Filmistaan

The kidnapping of an aspiring Bollywood actor by Pakistani terrorists serves as a springboard for cheeky, bittersweet humor and a plea for cross-border brotherhood in first-time director Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan. Above all things, this is a clever ode to popular Hindi cinema whose fans, as Kakkar reminds us, exist everywhere.
 
Sunny Arora (Sharib Hashmi) is what most people would call a ham artiste. He does crazy, exaggerated impressions of movie stars, and can rattle off the lines of just about any film. It doesn’t help him get any acting jobs however. While working as an assistant director for an American film crew shooting a documentary in Rajasthan, a militant group mistakenly captures Sunny instead of the American they were hoping to get their hands on, and bring him to a small Pakistani border village as hostage.
 
It’s here that the film hits its stride.
 
Sunny’s indefatigable spirit and his contagious love for the movies keeps things light and breezy in an otherwise dire scenario. In one of the film’s best scenes, he directs his own ransom video, and bosses around his captors insisting on multiple retakes. On another occasion he saves the day, and wins the affection of the locals, when a screening of Maine Pyar Kiya is almost ruined by poor sound. He makes an unlikely friend in Aftab (Inaamulhaq), a pirate who sells bootlegged DVDs to his Bollywood-obsessed countrymen, and together they plot Sunny’s escape.
 
It’s the scenes between these two men that are most enjoyable in Filmistaan, and both actors do a good job of never turning their parts into caricatures. Hashmi, as the irrepressible Sunny, has terrific timing, and delivers a robust comic performance evocative of Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful. But the film hits a snag in its final act when it slips into clichéd political commentary. A track involving the two militants who’d been babysitting Sunny culminates in an unconvincing finish.
 
Filmistaan works best as a movie about the magic of movies. It’s a celebration of India’s song-and-dance film culture and heightened emotions… one that unites fans in their shared love for this unique art-form. For its sheer inventiveness and for some terrific comic moments, this film is worth a watch. I’m going with three out of five.

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