Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (LSTCK), another attempted inch moved in the direction of ‘masala’ cinema (literally, this time) by AFKPL, is also a film critic’s worst nightmare. It is the kind of film that promises one thing, generally through its promos and buzz, and delivers something entirely different - much like the sought after chicken recipe, the unofficial hero of the story. The final product, a debut piece of considerable prowess and a keen eye for authenticity, is not bad at all. The problem is - putting aside premature expectations of yet another loud, in-your-face, North-Indian extravaganza (ala Tanu Weds Manu weds food porn) - it is slightly difficult to come to terms with what is served to us: a slow-burning, careful, deliberately underseasoned dish sans the famous white butter and ghee we’re used to, and so badly crave.
On the face of it, the premise is interesting. A missing ingredient of a famous Chicken recipe in a village that loves its food. The founder himself is living his last days, leaving no hope for his once-popular Dhaba. The dysfunctional family is visited by their London-return prodigal son-types, who is back for his own crooked reason that involves a bald Jatt Gangsta waiting for his pounds.
But the way the filmmaker goes about this premise with his writer - concentrating a bit too much on the bland lead character and his predictable coming-of-age-mini-Swades journey - slots this film into the neither-here-nor-there genre. What’s worse is that there is no sincere Shah Rukh to pull it off, which automatically creates the need to focus more on the family’s search for a solution... which never happens.
Casting Kunal Kapoor as Omi, visibly limited in his acting abilities compared to the rest of the stellar cast, as the rootless guy with an awkward accent and indifferent gout is a deliberate, almost ingenious decision, remnant of his good friend, Abhishek Bachchan, in Delhi-6. As expected, though, he stands out like a sore thumb here, in an atmospheric film that attempts to gradually suck the viewer into a sleepy village filled with the usual small-town misfits. After beginning with a rather tacky London nightclub scene, and moving onto this village to establish the Khurana family and their surroundings, one expects things to take off as soon as the glowing Huma Qureshi enters the fold. She carries on effortlessly from where she left off in GoW 1, even managing to stay near-wordless for her first 10 minutes of screentime.
But we waited. And waited. Life went on in the village, with the filmmaker daring to venture far enough to establish routines that don’t involve songs, dance and sex. Promising moments are sprinkled all around, mostly involving eccentric Titu Mama (an electric Rajesh Sharma playing a one-man team) and the ailing, silent Darji (Vinod Nagpal) himself. Convention is broken, and apart from the odd fart here and bhangra there, we gradually learn that Bollywood may have stereotyped an entire region in a prolific two years. Oddly enough, the flashbacks about life before Omi ran away to ‘foreign’, are delicately handled, making us feel generously for the family he once abandoned. Kapoor’s expressionless helps to an extent, accidentally telling us that a drifter doesn’t feel with his heart.
In particular, the scene that involves a young Darji and his dying wife, connects perfectly well with old Vinod Nagpal’s melancholic face as he reminisces about his love without a word. Also, the subtlety with which the tender relationship shared between the son Jeet and a Bengali widow, speaks volumes of director Sharma’s understanding of silence and even overshadows the almost-boring romance between the lead couple.
The editing is a bit jumpy and awkward, especially during the supposedly crucial cooking sequences. Let’s just say that Masterchef Australia fanatics wouldn’t be very impressed. Amit Trivedi’s craftily composed score rescues many strained moments of silence, where script fails to meet execution. But even his music can’t save a lazily-written final 10 minutes, where the entire point of the film is hastily rendered null and void.
All in all, despite some inspired moments of acting by a great ensemble cast, LSTCK leaves us with a feeling that resembles the aftertaste of the 'secret ingredient' eaten raw, not the feeling it arouses when smoked blissfully, as Baba Bhuaji, Dolly Ahluwalia, demonstrates.
- Rahul Desai aka Reel Reptile