An Indian wannabe thesp discovers Pakistani hospitality when he’s kidnapped by Muslim terrorists in “Filmistaan,” a thoroughly enjoyable laffer that manages the unusual feat of weaving an ode to cinema into a hostage drama. Although the film wears its utopian ideals on its sleeve, helmer Nitin Kakkar leavens the political content with an absurdist sense of humor and a heartwarming turn of events. Packed with culturally specific references that may be lost on auds outside the subcontinent, the pic will require careful marketing to avoid falling through the considerable cracks between arthouse fare and Bollywood extravaganza.
Chubby, ebullient protag Sunny (Sharib Hashmi) is introduced with an energetic montage of hammy auditions, his thesping aspirations as lofty as his casting chances are dim. To pay the bills, he becomes assistant director for an American film crew shooting a documentary on “infiltration” in Rajisthan, near the Indian-Pakistani border. A band of Muslim terrorists led by Mehmood (Kumud Mishra) decides to kidnap the Americans to Pakistan, but they mistakenly capture Sunny instead.
Unsure of what to do with someone who’s “worth a sparrow’s fart” to the Indian government, they occupy a hamlet and leave Sunny in the custody of its inhabitants. Sunny strikes up a friendship with the sons of the village head (Sanjay Mehta): 10-year-old Mehtaab (Tushar Jha, soulful) and Aftab (Inaamulhaq, cocky), who sells pirated Bollywood DVDs along the heavily armed frontier.
The pic’s comic timing isn’t always on target, due to Kakkar’s loose scripting and erratic pacing. But the film effectively and wryly treats cinema as first an icebreaker, enabling the villagers to warm to Sunny, and then as the lingua franca by which nations can transcend their differences.
Played with irrepressible verve by Hashmi, the rambunctious and perversely optimistic Sunny makes a lovable film buffoon, especially in a rib-tickling scene in which he provides spontaneous dubbing for a classic Bollywood film, or when he directs his own ransom video and bosses his captors around by insisting on countless retakes.
As the third act approaches, the helmer’s vision of cultural fraternity between India and Pakistan (expressed through songs, food and a shared passion for cricket) leads to some overblown action and preachy dialogue, and the friendship between Sunny and closet cinephile Aftab becomes improbably sentimental. It’s a drawback as well that even though the villagers’ goodwill flows more abundantly the longer Sunny stays, the dour and sanctimonious Mehmood remains a one-dimensional ideologue.
Tech credits are uneven, especially Subranshu Das’ lensing, which features majestic wide shots of arid, sun-streaked landscapes, but is less impressive indoors. Music boasts an eclectic and infectious mix of folk songs and Bollywood classics.