Daboo Malik, K.C. Loy
Sohail Khan, Imran, Henna, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Aasif Sheikh, Mona Ambegaonkar,
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
It's the ultimate colonial revenge. The clean righteous brawny boy from Amritsar beats the Anglo-Saxon skinhead in London to a battered and bellowing pulp.
It's a moment of heightened catharsis not only for the petrified and persecuted Asians who egg on the human antidote to Briton's bullying brigade, but also for us moviegoers who always like to see the strong, silent, seething superhero deliver a blow-by-blow comeuppance.
The gory end of the white man is a truly clever finale.
Villains in Hindi movie are invariably from outside - sleazeballs from Dubai and Bihar. Now, producer Sohail Khan takes us to England to see what ails the noble Asian community there.
Skinheads! Bald pated, scowling, mean racists who hound affable Saradrjis and their pregnant wives to their deaths. For the benefit of the viewer in Amritsar and Patna there's a convenient voiceover each time the Brit villains spew venom on the cowering Asians.
Unlike "Anita & Me" and other NRI films about the diaspora, where references to racism were so muted that they almost seemed apologetic, "I: Proud To Be An Indian" knows exactly who its target audience is, and how to hold on to its interest to the last dying drop....and thud.
"I.." is a very clever and mordant script which turns a crucial migrants' problem into what the Brits would call a jolly good yarn. In minting the masala element in the story, debutant director Puneet Sira never for a second, lapses into the ludicrous or the maudlin.
Welcome to the other kind of NRI cinema. Unlike Aditya Chopra's "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" and the other posh films about Indians abroad, this one dares to step into the slush without mincing words. Wincing words, there are aplenty.
Says I (that's what Sohail Khan calls himself in the film) to his new Pakistani friend Aslam (Imran): "We made the mistake of falling into the British trap by dividing India into two. Now let's not fall into their divide-and-rule trap again."
Migratory paranoia? Trap crap? Perhaps. But in its own way, this brave and engrossing story makes a pitch for India-Pakistan relations - not just the smacking lip service that the Indian boy provides to his Pakistani girlfriend Noor (Henna) in the privacy of her brother's gym.
Sira tells the migrant's tale with a great deal of kinetic energy which never spills over into an overflow of fireworks until the end, when the narration acquires the unapologetic texture of a climatic battle between the bully and the hero.
The earlier sequences showing the Indians' encounters with skinheads are eerily crafted. Sira never goes overboard. With the help of some expert background music by Monty Sharma of "Devdas" fame, the director puts forward the hapless immigrants' fearful journey into a foreign land in a likeable blend of authenticity and dramatic licence.
In an author-backed title role, Sohail Khan gets more than just brawny points. His interpretation of the Punjabi boy's ire at the racism (the last time we saw how middleclass Indians lived abroad was in Rishi Kapoor's "Aa Ab Laut Chalen") doesn't require a demoniacal display of histrionics. But it does require a sense of controlled anger, reminicent of Sunny Deol in his best films.
The trademark Khan smile notwithstanding. Sohail proves himself to be more than just a chip off the Salman block.
The other watchable performance comes from ever-dependable Kulbhushan Kharbanda as Sohail's father. The sequence where after being roughed by skinheads, Kharbanda sobs in the bathtub brings a goosebumpy feeling to the taut drama.
But the rest of the cast remains largely shadowy. The Pakistani side could've been better represented. Imran, with his absolutely credible English twang who plays Sohail's Pakistani buddy, dies a sudden death...not symbolic of India-Pakistan ties?
Apart from an aimless stretch after the intermission, "I: Proud To Be An Indian" holds our attention from the petrifying prologue to the cathartic conclusion. Yes, it's bloodied brutal and violent at times. But it pulls no punches, makes no damaging digressions. Nor does it get cutely romantic or unnecessarily songful.
Technically plush, the sound mixing and the dubbing of all the voices - including the snarling skinheads - is flawlessly credible. Dev Verma's cinematography captures London without getting glamour-struck. This is the first mainstream Hindi film to go to England without taking us sightseeing! How the Thames has changed!
When the savage skinhead Cain (Tim Lawrence) bashes up Sohail there were a few shouts of "Call Salman!" in the theatre. Also, some people think Sohail is too fair to look authentically opposed to the white skins
So is this film worth a view? I, I, Sir!
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