Director: Sachin Yardi

Cast: Abhay Deol, Mithila Palkar, Vijay Raaz

Chopsticks is one of those films that wants to be cheerfully eccentric. Or as the publicity promises us – offbeat and quirky. The ingredients are in place – the leads are a young, timid, working girl in Mumbai who has just bought her first car. A mysterious man who is skilled at both breaking into safes and cooking and likes to be called Artist. A dreaded gangster whose deepest relationship is with Kishore Kumar songs and a goat. Each one of these characters sounds cool enough to deserve their own film. Together they should be magic – right? Wrong.

Director and co-writer Sachin Yardi sets up the plot efficiently – Mithila Palkar is Nirma Sahastrabuddhe – the name inspires several detergent jokes. Nirma is superstitious, bumbling and painfully awkward. She’s a Mandarin language translator and there is a genuinely funny sequence of her taking Chinese tourists through Dharavi. This is the kind of girl who listens to self-help talks. Her mother, who we sadly never meet, advises her to wear a helmet while driving. They also have a family WhatsApp group called Sahastrabuddhe Sundaris – what a masterful alliteration. It made me realize that my family really needs to up our WhatsApp game.

Through her quest for her car, Nirma learns to face life and believe in herself. The trouble is by then we don’t care very much

Nirma buys a shiny red Hyundai car, which gets stolen the same evening. Enter Artist and the goat-loving gangster. Sachin expends a lot of energy building them up – Artist lives in an unoccupied building with no bed but a state-of-the-art kitchen where he rustles up culinary delights. I’m vegetarian and I was admiring the fish that he makes. Meanwhile, the gangster extorts money and prepares his goat for a big fight. The stolen car connects these three disparate individuals. But the humor inherent in this situation flattens out quickly as the film lurches from one preposterous scene to another. At one point, Artist even starts to function as Nirma’s life coach.

Because Chopsticks is also a coming-of-age story. Through her quest for her car, Nirma learns to face life and believe in herself. The trouble is by then we don’t care very much. Sachin and screenplay writer Rahul Awate can’t seem to decide on the film’s essence – so we start with comedy and peppy music but by the end, the tone is darker as the gangster is issuing torture threats. We also get scenes designed to be inspirational, a hint of romance and Hallmark card-level life lessons.

Chopsticks has been shot all over Mumbai – there is a nicely done sequence at the crowded CST railway station but the locations don’t add much to the texture

The actors do what they can – Mithila has a charming presence. Her vulnerability, which comes off as authentic, is endearing but the winsome act gets tiresome because she has little support from the sloppy script. Abhay Deol is saddled with a character who seems like a GQ magazine version of a Mumbai con-man. Vijay Raaz’s droll expressions add some humor but I suspect he can do roles like this in his sleep. Chopsticks has been shot all over Mumbai – there is a nicely done sequence at the crowded CST railway station but the locations don’t add much to the texture. At one point, Nirma and Artist go through narrow lanes and she even asks where they are going. The suspense builds but then they enter a house on a street that seems like it’s easily accessible from an open road so the dots don’t connect.

Chopsticks is being marketed as a Netflix original film – meaning that unlike other films on the platform such as Lust Stories and Love Per Square Foot, this was not acquired. Netflix was involved from the scripting stage. Streaming platforms have no censor restrictions, no need to appease an audience, no obligation to serve the box office and no rules on content except quality.  And the best they could come up with is this? That really gets my goat – sorry but I couldn’t resist!

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