January 3, 2015: So meta it’s menacing

Julie M:  Happy New Year!  Trying to catch up on some films missed over the last couple of years.  Let’s start with Filmistaan (2013), which is one of those films, like Khosla ka Ghosla, that is “small” and you have high hopes for, but unlike KKG, Filmistaan ultimately disappoints.  Here’s the trailer; unfortunately, it is without English subtitles.

The plot is intriguing: Sunny (Sharib Hashmi) is a film buff and wanna-be Bollywood actor, but he is too dark, dumpy and graceless for the hero roles he craves and not nearly talented enough for the character roles his looks might suit. He scrapes a living by doing assistant director work, and on such a job for a documentary film in Rajasthan near the Pakistan border he is mistakenly kidnapped (they were trying for one of the Americans on the crew) and dragged across the border to a tiny village controlled by the menacing gang.  This song sums up the action so far.

Held until the gang figures out how to capture their real target, he befriends Aftab (Inaamulhaq), the owner of the house in whose living room he is imprisoned. Aftab makes his living by smuggling pirated Bollywood movies into Pakistan and selling them on the black market, since they are banned in the country–this makes him a pariah in the village, but a necessary one, because he keeps the police supplied and in turn they ignore the gang’s criminal activity. The two discover their mutual passion and bemoan the fate that tore their region apart when the two peoples are virtually identical in language and customs.

Out of friendship Aftab decides to help Sunny escape, and they try various filmi-style scams on their jailers Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) and Jawaad (Gopal Dutt).

The plot has numerous comic possibilities, only a few of which are attempted. One of the more successful ones is when Sunny fascinates the village by supplying the dialogues when the sound goes out on a screening of Maine Pyaar Kiya. Another hilarious moment is when Sunny ends up directing his own ransom video when his captors discover they don’t know how to operate the camera they have borrowed to make it. There are numerous film allusions–frequently in conversation Sunny or Aftab will start a famous line and the other will finish it–which for a film aficionados is ticklishly funny, and the bond between the two characters is well developed and heartwarming.  Unfortunately, these moments are too far between, and much screen time is taken up heavily promoting the moral of the film–that the enmity between India and Pakistan is ridiculous and destructive–delivered in earnest speeches at various points by Sunny or Aftab.  The escape scams aren’t mined nearly enough for either their satiric, comic or dramatic opportunities, and so fall flat. As an independent film it is done well, but like most independent films it hits its message too heavily (particularly in the second half, which drags) and forgets that, as a movie about the binding power of entertainment, it too must entertain.

Verdict: B-.

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