Director: Debamitra Biswal
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Athiya Shetty, Vibha Chhibber
Duration: 2 Hrs 15 mins

I’m wary of Hindi films that open with a grainy aerial shot of a middle-Indian town. You can almost sense that the budget didn’t factor in a decent drone camera for the establishing shots. You wonder if craft will be a priority at all. All sorts of premonitions run through my mind: What if I don’t hear Ayushmann Khurrana’s voice in the next frame? What if a small-town Bollywood movie starring someone other than Khurrana tries to be all cute and quirky and authentic and preachy? What if the dialect is so alienating that I zone out by the 18th minute? It’s considerably more ominous when a film is named Motichoor Chaknachoor – titles and title fonts are important, they’re indicative of the sensibilities to be expected from the rest of the film. This one appears in cartoonish letters with loud sound cues, as if to say: Harebrained comedy, don’t bother looking for more. Just short of leave your brains at home.

But this can also be an ingenious way to lower a viewer’s expectations so drastically that any sign of clean filmmaking then comes as a pleasant surprise. Motichoor Chaknachoor is one such not-bad – and sometimes half-decent – film that stays refreshingly honest to its surroundings. It does open with that grainy shot. And it does feature Athiya Shetty playing that bubbly trash-talking belle who breaks out into unevenly broken English and eats spicy paanipuris and rejects rishtas for a living. And it does have someone as talented as Nawazuddin Siddiqui doing something as basic as an awkward talking-to-himself routine so that the audience knows exactly what a soup the hero is in. At one point he just chokes on his food and excuses himself from the table, almost as if the actor were excusing himself from a mismatched genre.

The first hour of the film features all of those stereotypes – a noisy Bhopal locality, two motor-mouthed families, plenty of aunts and uncles and soft-spoken fathers bullied by over-dramatic mothers. It takes too long and attempts too much texture-quirk to establish Anita (Shetty) as a girl looking for an NRI groom that will whisk her away to a foreign country, and Pushpinder (Siddiqui) as her simple mid-30s neighbour who is on leave from his Dubai job in search of a bride. Basically she is a wanderlust gold digger and he is desperate to abandon the bachelor life. Naturally, he is her ticket abroad and she is his ticket to marital izzat. The makers spend the entire first half of the film to arrive at this point. Some of it is tedious. But some of it is bearable, thanks to Siddiqui’s penchant for “body acting” – a brand of comedy in which an actor unsuited to a particular role elevates the genre by coolly parodying it. He uses our perception of “serious Nawaz” very well, in how he reacts to people or gets a jump scare or beats up his brother with a slipper. In turn, we react to Nawaz acting against type rather than Pushpinder being feeble and funny. He knows that he doesn’t have the accent or the gait, but there’s a physical self-awareness that compensates for the technical flaws. He has fun with the new language, proving that dramatic actors taking to light-hearted comedy can be just as effective as comedians attempting a dramatic role. 

Athiya Shetty is quite convincing as this “spunky” girl – the inbuilt glamour may cripple her in a cast full of seasoned performers, but as in the case of a young Sonam Kapoor in Delhi 6, it’s the tone of the attitude that she understands better.

The second half is where Motichoor Chaknachoor acquires an identity of its own. The flimsiness is done, and the couple has no choice but to confront each other’s selfish intentions. The drama here isn’t heavy-handed. Pushpinder and Anita have to deal with not just their own hypocrisy but also the spatial tensions of a joint family. Over the years, we’ve gotten so used to the quintessential middle-North-Indian Hindi film existing for a purpose – to carry a message, to address a social stigma – that it’s fairly nice to see ordinary characters striving to achieve ordinary goals instead of life-altering awakenings. There is no other agenda to this story. Girl and boy have to find a middle ground, and nothing but personality clashes and domestic politics will have to be dealt with.

The film is well aware that this is a regressive region, and it operates within the frame of their cultural limitations. For instance, early on the difference in height – a short hero, a tall heroine – is addressed by him as a joke, but the film doesn’t make this the theme. The obvious difference in age – he is 36, she is 22 – is mentioned, but only as a passing joke. The difference in skin colour – he is dark, she is fair – is addressed too, but again the film does not obsess about this easy template. The furthest the film goes is by defining his noble character as someone who refuses dowry. Even though his mother is supposed to be a “villain” because she measures her son’s worth in terms of money, nobody really is a villain – they’re all flawed, frustrated people trying to make the best of what they have instead of striving for the moon. One of the issues addressed is the homesickness of working abroad. Another is the momma’s-boy syndrome. Average problems, average people. At one point, we see the two unable to locate each other across both houses after a fight – so many rooms, entries, exits, verandahs. It becomes ridiculous; they keep missing one another. Almost as if the film is good-naturedly spoofing the complicated spatial dynamics of the Great Indian Middle-Class Movie.

Athiya Shetty is quite convincing as this “spunky” girl – the inbuilt glamour may cripple her in a cast full of seasoned performers, but as in the case of a young Sonam Kapoor in Delhi 6, it’s the tone of the attitude that she understands better. I also like the controlled chaos of both the households. Credit for this goes to the supporting cast, especially veteran Vibha Chibber as his mother and the charming Karuna Pandey as her unmarried aunt. None of them act for the camera or dialogue beats or background score in the studious second hour; they react to one another.

There’s no reason for a film to exist only to correct society. Some choose to do so because perhaps they aren’t confident enough of the modestness found in the stories and lives and milieu of the locations they cover. They invent the extraordinary to make the ordinary more aspirational. Fortunately, films like this one remind us that not every tweet needs to be woke and self-conscious to gain more followers; not every script needs to be a statement. Some Tweets can just be a reflection of the fingers that type them. And some movies, an image of not needing a definitive image.

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