Nikhil Advani, director of Bollywood weepie KAL HO NAA HO, and love story, SALAAM-E-ISHQ, returned in early 2009 with a glossy, US-backed, Bollywood love-story-comedy-martial arts flick called CHANDI CHOWK TO CHINA. A vehicle for ageing comedy hero Akshay Kumar, and up-coming actress Deepika Padukone, the movie is there to show us that Bollywood can do wire-fu too.
The plot is simple - too simple for a 150 minute film. Kumar plays his standard rough and ready hero with a heart of gold. He's a poor cook with bad luck. But all that changes when some Chinese people believe him to be the reincarnation of an old Chinese hero, who should return to their village and defeat the gangster who is controlling their lives. On the way, Kumar's character meets an Indian model who is also on her way to China, where her twin sister is now working for the aforementioned gangster. Naturally (!) the hero learns that all those years dicing potatoes were, "wax on, wax off" styl-ee, the perfect training to be a martial arts legend.
The problem with this film - as in most modern Bollywood films - is that the concept, the songs, and the look - are more important to the film-makers than the actual story. Indeed, I am not surprised in the least to know that the film's teaser poster - Akshay Kumar in a Chinese outfit - was the inspiration for the storyline, rather than the other way around. The sets are glossy, the martial arts lean heavily on CGI and wire-fu, the songs (Shankar Mahadevan) are forgettable, and I'm starting to become really embarrassed for Hollywood stars who ape rappers and MTV videos.
Overall, in the whole 150 minutes the only real fun I had was in two scenes. In the first, the hero finds "the face of hanuman" in a potato and people start worshipping it - great satire. In the second, the heroine attaches a dance-gadget to the heroes legs, and Kumar does a little skit ape-ing Bollywood hits of the past. Kumar is good at physical comedy. He's less convincing as an action hero. He should leave the wire-fu to Hrithik Roshan. I am deeply unconvinced by Padukone's talent.
CHANDI CHOWK TO CHINA was released in January 2009 and is available on DVD.