|Luv & Chickens|
First-time director Sameer Sharma makes just this one explicit reference to DDLJ, meeting what I presume is the minimum legal requirement for films set in Punjab. But by setting this story in a world in which DDLJ exists, he can use what we think we already know about this story to take the tale in a different direction.
|Omi in Hell|
Then a Punjabi heavy shows up and demands that Omi repay him many thousands of pounds, to which Omi responds by scarpering off to Punjab, that yellow-flowered agricultural paradise known to every Hindi-film fan. There, Omi assures the heavy, his family runs a famous eatery and will certainly give him the money.
Omi's home region is as postcard-pretty as it appears in DDLJ, but sly references, such as a painted-clay “Jatt Airways” model plane instead of a revenue-generating shot of an actual jet, suggest that Sharma enjoys reminding us that we're in a fantasy land. But it's certainly not Omi's fantasy to be there--his dream was to be a big shot in London, and he is neither happy to be home nor confident he's heading into a big welcome.
As it happens, Omi doesn't have to face a reckoning with Darji, who has Alzheimer's and can't remember a thing—not even the recipe for Chicken Khurana, which means that the “famous eatery” is shuttered and the family broke. Omi's aunt and uncle, who raised him, are pleased to see him, though the uncle remains justifiably wary. Cousin Jeet (Rahul Bhagga) seems genuinely delighted at the wanderer's return in spite of the fact that Omi blinded him in one eye in a shooting accident years earlier. Titu Mama, the uncle who may or may not be crazy, is the only openly hostile member of the household.
|The prodigal returns|
Omi quickly proves that his powers of empathy aren't aroused by the lack of a family fortune to wheedle or embezzle. In one hilarious bit, he snoops in Jeet's office safe, accidentally setting off the music and flashing lights of the small battery-operated deity stored inside. It's not cleverness or trickery that keeps his relatives from finding out how little the prodigal cares about their welfare; it's sheer luck. But Harman, the girl Omi abandoned for London and has not called once in the dozen years he's been gone, is onto him. Harman is now engaged to Jeet. Both of them seem indifferent to the impending wedding, but she's still in no mood to forgive Omi for ditching her. When Harman is asked to change the bandage on Omi's bloodied nose (she's a doctor now), she glares straight into his eyes while ripping the dressing off his wound as brutally as possible. (Huma Qureshi is totally believable when making men weep—here she is chastising Nawazuddin Siddiqui for daring to hold her hand in Gangs of Wasseypur.)
|Don't mess with Huma Qureshi.|
And what about those gangsters—the plot device that has sent both film and Omi back to Punjab, where their seemingly cynical hearts still lie? At first, the bad guys make solving the culinary mystery a matter of some urgency for Omi (and they also providing a rationale for the plotline that earned Luv Shuv its billing as "India's first food movie"), but Omi's search for the secret Chicken Khurana recipe gradually becomes more quixotic and relaxed before heading off in an unexpected direction. Finally, the movie finds its Punjabi groove and lets go of any suggestion that anything terrible might be about to happen. There is a final confrontation, but nobody else gets shot or beaten**.
This is a far sweeter film than DDLJ to me, since it omits all the irritating which-man-gets-to-own-Kajol macho posturing; and it's funnier, since the jokes are often at the expense of people who need to be taken down a peg instead of at the expense of a very sheltered young woman. But I'd argue that it's more romantic, too. Perhaps it's because the love stories here are, like me, a little more wearied and worn—from the torch Darji still carries for his late wife when he can remember nothing else, to the rekindled old flame between Omi as he starts to wise up and Harman as she starts to thaw, and finally to the moment when Darji recognizes Omi and speaks of how he's missed his prodigal grandson. Punjab ends up being home for Omi because it meets Robert Frost's definition: the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
And all of this plus another great score by one of my two favorite current music directors, Amit Trivedi. Maybe the song below isn't quite as ringtone-friendly as "Tujhe Dekha To," but I can vouch for both its awesomeness and for its power as an earworm:
Happy 100 years of Indian cinema!! I like the direction things are going at the moment.
*By this point in Luv Shuv, Omi has already endured the only beating he'll get in the film; personally, I appreciate getting this out of the way early on. I know, but do not understand why, many audiences in India in the 1990s loved to see a last-reel pummeling of Shahrukh, by the end of which he was invariably weeping and stammering, covered with blood and snot, but still standing and thus apparently worthy of getting the girl. Feel free to leave comments explaining this phenomenon to me.
**As Beth Loves Bollywood says, "You know exactly what will happen. You never know what might happen." Exactly.