anupam Kher, Rob Lowe, Camilla Belle, Russell Peters, Noureen DeWulf
Director: Robert Lieberman
Rating: 4 stars
We all know what happens in a feel-good move about a sports team – a bunch of people passionate about a sport (but who suck at it) get together, and the underdog emerges victorious thanks to the coach, a man whose promising career withered away thanks to his tragic flaw – injury, scandal, or ego. But unlike Bend it Like Beckham and Chak de India, this movie’s not about a team of tomboyish girls with short hair, but manly men with long hair. Well, mostly. And no one on the team falls for the coach. Too bad for gay rights.
So, the freshness of the movie rests entirely on the presentation, sub-plot and humour. And Speedy Singhs scores on all three counts. Within the framework of its formula, the story is truly original. Yes, the family does not understand the game or their child’s obsession with it, and things will only change when the Indianness of it all hits them. But the specifically Indian stigma of a son who drops out of college and can’t stick to a job because it bores him is sure to strike a chord with the audience. And in a desi production, no one plays the NRI father trying to hold on to his roots better than Anupam Kher.
However, the clash of cultures and impact of racism do not come across as strands forced into the picture. They seem incidental, part of the fabric of the story. In this particular case, the issue is not so much racism, as perception of the ‘other’. And, for once, the question of identity is not a typical NRI dilemma. Anyone who’s been to school anywhere in the world has witnessed or taken part in the bullying of kids with thick glasses, fat stomachs and/or turbans. The child actor who plays the protagonist’s brother in Speedy Singhs does a wonderful job in his role, transitioning easily from cheery and boisterous to lonely and depressed.
Where humour’s concerned, it plays out like Loins of Punjab Presents meets Delhi Belly, with a side-serving of Harold and Kumar. Russell Peters plays Sonu, the despicable fiancé of Reena (Noureen DeWulf), the cousin of Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani). His run-ins with Rajveer provide for some great repartee. He slips in his regular stand-up routines, complete with exaggerations of racial stereotypes. They’re rather funnier on celluloid because, with actors taking the place of a live audience, the target doesn’t have to grin and bear it. But the wit does not hinge on Peters. The situational comedy and the one-liners, especially the asides in Hindi and Punjabi, will make you double up.
The cast of the movie, largely comprising first-time actors, is well-chosen. The actors are spontaneous, making the dialogues sound natural, and the screenplay facilitates both timing and content delivery. Sample this:
She’s so hot, yaar.
But she’s not your type.
What’s my type?
The impromptu song-and-dance dream sequences make you think, “Whatever the makers of this movie were on when they shot this, I want two of those.” The closing song, featuring Ludacris and Akshay Kumar alongside the rest of the cast, gets you grooving in your seat.
Speedy Singhs makes you well up a couple of times, though you’re cracking up far more often. Some may find the special appearance of Akshay Kumar, and the effect his words in the movie-within-a-movie have on the main character, contrived. But taking into account the glamour Bollywood holds for the desi audience, and the fact that something someone says could well assume significance when you’re looking for a signal, I think it works.
And if none of the above is enough reason for you to go watch Speedy Singhs, try this – chances are that you’ve never seen Anupam Kher knotting up his long hair into a turban before.


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