Cheeni Kum has been shot by an ad-film director, and it shows. It would make wonderful watching if it could be broken down into 30 second segments, each viewed independently of others. Unfortunately, the whole turns out to be much lesser than the sum of its brilliant parts. Whoever came up with the title should’ve added, "Plot bhi kum".
Buddhadeb Gupta (Amitabh Bachchan) is a 64-year-old chef-cum-owner of an Indian restaurant in London, obsessed with just 2 things in life: cooking, and the restaurant. To complete the personality, he can be relied upon to be totally dictatorial, highly egotistic, show pangs of jealousy that can make a teenager blush, and come up with a constant stream of irreverent comebacks even at simple harmless questions. So it’s NOT a surprise he’s still single and lives with mom.
Mom is the ebullient Zohra Sehgal, who looks much younger than her 92 years, and whose purpose in life is defined by cooking "Tihar Jail" food for her son, "motivating" him to work out, and watching Sex And The City to keep herself entertained. The other person in his life is "Sexy" (Swini Khara), his 6-year-old neighbour, who’s suffering from cancer, has a penchant to dispense adult wit and wisdom at all times, and is better known as "the director’s failed attempt at maintaining pathos in the story".
Nina Verma (Tabu) is a gorgeous 34-year-old software engineer (Hallelujah!) from Delhi who is visiting a friend in London, and instead falls for the dangerous combination of Amitabh’s wit and insults. The first half of the movie shows Amitabh developing the soft spot for Tabu, after she shows him how "Asli Hyderabadi Zaffrani Biriyani" tastes, and then winning her over with consummate pick-up artistry and "umbrella lending". By the time it is intermission time, they decide to get married.
The conversation between the lead pair is quite attractive in its display of wit and strength of personality, and there are many interesting moments. However, the downside is that the tête à têtes tend to be too smart and too brilliant all the time, and that jars a bit. After all, you eat currants as the dressing on the cake and not the other way round.
The title song "Cheeni Kum" has delightful rhythm, and is catchy, gentle and heartwarming, even when you are listening to it for the first time. While the music by Ilayaraja is generally good, it is surprising that during several segments in the first half of the movie, there is hardly a background score. That, and the bleak London light (captured perfectly), create a slow tempo, when there is a serious need to infuse some lightness into the movie.
Post-intermission is time to introduce some "creative tension" in the form of Paresh Rawal, the 58-year-old father of Tabu, who takes it upon himself as a "post-retirement calling" to remind Amitabh of his age every time the latter tries to break open to him his noble intentions towards his daughter. Paresh is the only person in the movie who finds this legal but uncommon love affair troublesome, and embarks upon some serious Gandhiwadi techniques to bring the nonsense to an end.
How Amitabh thwarts them with his weapon of – none too impressive – nineteen to a dozen logic and iron pillar hugging at Qutub Minar makes for the second part. Not the perfect way to move the story forward, and a drastic shift from pandering to the cerebral pleasure of the urban chic to the sentimentality of the masses, it doesn’t work too well. This is clearly Amitabh’s movie all the way, and you wish Paresh were given a more impressive role to make it a fulfilling ending.
But still, you should watch the movie, because it has been executed with excellent treatment and finish, there is some absolutely brilliant acting from all the central characters, and the conversations and personalities on display are mature and modern like none before. This is a great first movie for Balki as a film director. Moving forward, let’s hope he will reduce the cerebral overload and focus on winning the hearts of the audiences instead.