A charming little treat of a film, Chintuji, written and directed by Ranjit Kapur, is a clever satire that stars Rishi Kapoor as an exaggerated version of himself.
The action unfolds in a fictional Indian small-town named Hadbahedi whose locals discover that Rishi Kapoor the movie-star was born on their soil 55 years ago. Hoping to draw some attention from the state and receive adequate facilities like 24-hour electricity supply, the townsfolk of Hadbahedi invite the actor to visit his birthplace. Currently contemplating an entry into politics, Rishi Kapoor accepts the invitation, optimistic that Hadbahedi could well be the constituency to stand from.
Brash and spoilt and unaccustomed to life in a small town, the actor turns the place upside down with his incessant unreasonable demands, even as the locals pull out all stops to make his stay with them comfortable.
When an accident leaves him injured and unable to travel back home, the harried producer of his incomplete film decides to show up with his unit and complete the actor's remaining scenes in Hadbahedi itself. Meanwhile, he finds himself seduced by a lucrative offer from a political broker representing the rival town that Hadbahedi has always competed with for resources and recognition.
Held together by a sharp screenplay that throws up some pleasant surprises, Chintuji is light and easy and enjoyable for the most part, barring an unnecessary subplot involving a journalist with a mysterious past (played by Priyanshu Chatterjee), who the townsfolk have accepted into their fold. Also quite redundant is the love track between this journalist and the feisty young PR executive (played by television actress Kulraj Randhawa) who's accompanied the actor on his visit.
The film works because it's intelligent and uncompromising, and because it's simultaneously serious and light, without ever trying too hard to be either. It's packed with delicious little scenes and moments that will have you chuckling pretty much the moment you settle into your seat. One of my favourite scenes in the film is the one in which a Bengali doctor who arrives to treat the injured star, pulls out a script he's written himself, which he subsequently narrates in agonising detail, complete with impromptu rendition of duet songs in both male and female voices. Another ingenious stroke is that item song (filmed on Sophie Chaudhary) whose lyrics are basically the names of leading international filmmakers.
Writer-director Ranjit Kapur has a keen eye for the real, which is apparent in his subtle characterisation of the simpleton locals, his accurate representation of the B-movie industry, and his scathing comment on the fickle nature of celebrity.
Chintuji wouldn't be half the film it is if it weren't for the abundant charm and sheer lack of inhibition by its principal actor, Rishi Kapoor who sportingly participates in this self-parody, leaving no stone unturned in creating a lovable, loathable, and ultimately memorable character. It's hard to imagine another actor pull off such an unselfconscious performance with such ease.
The film falters in its second half when the screenplay deviates from the central premise and crams in too much emotional indulgence including a purely gratuitous appearance by a Russian co-star of the actor's late father Raj Kapoor from Mera Naam Joker. Even the climatic scenes in which the actor realises the error of his ways is cheesy to say the least.
Despite its flaws however, it's warm and engaging in the end, and far superior to the similarly themed Billu Barber. Watch it because good films are hard to come by. I'm going with three out of five for writer-director Ranjit Kapur's Chintuji; give it a chance, you'll come out smiling.
Rating: 3/5 (Good)