I watched "Cheeni Kum" the other day. I found it refreshing. None of that melodrama where the guy or girl doesn't express his/her feelings to either their parents or the object of their affection, and mercifully, no aerobic gyrations by scantily clad gals and guys on the streets of London. A story about love that can happen at any age without being apologetic for it. A story that does not have sugary sweet parent-child emotions where the kids “obey” their parents and parents mouth philosophical dialogues straight out of Ramanand Sagar’s mythological serials.
Amitabh Bachchan plays Buddhadev Gupta – a chef with an acerbic tongue that does not even spare his own aged mother, an ego, attitude and a passion for his work all related to each other and single at 64. Yes, never been married! He owns a restaurant called "Spice6" in London, of which he is also the head chef, considering the culinary practice a work of art.
Tabu plays Nina Verma – a 34-year-old single, lovely lady, who’s visiting London and as fate would have it, walks right into Buddhadev’s restaurant and his life.
They meet when Nina sends back a plate of Hyderabadi zafrani pulav that is too sweet for her palate and Buddhadev comes to the table and unleashes his ire and ego at her. She leaves but not without sending him hand-cooked authentic zafrani pulav soon, thereby humbling the otherwise cocky restaurant owner cum head chef. Their romance unfolds slowly with Nina being classy and bold at the same time. Not for her the coy, come-hither-but-stay-away-from-me confusing signals typically sent out by our heroines. By the way, our heroines are saying out loud what is in their heart, be it a Kajol in “Fanaa”, or Rani Mukherjee in “Hum Tum”. The background score by Ilaiyaraja as well as the one or two songs are superb, understated but mellifluous and creating the mood for the romance.
Another endearing part about the movie is when Buddhadev and Nina have a small disagreement over the perennial vegetarian/non-vegetarian issue. They are sitting at this seaside café/restaurant out in the open. Nina orders a fish dish and Buddhadev orders vegetarian pasta. When Nina asks him how he manages to eat “ghaaspoos” (grass – the term used to tease vegetarians with), he launches into an ardent speech about how the fish that she is eating are being missed by their relatives.. something that I, as a vegetarian, can identify with. They end up calling each other “ghaaspoos” and “tangdi kabab” (a meat dish).
The measure of how far our cinema has come when it comes to matters of a sexual nature is illustrated not by passionate lovemaking scenes but by cheeky, double-entendre scenes:
Nina asks Buddhadev to do a sprint towards a tree and back to check whether he has the stamina to do something beyond just holding hands. And then, there is Buddhadev, covered in awkwardness as he attempts to buy a condom at the local pharmacy owned by an Indian sardar. If I were him, I would sneak off to a local, white-manned department store, where I could pick up the said item anonymously. But, it just shows how taboo having a sex life at 60+ still is, for some Indians.
The “Meet the Father of the Bride” session is totally whacky with Paresh Rawal essaying the part of Nina’s father, a self-confessed Gandhian, who indulges in some non-Gandhian practices, such as consuming chicken and the occasional social whiskey. He launches into a “satyagraha” without food or drink when he hears from Buddhadev in the loo of a hotel, that he wishes to marry his daughter. The daughter does not bow to emotional pressure either. Some of the dialogues will be pretty hard to stomach – such as Nina asking her father when he is planning to die as he says that he would not allow Nina to marry Buddhadev as long as he is alive. But, it is not that Nina does not care about her father. She rushes to Delhi from London when her dear papa is sick and sits by his side through most of his self-imposed hunger strike, trying to win his approval. But, seriously, this part is what made the movie drag on and on.
Finally, all’s well that ends well.
Zohra Sehgal as the aged but spirited mother of Buddhadev, who revels in “Sex and the City” (gosh, she, too!) and “WWF” on the flat screen TV in Buddhadev's sprawling London home, is a delight to watch. She should get more meaty roles.
Swini Khara as the young, precocious cancer patient, who wants to watch adult DVDs before she dies as she is not going to live to see them, does a great job, too, leaving her mark even in a side role.
Amitabh and Tabu play their parts to perfection. Amitabh probably never had it this good even in his youthful heyday. He is like a bottle of wine that tastes better as it ages. As for Tabu, her long silky straight hair, radiant face and traditional salwar kameezes, kurta-and-jeans attire, add a luster and sexiness to her, even without revealing costumes.
Paresh Rawal is hilarious, as usual.
Finally, a round of applause for the debutant director,
Balakrishnan. He deserves to be commended for this work. More power to less-shrill dialogues, less loud humour.
All in all, a sweet movie, without the dripping, sickly sugary-sweetness of most of our romantic movies. Truly, “kum cheeni” (less sugar)!