Two very diverse ideas are at the core of “Made in China”. The first is about the spirit of entrepreneurship, and the realization that perhaps how one sells something is as crucial if not more than what one is selling. The second is about the need for more openness when it comes to talking about sexual problems. They’re an odd fit, these ideas, but director Mikhil Musale, who has co-written the film, somehow squeeze fits them into a story set in his native Ahmedabad, employing humor, authentic texture, and a solid cast to weather the dense, frequently flabby script.
Raghuvir Mehta (Rajkummar Rao) has been struggling for years to get a business off the ground…any business, actually. He’s tried everything, from selling emu eggs, and square-shaped watermelons, to dodgy roti makers, and Nepali carpets. None have taken off sadly, making him the target of his rich uncle’s barbs. When he reluctantly accompanies his condescending cousin (Sumeet Vyas) to China for an opportunity to meet prospective investors, a chance encounter with a smooth Gujarati businessman (Paresh Rawal) gives him a fresh perspective on marketing, and a meeting with a Chinese aphrodisiac manufacturer convinces him that he’s found what he needs to market.
The film’s first hour is overlong and often confusing.
Too much time is spent on set up. The visit to China yields far too many scenes that add nothing of value to the story, and reinforces all manner of lazy stereotypes like nobody in China speaks English, and the locals will eat anything that moves. The real plot kicks in shortly before intermission when after some persuasion Raghuvir manages to convince irritable sexologist Dr Vardhi (Boman Irani) to get into business with him, offering to help him spread awareness about overcoming sexual problems in exchange for the doctor prescribing the promisingly named stimulant he’s selling – Magic Soup – to men suffering from performance issues.
The film’s strongest bits are the scenes between Raghuvir and the doctor, not least because of the immaculate timing of both Rajkummar and Boman. Modeled after well-known sexologist Dr Watsa, Boman plays the character as a straight-talking senior who doesn’t skirt around the issue, earnestly wishing that Indians would loosen up about sex. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, the doctor accidentally finds himself addressing a gathering that has shown up to listen to a parenting counselor…except that neither he nor his audience is aware of the mix up until later.
There are some charming moments also between Raghuvir and his wife Rukmini (Mouni Roy), who remains his pillar through his rough entrepreneurial journey. She’s a modern, liberated woman, and their relationship is especially refreshing.
Musale, whose last film “Wrong Side Raju” won the National Award for Best Gujarati Film two years ago, roots the characters and the story in an authentic setting, without going overboard with the accents or the stereotypes. The observations about Indians and our attitudes towards sex are also mined for easy laughs.
But the film suffers from an overall problem of clunky writing. A crucial plot strand about the death of a Chinese minister during a visit to Gujarat feels tacked on solely for the purpose of revealing a big twist…which you’ll probably guess beforehand. There is also the issue of secondary characters and their arcs, which just aren’t convincing. Like Gajraj Rao, who plays a motivational speaker whose videos Raghuvir watches and learns from. The truth is that there’s way too much going on in the film, and not all of it impacts the main story, thus amounting to mere fat.
Rajkummar Rao is terrific as the protagonist, alternating between wide-eyed, naïve, and shrewd, as per the scene’s requirement. He turns Raghuvir into an easily relatable young man, imbuing him with an inherent decency that makes it hard not to root for him even when he makes questionable decisions. In Boman Irani, Rajkummar gets a worthy partner to play off; they’re the best things in this confused film.
“Made in China” clocks in at a little over two hours, yet it feels unduly stretched. The film’s message about de-stigmatizing sex is well-intentioned, but like everything else that’s good here, it’s buried under the weight of a far-from-perfect script. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 2.5 / 5