Film Review: Chandni Chowk To China

Chandani Chowk To China

Directed by: Nikhil Advani

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Mithun Chakraborty, Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Shorey, Roger Yuen and Gordon Liu

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Regular readers to my blog will know how I like to set the atmosphere when reviewing a film. I really want my readers to feel like they are sitting next to me and feel the rage at the loud popcorn cruncher, or more recently the cold in a unheated cinema (see Slumdog Millionaire).  Call it karma or jammy luck but when going to see Chandani Chowk To China, I was lucky enough to go to the European premiere which took place in Leicester Square in London. Surely, I could not find anything at fault here?

Well, the answer is – I didn’t. It was my first ever red carpet premiere and gosh darnit I was going to savour the experience. So the evening kicked off with me meeting my companion  and finding out the premiere was running on Indian time. Nevertheless, after a circut around Leicester Square, as Deepika arrived in a pink dress(?) and cropped faux fur jacket (which was very Shilpa Shetty a la Dhadkan in 2000 – hmmm) we decided to make our way onto the red carpet and into the cinema.

After a long wait and a seat change (yes, they knew we were A-list but the new seats meant we saw the screen better) the premiere kicked off with Nikhil Advani and a head honcho from Warner Brothers giving a speech (which made me smile as the honcho pronounced it as Chaan-Dani Choke) before Deepika came out (but didn’t say anything and kept her coat on -even though it was baking in the cinema). Then cometh the hour, cometh the man, apna Punjab da puttar Akshay Kumar in a white shirt and erm, check golf trousers which I thought were fun, and a great way to attract attention (seeing as I had worn my check pattern Aquascutum jacket).

Akki was very personable, freestyling with the audience and cracking jokes whilst urging us to “leave your mind at home”. I certainly hadn’t brought one with me so there was no worry there – or so I thought. The surprise of the night came when Akki called on Mr Amitabh Bachchan who was in town on a “private trip” (a term henceforth I will be using whenever I board a plane!) and impressed all with an eloquent speech about how he had seen Akki work his way up and bigging up the London crowd for their support for Bollywood. Finally, it was time for the film, as Aks, Mr Bachchan and Deeps made their way to their seat (being blinded in the process by every person in the audience trying to take a photo – and a plethora of i-Phones as well which has put me off getting one).

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So, to erm China. I mean Chandani Chowk To China. CC2C (as all the hep kids are calling it) is about Sidhu (Kumar), a dim witted cook who has bad luck and tries to improve his fortune through quick fixes such as lottery tickets and observing superstitions, only to be scolded and literally ass kicked by Baba (Chakraborty) his guardian. When two Chinese men come to Chandani Chowk, through a misunderstanding engineered by local Feng Shui and Vastru Shastra expert Chopstick (Shorey), they believe Sidhu is the reincarnation of a great warrior Liu Sheng, and will save them from the wicked smuggler Hojo (Liu) who has terrorised their village. In a queue for a visa to China, Sidhu is tricked out of his token by Sakhi (Padukone), a plucky young model who advertises products for teleshoppers and hopes to learn the truth behind the death of her twin sister and parents in China. However, when Sidhu eventually gets to China, all is not what it seems, especially when he learns why the villagers really brought him to China….

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Now, remember how Akshay said leave your mind at home? Well, what if you did and tried really hard to ignore the huge gaping holes in the screenplay and characterisation? Well, I did. I mean when the star of the film is sitting in the same cinema as you, you want to be the first whooper, the first person to clap or laugh out loud (and I was not the only one!) But truth be told, even without my mind, CC2c at best, enjoyable time pass and at worst, like a souffle that has not been cooked properly. The problem is the script that lets down everyone from Chandani Chowk to China to Leicester Square. The action chops and changes more times than Akki cuts sabzi (vegetables) in the film and though there are some moments that work, as a whole, the film doesn’t continually engage its viewer as one would have hoped.

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It’s not all doom and gloom. The kung fu action sequences are very good, with the wires and set pieces shown off to good effect. Similarly, the cinematography and editing are crisp and the Great Wall of China looks amazing on the big screen (though some may worry that heroes and villains alike smash up the wall with relative ease). The songs are a bit of a let down with the title track being the only stand out number and a sequence involving some of Akki’s chartbusters and the one romantic number tagged on to the end of an action scene and then mercilessly chopped after one verse but nevertheless, they fill in time as the non existent screenplay plods along.

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In terms of performances, Mithun Chakraborty is again wasted after Heroes, doing a role he could do with his eyes closed. It is a real shame he is not utilised as he could have given the film the backbone it desperately needs. Ranvir Shorey is good as Chopstick and actually manages to salvage something from his character, despite its limitations. The Chinese cast are also very good in their roles, Gordon Liu is suitably menacing as Hojo, showing no mercy and Roger Yuan impresses with his command of Hindi (though my companion insisted it was dubbed!) I have to be honest, I am not a Deepika fan but even I will admit, she is not bad in her double role, performing her modelling/action duties faithfully. However, I didn’t feel she had much chemistry with Akshay and seemed to be more concerned with showing off different shades of lipstick (from mocha to strawberry for her Indian character and a Memoirs Of A Geisha look for her Chinese role) than performing. Still, this won’t count against her and will no doubt be loved by her fans.

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So you are probably thinking why should even bother watching this film? One reason – Mr Akshay Kumar. His energy and comic timing are very good and even the most awkward of sequences are bearable when Akki is on screen. He also handles the action scenes and emotional scenes with aplomb and plays the character of Sidhu really well. He is let down by poor characterisation and the erratic pace which doesn’t allow us to care for him as deeply as we should. Yes we laugh at him and with him but the character needs far more depth for us to really connect with the film. But I must say, that with this film, for me at least, Akshay used up a lot of the goodwill from Singh Is King and I really hope he does show us something different now – that he is king of the comedy/action genre is undisputed – but its now time to up his game and move on before he becomes a caricature of himself. My advice to Akki? Script Is King!

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Whilst watching CC2C, 2 films kept coming to mind – Drona and Singh Is King. The former on paper was a brilliant idea, poorly executed and I felt the same applied here. The makers had everything at their disposal in this film plus the unique opportunity to combine kung fu and Bollywood glamour together but the film doesn’t realise its premise and in the few moments it does, this is by accident rather than design. That brings me onto Singh Is King  that was also a no-brainer but it did have hit numbers and more than just a slick publicity blitz to sustain it at the box office. How CC2C will fare in the long run is anyone’s guess –  I think it will definitely open well and appeal to the same audience who loved Singh Is King.  Apparently,not only have Warner Bros signed a three film deal but the end of this film, we get told it will be continued, possibly in Africa which raises hopes that maybe they may get it right second time around or god forbid give us more of the same.

Sitting in the premiere with many people who would not normally see a Bollywood film, I did wish in a way this had not been their first film. In that environment, the film was enjoyable but I think in a quiet cinema with an audience that was not star struck, I think those people may have even have been put off Bollywood, which is a shame as this was only a glimmer of what a good out and out commercial Hindi film is like.

For me, I will always remember this film as my first premiere so I don’t think I can hate CC2C – it was an amazing night and a good experience, its just a shame that the film didn’t wow me as much as the setting. Let’s hope my next premiere delivers on both counts!

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