Through the medium of an absurd local singing competition, Loins of Punjab Presents offers insight into the desi experience in America, as well as plenty of laughs.
This English-language comedy follows the contestants and crew of the first “Desi Idol,” a Bollywood singing contest in New Jersey. The $25,000 cash prize is supplied by Loins of Punjab, the Northeast’s preeminent purveyor of pork loins.
Contestants include a nerdy financial analyst named Vikram (Manish Acharya, who wrote and directed the film); angry rapper Turbanotorious B.D.G (Ajay Naidu); and Sania Rehman (Seema Rahmani), an actress belatedly embracing her Indian roots in the hopes of finding more career opportunities in Mumbai.
There’s also 17-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishita Sharma) and her pushy family. Her parents — dad Sanjeev (Darshan Jariwala) and mom Alpa (Loveleen Mishra) — indulge their daughter’s singing “hobby” and are confused when a high school guidance counselor suggests that Preeti study music in college. The Patel parents generously suggest that if Preeti doesn’t want to be a doctor, she can become an engineer instead.
One contestant is willing to use nefarious means to achieve victory. Socialite Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi) needs the prize money so that she can donate it to charity and win her ongoing PR war with her nemesis: Bubbles Sabharwal.
Though some characters and subplots are more successful that others, there are a lot of gems in Loins of Punjab Presents. Azmi is delightfully villainous. Jariwala plays up his accent, scolding the hotel concierge — played by go-to Bollywood white guy Alexx O’Nell — to find the right reservation by checking the “asses,” when he means “s’s.”
Other performances of note include Jameel Khan as Mr. Bokade, the event’s sleazy promoter; Bokade’s straight man, Mr. White (Kunaal Roy Kapur in one of his first roles); and Rani Bansal, who’s sneakily good in a small role as the contest’s female MC.
Beyond the humor, there are some meaningful subplots, such as the relationship between a Jewish Indophile named Josh Cohen (Michael Raimondi) and his desi girlfriend, Opama (Ayesha Dharkar). She encourages him to participate, only to be confronted by hostility at the presence of a white man in an Indian singing competition.
Josh & Opama’s subplot dovetails with Sania’s to raise questions about national, ethnic, and cultural identity. How obligated are we to embrace our family’s cultural heritage when we have the option to adopt another? What does culture even mean in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism?
Acharya’s film nicely balances serious ideas with humor. It’s also amusing to watch seasoned performers like Azmi, Khan, and Jariwala act in something outside of Bollywood. Loins of Punjab Presents is a lot of fun.