Rajma Chawal is inoffensive enough, but it’s undermined by tacked-on romance, too much contrivance, and lacklustre performances.
After debuting at the Mumbai and London film festivals, arriving on Netflix today is Leena Yadav’s new romantic comedy Rajma Chawal, a simple and relatively inoffensive film pitched pretty clearly at a youngish audience who’re in the market for broad comedy and won’t think too much about the story’s contrivances.
That story concerns Kabir (Anirudh Tanwar), a young emo musician type who detests his father, Raj Mathur (Rishi Kapoor), blaming him both for the death of his beloved mother and their subsequent move to the slum-like Old Delhi, where a colourful cast of his father’s old friends form a gracious and supportive community. In an attempt to communicate with Kabir, Raj sets up a fake Facebook account under the name of “Tara” – finding pictures of a good-looking girl online – and essentially catfishes him, to not-so-hilarious results.
As a concept, I’ll concede that while this is silly, it’s mostly fine. The idea of a sulky teenager retreating into their smartphone is hardly far-fetched, and I can accept that a desperate, dopey parent might consider digital avenues as the only means by which to connect with an otherwise unresponsive son. (Especially a mopey one who is somewhat predictably in a band.) But when Kabir just so happens to bump into the real Tara in a highly convenient coincidence (Rajma Chawal seems to enjoy such things very much) the nonsense threatens to become overwhelming.
The real Tara’s name is Seher (Amyra Dastur), and after being content to spend quite a while being about Kabir and his father, Rajma Chawal suddenly becomes about Kabir and Seher, and promptly gets bogged down. The emotion never rings true and feels rushed, and not even the usual joyous song and dance number does much to elevate it. Decent enough cinematography and editing help, but consistently half-arsed performances, weird characterisation and perplexingly poor sound mixing don’t. There’s a cultural specificity here that is sure to be enjoyed by some, but while Old Delhi rings true enough, the people who populate it never quite manage to.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.