April issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

The trailer for Total Siyappa, a Punjabi word meaning utter chaos, promises just that — a whole lot of crazy, desi, fun. Inspired by a 2004 Spanish-Argentinian film, Total Siyappa is a cross betweenSeres Queridos (about a family holiday during which everything that can go wrong, does) and Hollywood flick, Meet the Parents, but with a distinct Punjabi flavour.

Set against the backdrop of Pak-India love/hate relations, the movie centres on the dinner that introduces Aman (Ali Zafar), an instantly likeable Pakistani musician, to his Indian journalist fiancé Asha’s (Yami Gautam) totally dysfunctional family, who reside in a posh London flat. Adding to the ensuing chaos is the revelation of Aman’s, so far hidden, Pakistani heritage.

Veteran actress Kirron Kher plays Asha’s stereotypical Punjabi mother, who does everything in her power to maintain sanity in her home. She is introduced to viewers clad in an apron and with a chappal in hand, ready to strike a cockroach that has invaded her kitchen. Sara Khan plays Jiya, Asha’s wild but loving elder sister, who enjoys more than the occasional drink and dance with her sister’s husband-to-be. Separated from her own husband, Jiya lives with her parents and five-year-old daughter, who spends the first half of the movie with a cushion up her shirt informing everyone that she is pregnant. The family also boasts a resident hot-blooded younger brother, who is embroiled in an ongoing tiff with a Pakistani neighbour because of the latter’s love for deafeningly loud music. He spends all his time swearing vengeance against the Pakistani downstairs. There is also the blind grandfather who enjoys playing with dangerous objects (knives and rifles) and, finally, there’s Asha’s father, introduced in the second half of the movie, played by Kirron Kher’s real-life husband and an equally seasoned actor, Anupam Kher. He plays a man suffering from memory loss that is linked to a frozen tin of soup that mysteriously manages to land right on his head, after falling from a great height.

Kirron Kher is great in her role as Asha’s mother and perhaps the movie’s most entertaining moments are those in which she shares screen space with Aman. She reacts to Aman’s increasingly bizarre behaviour as he tries to cope with the madness of Asha’s family: leaving dinner halfway through to polish his shoes, indulging in a private bathroom meeting with Asha’s grandfather and apparently attempting to beat a hasty retreat through the kitchen window. Ali Zafar does an equally admirable job, really getting those expressions bang on, whether confronted by a demanding mother-in-law-to-be or maintaining a diplomatic silence when his Pakistani identity is revealed.

But despite the polished performances by the cast, the movie is let down by a weak script that could have done with a lot more punch. The hilarious trailer, does not live up to its promise, and the truly engaging quips in the film, especially those tossed between Aman and Asha, are too few and far between. We see the stressed-out couple firing a barrage of Indian and Pakistani stereotypes at each other that touch upon everything from RAW, the ISI and Osama bin Laden to Shahid Afridi and the subcontinent’s fatal obsession with emulating the ‘angrez.’ More of this sort of interaction between the characters would definitely have amped up the movie’s appeal. The symbolic depiction of Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ policy as a method of colonising the subcontinent is another example of the movie’s potential which, again, blooms far too late.

Total Siyappa could have been a total winner, but alas, the Indian-Pakistani love-hate story falls far short of expectations.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s April 2014 issue under the headline, “Not a Total Loss.”

Hiba Mahamadi was an Editorial Assistant at Newsline