Appellate Judge Tom Becker has the loins of a Jagger...make that "jaguar."
For 72 hours, armed with a song, seven strangers are going to war.
"Caste, age, sex no bar."
Facts of the Case
The Loins of Punjab corporation—the largest supplier of pork loins on the East Coast!—is sponsoring a talent contest. Called "Desi Idol," and bearing no relation to any other talent contest (particularly not any talent contest with the word "Idol" in its name), it's open to South Asians across America, although its New Hillville, New Jersey, location has pretty well limited it to folks from the Garden and Empire states. The prize is $25,000, and the only real rule: Contestants must sing Hindi music.
As dozens—not the "millions" promised by the organizer, Mr. Bokade (Jameel Khan)—descend on the New Hillville hotel to audition and participate, a few hopefuls stand out: the social-climbing Rrita Kapoor from Long Island (Shabana Azmi), who wants to win the money and donate it to charity to show up a friend; defensive—and offensive—Indian rapper Turbanotorious B.D.G. (Ajay Naidu), whose street tough temper is much bigger than his talent; 17-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma), whose devoted family is more than a little stifling; Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani), an aspiring actress who keeps losing roles because she's not "Indian enough"; Vikram Tejawni (Manish Acharya, who also directed), a well-intended, slightly lonely, and recently unemployed man (his job was outsourced to India); and Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi), who's not Indian, but feels a spiritual connection to the country.
Each is in there to win it—and more than one is happy to bend the rules, if necessary.
Like a Bollywood film, Loins of Punjab Presents is a cool mix of genres: mockumentary, musical, romcom, traditional comedy, and drama. This is a funny, knowing, and affectionate little film.
Director Manish Acharya, making his feature debut, starts the film out as a mockumentary, with some characters directly addressing the camera. He soon abandons this, though, keeping the low-budget mock/doc look but dispensing with the business of the characters always being aware that they're being filmed. While initially it makes the presentation seem a bit ragged and underthought, in the long run, and the film is better for it. Characters still address the camera at random moments, but by not confining himself strictly to the format, we are allowed more intimate scenes that wouldn't have worked if a fictitious camera and crew had been involved.
Acharya plays with stereotypes and conventions to sometimes hilarious effect. The overbearing Patel family—who argue whether Preeti will be a doctor or an engineer, without asking her what she wants—shows up en masse at the contest, all wearing shirts that say "Preeti Patel is #1" on the front, and their relationship to her (uncle, cousin, brother) on the back. An elderly couple confuses Indians with Arabs and keeps watch for "terrorist activities," becoming particularly concerned when Turbanotorious B.D.G. talks about "da bomb." The open-faced, innocent Josh Cohen, who loves all things India, finds himself the curious target of oppression as the only non-South Asian in attendance.
As with any good Bollywood film, Loins of Punjab Presents is filled with music. Some of this—the audition sequences, in particular—is played for laughs, with aspiring Desi Idols pulling out all stops to impress the sometimes stupefied judges. But once we get to the competition, we get some really nice interpretations of traditional and pop Hindi music, all performed in Hindi (remember the rules).
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Shabana Azmi particularly good as the haughty and determined socialite Rrita Kapoor. A long-time leading lady in India, Azmi brings considerable presence and star power to her role. As the bombastic rapper, Ajay Naidu brings considerable energy to the film; his "outlaw" performance is a highlight. Seema Rahmani nails her role as an unsuccessful New York City actress, and Jameel Khan steals every scene he's in as the slightly grotesque but still recognizable Mr. Bokade.
IndiePix gives us this film a solid release. The transfer is overall very good, maintaining the DIY, low-budget documentary look of this low-budget film. Audio is solid, though between the accents and the incidental music, dialogue occasionally gets lost. Subtitles would have been a great addition here; sadly, they are not to be found.
While films like The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, and Paranormal Activity are getting releases that are a tad thin in the extras department, Loins of Punjab Presents gets a jam-packed, two-disc, special-edition style package. The first disc gives us the film along with a pair of audio commentaries, one with Archarya and co-writer Anuyab Pal, the other with Archarya and film critics Rajeev Masand and Mayank Shekhar. Disc Two starts with a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes—"Below the Loins: The Serious Business of Making a Funny Film" and "Fly on the Wall: Sights and Sounds of a Shoot"—along with a few-second joke shot involving Turbanotorious B.D.G. ("Da Bomb"). Next up, we get a pair of fun, informal interviews, one with Acharya, the other with Azmi. In addition, we get some deleted scenes, music videos from Naidu, two of Acharya's student films, and a trailer.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Loins of Punjab Presents. Genuinely funny, perceptive, and touching, it's well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.
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