The comedy sequel Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive starts out strong, but the story doesn’t have enough momentum to sustain laughs. Two films in this franchise are enough.
Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive (TBL 2, henceforth) begins in 2009. Manish Paul plays Abhishek Sharma, the real-life writer and director of both movies. Abhishek (the character) gets the greenlight to make his first film — Tere Bin Laden — after he spots Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh), a dead ringer for Osama Bin Laden. There’s a helpful refresher on the first film, which proved to be enough of a hit to merit a followup.
Shortly after production on the sequel begins, the real Bin Laden is assassinated by the United States. This puts the kibosh on Abhishek’s movie but not Paddi’s career as a lookalike. With no body or video proof of Bin Laden’s death, an inept terrorist organization in Pakistan wants Paddi so they can claim that Bin Laden is with them, alive and well. Meanwhile, the US wants to recreate the assassination, substituting video of Paddi’s murder as footage of Bin Laden’s death.
The early stages of TBL 2 are full of great bits. Ali Zafar — the star of Tere Bin Laden — appears in a funny cameo, playing an egomaniacal, womanizing version of himself. The Pakistani terror organization stages its own version of the Olympics, with games like the Bomb Relay and Landmine Jump. If you blow yourself up, you win!
The sharpest barbs are reserved for the Americans. Their drone control room is set up like an arcade, complete with coin-operated remote weapons. The “Chief of Invasions” is a man named David DoSomething, played by Sikander Kher in white-face makeup and a blond comb-over wig. Kher’s southern accent is deliberately hilarious.
In order to dupe Paddi and Abhishek, David dons brown-face makeup to pose as David Chadha, an NRI Hollywood producer. He quickly masters Hindi, though he mispronounces his last name as “cheddar.”
The movie acknowledges just how racist this is gambit is, with David consulting a makeup chart featuring a range of ethnically appropriate skin tones. When President Obama (Iman Crosson) sees David in his desi avatar, he quips, “I see you painted your white-ass face brown.” Considering that TBL 2 released on the same day as Gods of Egypt — a Hollywood film featuring no Egyptian actors — the digs seem deserved.
Though supporting characters like David, his female assistant Junior (Mya Uyeda), and President Obama are funny, they often feel better suited for a sketch comedy show rather than a feature film. There’s something missing from TBL 2 that causes it to slow down as soon as all of the characters are introduced.
One potential explanation that there’s no B-story in the plot. Elements such as Abhishek’s abandoned career as a confectioner and his fraught friendship with Paddi are introduced but don’t go anywhere. The story needs an anchor or emotional hook of some sort. Jokes aren’t enough.
TBL 2‘s strongest attribute is its subtitling and localization. It’s among the best I’ve ever seen in a Hindi film. For example, the Hindi word “jalebi” is translated as “churro,” substituting a piped, fried sweet popular in India for one popular in the U.S. Kudos to the TBL 2 translation team, the real stars of the film!