What does “Kung Fu comedy” remind you of? This writer has had limited exposure to the genre, but Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung immediately come to mind.
Montage: Eye make-up was crucial for Padukone’s look; Gordon Liu plays the villain; and Kumar patiently rehearsed his stunts.
As do fights and fisticuffs involving somersaults and missed targets, and nunchaku-wielding heroes having to fight tennis racquet-wielding anti-heroes. In Carry on Pickpocket, a Kung Fu comedy from the early 1980s, the legendary Hung plays a thief named Rice Pot. In a nightclub scene, Hung does a Charlie Chaplin, using breadsticks in his hands and wearing a frumpy Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, and goes on to beat up a group of clubbers. Then there’s Chan, the popular emblem of the genre, with cult classics such as Shanghai Noon, Project A andDragons Forever to his credit. Chan and Hung emerged in the post-Bruce Lee era when tacky rip-offs of the original Kung Fu star began to plague screens. Chan and gang gave fans fun action that was refreshingly devoid of any Lee hangover.
Kung Fu comedies no longer really thrive in China or Hong Kong, but in Bollywood, the entertaining and kitschy hybrid genre has got new life with this week’s release Chandni Chowk to China. Produced by Rohan Sippy and directed by Nikhil Advani, the first big release of 2009 has Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone in the lead roles, and is the first Indian film to be shot in China. The crew filmed at The Great Wall, the outskirts of Beijing, the Science and Technology Museum in Shanghai and the famous Hengdian World Studios in Zhejiang province, before moving to Thailand to wrap up.
The story, of course, begins in old Delhi. Sidhu (Kumar) desperately wants to escape his life as a lowly kitchen assistant at a Chandni Chowk restaurant, where his job is to cut vegetables. He visits fakirs and astrologers, and dreams of getting away. Salvation arrives in the form of two Chinese men who believe that he is the reincarnation of a war hero and whisk him away to China. Sidhu fantasizes about women, wine and the good life, not realizing that he is being taken to a village to fight the smuggler Hojo (played by Gordon Liu). He manages to escape Hojo’s first few moves by sheer luck, but is then groomed to take him on by a Kung Fu master. Along the way, he meets Sakhi (Padukone), who happens to be there to pay homage to the land of her birth, and that of her dead father and her twin. Padukone also plays the role of an Indian girl, whose identity is revealed later.
Chandni Chowk to China is a film with big stakes. It comes soon after the success of Ghajini, the worldwide box office figures of which touched Rs200 crore in the first week of January. According to Neeraj Goswami, director, sales, Warner Bros. Entertainment India, around 1,400 prints of the film are being distributed in at least 50 cities worldwide. “It’s the usual big release formula,” he says. “We’re going all out,” he says.
Sippy first tossed the idea around with his associate, writer Sridhar Raghavan, in 2006. “The biggest challenge was that it should not come across as a ‘Bollywood Kung Fu film’. We didn’t want the genre to feel alien. There was no attempt to Bollywoodize it,” Sippy says. His favourite Kung Fu flicks are Shaolin Soccer (2001), Kung Fu Hustle (2004), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Enter the Dragon (1973).
Once they decided on a Kung Fu comedy and China as the major location, both went to China on two recce trips where they met Dee Dee Ku, the action director from Hong Kong, who had worked on Kung Fu Hustle, The Matrix, Kill Bill and some Jet Li films. Nikhil Advani, director of Salaam-E-Ishq, was signed on as director in 2007.
Filming in China had its share of hurdles. Chinese authorities insisted on reading the final script, and on knowing beforehand how China was going to be portrayed. There are two major Chinese actors in the film—Gordon Liu and Roger Yuan. “The idea was to go beyond the ‘ching-ching-choo’ image of Chinese people that exists in our movies,” Sippy says.
Once filming began, Kumar had the toughest job. He was trained by Dee Dee, an action director as known for improvising on the sets as for the arduous and time-consuming training he makes his actors undergo before filming. On a telephone call from Hong Kong, Dee Dee said, “Initially I had problems because of the language. It took time to break the ice with Akshay, too, but because he already had a solid base in martial arts, he could appreciate the preciseness of Chinese martial arts. He was patient.” Dee Dee’s biggest challenge was directing an action sequence to a song, and he says he can’t wait to see how that turned out.
The other big adventure was fabricating two different looks for Padukone, executed by stylist Jaimal and make-up artist Mallika Bhatt. They debated over a tape-around-the-eyes technique to prop up the lid, ways to achieve the right complexion, black leather suits for the action sequences and ways to make the hair look flatter.
In this ambitious attempt, expect to see the magic of Kumar’s agility as we’ve not seen it before, lush, sweeping locales of China, and comedy like we’ve seen in some classic Kung Fu films.
Chandni Chowk to China released in theatres on 16 January