Even if Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana was a total washout, it would still have rendered an important public service by highlighting how closely a clean-shaven Kunal Kapoor resembles Anil Kumble. As it happened, Sameer Sharma’s directorial debut was diverting enough to banish thoughts of Jumbo, even if we did find ourselves scanning the horizon from time to time for a Nayan Mongia lookalike.
Omi Khurana (Kapoor), a layabout in London, owes a Punjabi gangster by the name of Shanty a large sum of money. (“Pounds”, the bald, revolver-flashing gentleman insists, “not paise.”) Threatened with an involuntary kidney donation, Omi offers to get it sent down from his home in Punjab. Shanty insists that Omi bring back the money himself – not the most intelligent move, even for a cartoon gangster. But Sharma, who wrote Swades and assisted Aditya Chopra on Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, obviously knows that the emotional impact of a good return trumps logic.
So Omi, now minus beard, reappears in the small town of Lalton. We soon find out why he was so reluctant to return, even with a gangster pointing a gun at him. It transpires that Omi, who was raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died, had chloroformed his grandfather, stolen money and run away from the house years ago. Luckily, his folks are big on forgiveness. There’s only one problem – the family’s restaurant business, which he’d hoped would fund his debt to Shanty, has closed down. The solution, as the movie starts hinting early on, might lie in his now-infirm granddad’s secret recipe for “Chicken Khurana”.
Lalton is not too different a landscape from the one Gurvinder Singh mapped out with unnerving seriousness in Anhey Ghorey Da Daan last year. While Luv Shuv is markedly different from that film – it’s an entertainer, with artistic flourishes kept to the minimum – it does respect, in its own way, the reality of its small-town Punjab setting. Portable radios double up as boomboxes. When there’s a chase sequence, it’s a jeep followed by a scooter followed by an auto. And when Omi wants to meet his childhood friend Harman (Huma Qureshi), he does so in secret, so that people don’t start pointing out that she’s engaged to his younger brother (their impending union, clearly untenable for a bunch of reasons, is the film’s one unnecessary subplot).
Since Luv Shuv is set in the Punjab, not Punjab-via-Delhi, it’s possible that some of the accents will be dismissed as insufficiently authentic. That aside, the cast is winsome and cleverly assembled. Rajesh Sharma is great as the crass uncle, Vinod Nagpal from Hum Log is the grandfather, and Dolly Ahluwalia has a nice cameo as a religious leader who likes to get high. Kapoor downplays Omi’s charm and focuses on his shiftiness, while Qureshi continues, post Gangs of Wasseypur, to work wonders with minimal change of expression. Capping an experimental year for Bollywood music, Amit Trivedi unfurls a mish-mash of guitar riffs, bass-heavy EDM and Punjabi folk. The film’s resolution of its characters’ dilemmas is a bit disingenuous, but Sharma has a knack – again, befitting someone who worked on DDLJ – for the sweetly engineered plot twist.
This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.