Made In China movie review: Rajkummar Rao conjures up a certain whimsy, but in a half-done film
Made In China fails to hit the bull's eye because it sorely needed an evening out of pace and tone, depth of characterisation and detailing in the plotline.
castRajkummar Rao, Boman Irani, Mouni Roy, Sumeet Vyas, Amyra Dastur, Gajraj Rao, Manoj Joshi, Abhishek Banerjee, Paresh Rawal
Rating: 2 stars
For a country that is virtually a baby producing machine, we are oddly hesitant to talk about sex outside our bedrooms, and there too, very often not.
It took Hindi filmdom several decades to evolve beyond showing flowers and birds nudging each other in parks as a stand-in for human couples. But in the past 10-plus years, there has been a gradual attitudinal shift as Bollywood has finally acknowledged that girls and boys take off their undergarments while, err, doing the deed (Pyaar Ke Side Effects, 2006), that some couples need sperm donors to help them conceive (Vicky Donor, 2012), that erectile dysfunction is a thing (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, 2017), women menstruate (Padman, 2018), women masturbate (Veere Di Wedding, 2018), sexual dysfunction and venereal disease are a thing too (Khandaani Shafakhana, 2019). Who knew Bollywood had it in them?
The latest in the tiny trickle of Hindi films with a plot pivoted on sex and sexuality is the Rajkummar Rao-starrer Made In China, based on the book of the same name by Parinda Joshi. Rao here plays a Gujarati youngster forever on the lookout for a new business idea. Raghuveer Mehta's entrepreneurial efforts keep flopping, but he remains undeterred. Then one day in China, he receives a proposal to market an aphrodisiac in India. The catch is that its main ingredient is illegal.
Revise that: Raghu's primary challenge in this matter turns out not to be that he has to sell in the grey market, but that his product occupies a grey market in the Indian mindspace where taboo subjects are stashed away. This calls for ingenuity on his part and leads to some comical and occasionally bizzare situations.
Before the film gets to Raghu's business experiments though, there is a death. That, in fact, is how Made In China begins: there is a death in Gujarat and the prime suspects are Raghu and his business partner, the sexologist Dr Vardhi played by Boman Irani.
From the start, it is evident that director Mikhil Musale is aiming at being a thriller with a message and a certain whimsy. He gets his look and feel right with the aid of some atmospheric production design, cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan's moody, low-lit frames, boisterous songs and a particularly memorable, ominous zithery background sound that brings to mind buzzing insects.
There are places at which the narrative gets funny too. Very very funny. A scene in which Dr Vardhi gives a sex talk to a conference of adults who were expecting something else is an absolute hoot without once resorting to icky or immature double entendre. But considering that Rao and Irani are in fine fettle here, Made In China surprisingly feels at all times like a film that is about to lift off but never quite takes flight.
A large part of this is due to the tonal and logical inconsistency in the narrative. There is, for instance, no explanation for Raghu's cheery attitude during his interrogation by the investigating authorities, an off-kilter element that particularly impacts Made In China because it is a running thread throughout the film.
There is no explanation either for why Raghu hides his latest business from his wife with whom we are led to believe he has a close and non-traditional relationship. As evidence of this, they have been shown swilling alcohol together, sharing a cigarette (both points are very high on Bollywood's list of Things Liberal Women Do) and discussing her orgasms. She also supports him unflinchingly in the face of his family's contempt for his many failures. Yet somehow he is too ashamed to tell her that he is producing and peddling an aphrodisiac, and her reaction when she learns the truth ends up justifying his fears. If this is meant to be a comment on the superficiality of contemporary liberalism, it is not convincing.
Made In China also drags in long stretches. When Rao and Irani are not together on screen, the storytelling lacks spark, which is disappointing considering that the supporting cast is full of actors with proven talent. Even an overly-made-up, forever-dressed-to-the-nines Mouni Roy as Raghu's wife Rukmani brings a certain panache to her performance, but how convincing can an actor be when her lavish wardrobe and perfect face distract so completely from her claims of financial struggles?
At one point, Raghu gathers this wisdom from a character played by Paresh Rawal who ends up being his business guru: "The customer is a ch*****," says the man. The epithet is muted but since it is heard as often as prepositions and conjunctions on the streets of north India, it is understood that viewers know the word he repeatedly mouths and Raghu dutifully echoes - that's part of the joke, of course. It is tempting to play on their vocabulary and accuse Musale of making a ch***** of his audience, but that would be off the mark because there is an interesting concept somewhere in this film that has been lost in execution.
Made In China fails to hit the bull's eye because it sorely needed an evening out of pace and tone, depth of characterisation and detailing in the plotline. The best thing about it are Rao and Irani who are a pleasure to watch even in this middling affair.
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