Synopsis – During US invasion of Iraq some illegal migrants are waiting to get back home to India. As one such family prepares to celebrate the 6th birthday of their youngest member Chintu, their kind-hearted Iraqi landlord lends them a helping hand.
My Take – While I can attest to the fact that the content released on ZEE5, one of India’s premium video on demand services, widely varies from surprising to downright terrible (like the recently released Ghoomketu), I happy to report that out of their latest set of acquirements at least one of them is actually good, that too a rare Indian film based during the 2003 Iraq war.
Produced by comedians Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi, Ashish Shakya and Gursimran Khamba, former members of All India Bakchod, under their banner First Draft, this simplistic heart-warming drama, written and directed by Devanshu Kumar and Satyanshu Singh, whizzes by its relatively short 83 minutes runtime owing to it’s smart, fit-to-the-beat screenplay, which while filled with the right dose of comic moments, also tries to evoke the feeling of love for one’s family and seeks to find happiness amidst all troubles.
Here, the directors faithfully recreate the wonderment and innocence accompanying the early stages of life, and imbue their film with a big heart and draw strong performances from the cast. Don’t mistake it for a children’s film, even if the first few frames make it feel so, as it mostly comes alive in the tiny, poignant details that fall in and out of the narrative without drawing attention to themselves, thereby enriching a generous, earnest, and life-assuring film.
Set in 2004, at the peak of the Iraq War, the story follows Chintu (Vedant Chibber), a 6-year-old Indian boy, who is quite excited to head to school, after all it his birthday. Unfortunately, fate has other plans, as he quickly learns that his school has been bombed by the U.S. troops, leaving him to ponder if his planned birthday party will fall through. His parents though, have other things to worry about.
Back in India, Chintu’s father Madan Tiwary (Vinay Pathak), was an excellent water purifier salesman, and found himself transferred to take advantage of Iraq’s water crisis by his Nepali employees. In order to congratulate his success, they accept his request to send his wife Sudha Tiwary (Tillotama Shome), mother-in-law (Seema Pahwa), daughter Lakshmi (Bisha Chaturvedi) and son to join him, albeit illegally with Nepali passports.
But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, the country’s political situation worsened and terrorism started taking the center-stage, forcing every expat family to flee to their own countries, however, now in possession of Nepali passports, the Indian government refuses to fetch them, leaving them stranded. But Madan remains hopeful that his family will soon go back, and continues to remain a dutiful husband and father. And is determined to throw a party for Chintu, and even invites their very friendly Iraqi landlord Madhi (Khalid Massou) to join.
With Lakshmi and Sudha baking a cake, everything seemed set until a nearby car bomb disrupts everything. Making matters even worse, two American soldiers, Louis Jackson (Reginald L Barnes) and Darren Reed (Nicholas Scholz), barge into their home, demanding to find the person responsible for the blast, hereby spoiling the whole party.
Yes, there’s a certain suspension of disbelief since nearly everything takes place within the confines of the house, but the warm performances of the ensemble carry it all the way through. After all this is a small film about ordinary people trying to fulfill simple dreams in a big world and about the unconditional love parents have for their children even under dire circumstances and how they can go to any length to protect them.
It is the simplicity of this tale which will touch you. It is full of heart, earnest, lit generously like a flashback to childhood, and is always on the side of its tiny protagonist. The early segments of the film are particularly impressive, as the directors create the atmosphere of a Bihari household settled in a home away from home.
The family’s longing to return to India underscores the film, reinforced by the finesse with which the directors draw authentic diction from their non-Bihari cast. It doesn’t take us long to be drawn into their world and the writers employ a gamut of dramatic incidents and styles to keep the narrative moving forward rapidly.
It pains you to see what the family goes through. The horror-struck faces of each of the members make you feel how frightened they are. A father, who just wanted to make his son happy, gets harsh treatment from the soldiers. The sadness in Lakshmi is palpable as her cake gets burnt in the oven. It hurts to see when one of the soldiers unapologetic ally tearing off a birthday chart from the wall.
However, the most winning scene happens to be the one in which Mahdi removes his family portrait to make a place for Chintu’s birthday decoration, a family he hasn’t seen in 13 years. Even the friction between Madan and his mother-in-law brings the family’s collective frustration over the issue of being stranded in Baghdad into sharp relief. But wide-eyed Chintu with his simple birthday wish remains the fulcrum of the film.
Yes, the film is a bit slow placed, and the events leading up to the situation are not entirely convincing, but the film connects in so many levels, that it leaves you with a feeling of optimism as the end credits kick in.
Without a doubt, the film is held together by its strong cast. Vinay Pathak once again portrays a quirky common man effortlessly, with Tilottama Shome turning in an effortlessly pitch-perfect performance. Seema Pahwa is naggingly excellent, while Khaled Masso, Nate Scholz and Reginald L. Barnes bring in restrained yet measured performances. Nevertheless, is the child artists here who run the show here, as Vedant Chhiber successfully manages to be a lovable endearing protagonist, Bisha Chaturvedi is spectacular and Mehroos Ahmed Mir as Waheed is bound to elicit a grin with his swagger and bravado. On the whole, ‘Chintu Ka Birthday’ is a heartwarming sweet tale of an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation you don’t want to miss.
Rated – NR
Run Time – 83 minutes