Total Siyapaa (“Total Chaos“) could’ve been a cute romantic comedy about the power of love to overcome cultural differences. Instead, the level of humor never rises above ethnocentric cheap shots. It’s a missed opportunity.
Ali Zafar plays Aman, a Pakistani musician who’s on the receiving end of nearly every abuse one could throw at his country. He arrives in London to meet his girlfriend, Asha (Yami Gautam), only to be arrested by a white police officer who suspects Aman of being a terrorist.
Things get worse when Aman meets Asha’s family. They really, really, really hate Pakistanis. In fact, the only defining characteristic of Asha’s younger brother, Manav (Anuj Pandit), is his hatred for and desire to kill Pakistanis. Naturally, Asha failed to tell anyone in her family whence Aman hails.
Once Aman meets the family — headed by a matriarch played by Kiron Kher — there are plenty of opportunities for situational comedy. Aman’s behavior grows more erratic due to his social discomfort and his realization that he may have accidentally killed Asha’s father, who was hit in the head by a container of frozen soup Aman dropped out the window.
Asha’s mom gamely tries to overcome her prejudices and accept Aman for her daughter’s sake, even as Aman’s goofy antics make it hard to understand what Asha sees in him. The film’s most successful scenes feature Kher and Zafar, who share a nice comic chemistry.
Over and over the jokes in Total Siyapaa return to slams against Pakistanis, well after the film has exhausted that humorous vein. The climactic argument that nearly drives Aman and Asha apart involves them shouting nationalist insults at one another.
For good measure, the white cop from the beginning of the film returns near the end to refer to a mixed group of Indian and Pakistani young men as “stinky terrorists.”
The whole experience feels like being stuck at a family gathering while an elderly relative tells a series of vaguely racist jokes, heedless of the uncomfortable expressions on the faces of his audience. There’s not much point in speaking out, since it’s not like you can change his mind, so you just sit there and wait for the joke teller to either run out of material or get up to refill his beverage.
As Total Siyapaa plods along, it’s easy to see how the movie could’ve been better. It has a solid fish-out-of-water premise; it has some decent visual gags; and it has tried-and-true comic actors in Kiron Kher and Anupam Kher, who plays Asha’s father.
If only director Eeshwar Nivas and writer Neeraj Pandey had dialed the Pakistani jokes way back after the first half hour, Total Siyapaa could’ve been pretty good.