Sometimes, in between all the crazy movie-viewing projects I seem to be subjecting us to these days, my husband likes to delve into the world of Bollywood. I’ve enjoyed all of the movies we’ve seen so far, although they do get a bit long at times. Still, I love the crazy plots and colorful musical numbers. In the case of Chandni Chowk to China, we throw in kung fu as well, and the end result is a zany movie that is more than the sum of its parts.
Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) is a street-food vendor always on the look-out for a get-rich-quick scheme. He’s under the loving foot of his foster father, Dada (Mithun Chakraborty) and constantly at the mercy of his “friend” Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), who’s always taking advantage of him. When a couple of Chinese peasants arrive in Delhi and approach Sidhu as the reincarnation of local hero Liu Sheuyn, Chopstick tells him that they are merely honoring him, when in fact, they want him to come and rescue their village from the oppressive and deadly rule of the evil Hojo (Chia Hui Liu). Meanwhile, the lovely Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), who just happens to be Sidhu’s dream girl, is also on her way to China to put to rest her long-lost father and twin sister. Will Sidhu find his inner hero, win the girl, and save the village? Well, it’s Bollywood, isn’t it?
So this is a Bollywood/kung fu movie mash-up, produced or distributed or however it works by Warner Brothers. This means that the production value is rather higher than many Bollywood features, but that you still get a ridiculous plot and over-the-top musical numbers, now with more added wire-fu fight scene action! The story is really rather straightforward: perennial loser finds something to fight for and becomes a hero. There’s also missing/believed dead family members reunited and some funny twin mix-up stuff happening. Overall it’s pretty hilarious. I think that in Bollywood, most films contain equal measures of comedy and drama, but I’d assume that Akshay Kumar tends to favor comedic roles. He’s very bumbling and stupid for much of the movie, and comes off like a Sasha Baron Cohen caricature (even looks like him!) Deepika Padukone is, of course, extremely lovely, and almost seemed like too good an actress for the film. As you might have guessed, she pulls double-duty here, and to me did a very credible job of portraying two different women. My favorites were Chopstick and Chiang Kohung (Roger Yuan), an old beggar man who is more than he seems. As secondary players, they could have a good time and really throw themselves into their roles, so they got to be funny (or not) without needing to sell the film; Akshay Kumar, by comparison, needed to work a lot harder to make his somewhat annoying hero someone that audiences could really root for.
In the end, though, we do root for him, after the requisite epic training montage (!!) and awesome fight scenes kick in. Again, I don’t watch a lot of kung fu movies, so I don’t know if the stuff in Chandni Chowk to China is particularly over-the-top, or if they’re all that way. I did like the ways in which otherwise serious fighting was given a comic twist (Sidhu envisions one opponent as a big potato) to keep a little bit of the comedy alive. Because here’s the interesting thing about this movie, as pointed out by my husband: about halfway through, it turns really serious. Sidhu’s been bumbling around and making a mess of things, including a fabulous sequence where he manages to dispatch a small army simply by staggering around drunk, and then suddenly, boom. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the catalyst for the change is pretty dramatic. The entire tone of the movie makes a shift, and even while there are still some funny moments, especially while Sidhu is training, the direction of things has clearly changed, and the film is simply not as light-hearted as it started out. It moves more rapidly at this point as well, toward a predictable but enjoyable conclusion.
Not being a major expert of either genre, I would venture to say that there is probably enough here to satisfy fans of both Bollywood epics and kung fu movies. This was definitely a fun departure for us, and while I’m still not totally sold on the kung fu stuff (all that flying around just seems silly to me; I’d rather watch people do actually amazing things with their bodies), I definitely want to see more Bollywood. If anyone out there knows more about these genres than I do, please make some recommendations, or let me know if I totally missed the point of Chandni Chowk to China! I’d love to gain a little more insight.