One of the most charming scenes in one of the most unexpectedly charming films of this year, Vicky Donor, had a Bengali girl humming a few notes of Rabindrasangeet to her Punjabi boyfriend. They are in a car somewhere between Lajpat Nagar and Chittaranjan Park (two south Delhi colonies located near each other in physical space, but traditionally the bastions of very unalike communities), and the scene is an important bonding moment in a romance between two people who come from different universes.
There is an interestingly similar moment near the end of Sameer Sharma’s engaging new movie Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, where a young Punjabi man serenades his lover with a Bangla song in the presence of his startled family, who can’t even make sense of what they are hearing. The scene is sweet and well-intentioned, though it may carry an undertone for those who like to analyse these things: the young man has been presented as effeminate throughout the film — the viewer has even been asked to consider the possibility that he is gay or impotent — and so, this feels just a bit like cultural stereotyping. What justifies it eventually is our knowledge that the film is firmly on the lovers’ side.
Much like Vicky Donor, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana both rides on and occasionally overturns the conventional tropes of “Punjabiyat”. A prodigal-son movie as well as a romanticised tribute to life in rural Punjab, it begins in London, with the cocky Omi Khurana (Kunal Kapoor) falling on the wrong side of a mean gangster and being shipped back to India so he can collect the money to pay off a hefty loan. So far, Omi has been surviving by his wits and smooth charm, sponging off the easily deceived, and this is what he intends to do when he returns to the native village he had “escaped” 10 years earlier. But he finds himself staying on for longer than expected and slowly becoming involved with Harman (Huma Qureshi), a girl from his past, now a resourceful doctor. He also learns that his family is not as well off as they used to be, and that a recipe for a once-legendary dhaba dish called Chicken Khurana must be found for them to recover their past glory.
This is the basic premise of a film that can be seen as a movement towards bringing Omi back to his roots, teaching him about responsibility by reintegrating him into a community. Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana sets out to do this with a determinedly feel-good tone and a highly idealised view of pastoral life. And once you accept these intentions on their own terms, it becomes difficult to nitpick too much about its unwillingness to engage with the less savoury aspects of small-town existence. What is constantly underlined is the merit of being rooted. Even a metrosexual thug who travels to India to threaten Omi remarks that he will stay on for a while and head to his own village: “Bebe ki bahut yaad aa rahi hai.” (“I’m missing my mother.”)
There are jovial nods to the uninhibited bonhomie of Punjabi families, as in a scene where a middle-aged woman blithely discusses men’s “kachcha” sizes, even as most of the household drones buzz around her. The flashbacks to past events in the village — including Omi’s youth — are in soft-focus, as if yearning for a more innocent time, and even the final scene hinges on a rosy view of the idea that you can take a man out of Punjab and turn him into a menacing gangster, but you can never take the colourful good-spiritedness of Punjab out of the man. All this adds up to an allegory for the all-conquering strength of family bonds and human decency – one that is so good-natured you’re happy to ignore the few missteps (the occasional caricaturing, the patches of flippant humour) and endorse it with a hearty “Chak de Phatte”.
Jai Arjun Singh is a Delhi-based writer