Chandni Chowk to China
Busy Images to Disorient Viewers
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone
By Allie Willis
A relentlessly long, tragically plotted, and weirdly befuddled film, Chandi Chowk to China leaves audiences literally sighing with exasperation as more ridiculous threads are weaved (unraveling along the way) into the drawn out Bollywood kung fu-action-comedy-musical. Chandni Chowk to China, with a run time of 154 minutes, begins with a semi-promising plot: a young man named Sidhu, played by the handsome Akshay Kumar, is frustrated with his menial existence as the road side cook of a dilapidated food stall in Chandi Chowk in Deli. Dissatisfied with his way of life and lack of opportunity, Sidhu seeks solace in astrologers, tarot readers, fake fakirs, misshaped potatoes, and a devious conman, Ranvir Shorey’s Chopstick.
When two strangers from China approach Sidhu, claiming him as a reincarnation of the war hero Liu Shengh, and Chopstick maliciously mis-interprets their wishes of vengeance on a diamond smuggling dictator as promises of a better life and exciting future, the progression of the movie quickens. Sidhu, desperate for excitement and easily duped, believes himself to be “The Cool One” and eagerly readies for departure to China. It is during the emotional farewell scene with father figure Dada – played by Bollywood veteran Mithun Chakarovrty – that fleeting relatability is established.
That relatability, however, is diminished as Sidhu stumbles through a series of lucky coincidences, narrowly avoiding danger and death from the vicious smuggler Hojo, played by Gordon Liu. The introduction of model turned actress Deepika Padukone’s characters, Sakhi / Miss Tele Shoppers Media (TSM) and Susie / Meow Meow thickens the already syrupy plot and adds an entire side-story that eventually collides in dually plotted revenge.
Directed by Nikhil Advani, produced by Mukesh Talreja and Rohan Sippy, and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, Chandni Chowk to China is slated to have the widest-ever U.S. release of any Bollywood film. Opening on more than 125 screens in over 50 markets, not including 40 international markets, Chandni Chowk to China may face scrutiny for its stylistic hodgepodge, or perhaps the unique plethora of genres will skyrocket it to global pop stardom. My prediction, however, is the former.
The songs, too far and few between, are inconsistent in style yet catchy. The soundtrack – a decadent fusion of Eastern and Western beats, comical lyrics, and worldly rhythms – is one of the film’s highlights. The fantasy music-video-esque dance scenes are entertainingly random with theme and character, and the choreography is upbeat and complex. The special effects deserve praise for being as cheesy as possible, incorporated in unfortunate spots of the film. The martial arts fight scenes, choreographed by the legendary Heun Chiu-Ku (genius behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill: Vols. 1 and 2) are intricate but unimaginative..
Vengeance, truly, is the only redemptive quality of Chandni Chowk to China and its patience-trying script. A mad-cap journey incorporating family histories, sappy love affairs, personal worth, ceaseless determination, and extraneous plots, Chandni Chowk to China is a melange of culture and language sure to flummox and frustrate the typical American audience.