You may or may not know that a film called Chintu ji is playing at a theatre near you this week. It has released with minimal marketing and no marquee names, except for Rishi Kapoor who plays the lead.
But don’t let this lack of fanfare dissuade you. Chintu ji is an unassuming and delightful film that will keep you smiling long after you’ve left the theatre.
Written and directed by theatre director Ranjit Kapoor, Chintu ji is a part-factual, part-fictional story set in a small town called Hadbahedi. This is a Utopian town with no cell phones, one weekly newspaper and half an airport.
But everyone lives in harmony because they follow the path of truth, non-violence and always listen to their hearts.
Hadbahedi’s only claim to fame is that Raj Kapoor happened to be visiting when his wife Krishna went into labour and therefore Rishi Kapoor, also known as Chintu, was born there.
The kindly citizens of Hadbahedi invite the actor to the town. The arrogant, insufferably spoilt, past-his-prime actor, who now wants to make a foray into politics, accepts.
What follows is a superbly funny culture clash that becomes an insightful exploration of stardom in India, the relationship between God-like stars and their audience and the hollowness that exists behind the larger-than-life image.
Ranjit, whose best work includes the dialogue of Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, creates a satire with heart. There are moments of absolute genius here, including one in which a Bengali doctor treating Chintu ji after he has had a fall, insists on narrating his script to the actor who merely gets drunk and passes out.
The film industry isn’t spared either. Saurabh Shukla plays a harried filmmaker who shifts shooting to Hadbahedi only so he can finish quickly. When an actor asks him the motivation for a particular scene, the filmmaker replies, "Actor ka ek hi motivation hota hai, money".
There’s also a power-broker, tellingly named Amar Sanghvi who persuades Chintu to come to the rival town Triphala by handing the actor a check of one crore. At which point, Chintu ji requests, "Please TDS mat katna".
Chintu ji of course wouldn’t exist if Rishi Kapoor did not have the courage to play this frankly unattractive version of himself. Rishi plays the greedy, narcissistic actor to perfection.
The supporting players - Saurabh Shukla, Grusha Kapoor and an elderly actress who plays the mid-wife who delivered Chintu - are also very good.
Chintu ji doesn’t have craft or technical finesse. In parts, it is wobbly and theatrical. The romantic track, which has a patched on sub-plot about the Parliament shooting, doesn’t work.
But Chintu ji is a film with heart and an inspired strain of lunacy.
In the second half, the filmmaker shoots an item song with his cast dressed as tribals. The film he is shooting is called Khooni Khazana but the song is a long list of the world’s best filmmakers: so names like Tarantino, Vittorio de Sica, Visconti, Mizoguchi have been set to music. It’s deliciously mad.
I’m going with three and a half stars and strongly recommending that you watch it.