Eric Roth

Lively romantic comedy follows a diverse group of characters hoping to realize their dreams through a singing competition.

Lively romantic comedy “Loins of Punjab Presents” follows a diverse group of characters hoping to realize their dreams through a “Desi Idol” singing competition. Unfolding in New York and New Jersey, debuting helmer Manish Acharya’s witty send-up of non-resident Indians and reality gameshows plays like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, replete with fake interviews and day-by-day reportage. However, underneath the hilarity are more serious notions, including issues of belonging and self-image. Already released in India to more-than-respectable biz, pic could score with crossover auds in the U.S. and U.K with careful marketing.

Competitors for the $25,000 prize — sponsored by the title pork-loin company — are introduced in short segs with wry captions. They include meek high schooler Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma), who rarely speaks because her large Gujarati family is always telling her what to do (“Voted most likely to ask for a mercy killing”), and wannabe actress Sania Rahman (Seema Rahmani), who can’t get cast because she’s not ethnic enough (“Aspiring Indian”).

They’re joined by foul-mouthed, gay bhangra rapper Turbanotorious BDG (Ajay Naidu); scheming socialite Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi); futures analyst Vikram Tejwani (director Acharya), whose job has just been outsourced to India; and joga (a mix of jogging and yoga) inventor Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi), a nice Jewish guy who loves all things Indian, especially g.f. Opama (Ayesha Dharker).

Over three days in a New Jersey hotel, the competitors and their loved ones meet, greet, audition, fight and flirt while vulgar event producer Bokade (Jameel Khan) gets stinking drunk and makes a pass at one of the judges. Wealthy Long Island matron Rrita is so determined to win that she starts to bribe the jury and other contestants. Competition sequence contains some suspenseful twists and a (literally) rousing finale.

Cast against type, arthouse vet Azmi turns in a deliciously wicked perf while Dharker (“Outsourced”) again brings nuance to a woman involved in a cross-cultural romance. Director Acharya deserves kudos for his statistics-quoting nerd, made human by his burgeoning love for Sania. Rest of the delightful ensemble finds a balance between satire and believability, and displays excellent comic timing.

Polished tech package belies the fact that pic is Acharya’s NYU graduation piece.

Loins of Punjab Presents

India

Production

A Horn OK Please Entertainment production. (International sales: Horn OK Please, Mumbai.) Produced, directed by Manish Acharya. Screenplay, Anuvab Pal, Acharya.

Crew

Camera (color), Arvind Kannabiran; editor, Christopher Dillon; music, Michael Cohen; production designers, Rohit Shinkre, Ayesha Punvani; costume designer, Rabiah Troncelliti; sound (Dolby SRD); sound designer, Nakul Kamte; associate producer, Kaarthik Kirubhakaran; assistant director, Lakshmipriya Devi; casting, Pravin. Reviewed at Dubai Film Festival (A Celebration of Indian Cinema), Dec. 13, 2007. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Shabana Azmi, Ajay Naidu, Ayesha Dharker, Seema Rahmani, Darshan Jariwala, Loveleen Mishra, Ishitta Sharma, Jameel Khan, Kunaal Roy Kapur, Michael Raimondi, Kory Bassett, Manish Acharya. (English, Hindi dialogue)
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