Producer Rohan Sippy believes Indian audiences have a sense of humour. And he’s hoping we can see how funny we are.
Sippy’s new film, The President is Coming, is based on a popular play by scriptwriter Anuvab Pal that was inspired by George Bush’s 2006 visit to the subcontinent, when the US president was keen to meet young Indians.
“Yesterday I met with some Indian CEOs and American CEOs, kind of the old folks. Today I’m meeting with the CEOs of tomorrow, the people that are going to help drive this great engine of economic prosperity for India—for the good of the world, is how I view it,” Bush told a group of students at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad during that trip.
In the film, six young Indians must compete for the chance to shake hands with Bush. So, there’s enough room for everybody’s favourite funny stereotype.
Contest this: The fun poster.
There’s the spoilt SoBo (South Bombay) brat who runs a cosmetics company funded by her daddy (“I help transform ugly women into like me”); the Gujarati investor, Kapil Dev, who can’t stop quoting his broker (“My broker says I get nervous during lunchtime”) and who believes the capital of the US is the Dow Jones; the slick American returned who’s teaching call centre wannabes to acquire an American twang at the country’s leading accent training academy; the geek who swears by Pythagoras and Cosmopolitan magazine; the Hindu right-winger who is on Shaadi.com and believes minorities and divorced women should not be allowed to contest (“You’re a narrow-minded chauvinist who hates people from different cultural backgrounds,” one contestant tells him. “But that is just like Bush,” he replies). And, my favourite, the divorced Bengali author-intellectual, played by Konkona Sen Sharma, who delivers the funniest lines with a deadpan expression.
Sen Sharma is Maya Roy, an English literature graduate from St Stephen’s College whose first novel about the hopes of an Assamese tribal midget community was nominated for the Crossword Book Award and who thinks her prose rivals Hemingway’s. “I’ve read some American novels. I like Hemingway. I think my novel is like Hemingway with a better beginning...and middle and end,” she says when the six young people are exchanging introductions.
Maybe I think she’s the funniest character because she’s furthest from the Mumbai I grew up in. And hey, all SoBo girls aren’t so silly, Mr Sippy. But that’s precisely the strength of this film; it’s a home-grown urban comedy where the jokes centre around the everyday weirdness of India and Indians. “Everyone has their cultural touchstones,” says Sippy.
Besides parodying the six contestants, the film spoofs the Americans right from the president (“The president wants a young Indian”) to his secret service agents to the US ambassador (played by funny man Paul Knox) and the officials at Mumbai’s US consulate. And, of course, it makes fun of the softest target of them all—the media. It’s easy enough to make cracks about the media circus that usually shadows a big-ticket visitor such as Bush. So we have those Bush-was-here-he-ate-this moments too. And in the midst of all this comic mayhem, the film-makers have spliced actual footage of the president’s 2006 visit.
Sippy’s hoping the multiplex film, made on a shoestring budget and due to be released in big cities and college towns such as Pune, will appeal to the youth. “Younger college-going audiences don’t have that many options for fun movies,” he says. “If this film clicks, it opens the chance to do lots of other stuff.”
Konkona Sen Sharma woos the two judges.
There’s no reason for the youth (and for some of us older folks) not to like it. It has trendy music by bands such as Pentagram and LA-based Goldspot (they want to work more with Bollywood, says Sippy). Many of the film’s crew is fresh out of college. Director Kunaal Roy Kapur, a theatreperson-turned-screen actor (catch him in the forthcoming Delhi Belly with Aamir Khan and Imran Khan) who directed the play version too, is a stand-up comedian himself.
Besides, if you minus the two Munnabhai movies and stray releases such as Hera Pheri, Bheja Fry and Loins of Punjab (which was also co-written by Anuvab Pal), urban Indian audiences haven’t had much to laugh about in recent years.
The President is Coming will release on Friday.