Chintuji (2009)

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with my brother and his family, watching relatively recent Hollywood fare peopled with quirky, hilarious and (mostly) heartwarming characters (A Christmas Story, I Love You, Man and Duplicity). Steeped as I am at this point in watching decades-old cinema, with only occasional and generally disastrously noisy forays into today’s offerings, it was nice to see contemporary movies with *heart* and actual stories instead of an onrush of special effects. And so it is too with Chintuji, set in the utopian village of Hadbahedi—fictional birthplace of the very not-fictional Rishi Kapoor.

Rishi himself offers a little disclaimer at the beginning: “This film is part reality, part illusion and part fact, part fiction.” How I would love to discuss this statement with him, because he plays himself as a not very nice guy—and he is great at it! In fact, my main quibble with this movie is that it wanders off in too many directions instead of staying focused on The Man. But despite some flaws, it is a sweet and funny film about a Little Village That Could, with the unwilling help of its most famous export.

Hadbahedi is a peaceful little town in a northeast corner of India. Its denizens love their home dearly, but a wistful “someday…” creeps into every conversation.

Hadbahedi’s only claim to fame up till now has been a guru (Satyakam) who had two disciples. These disciples quarreled, and one went off to the neighboring town of Triphala while the other stayed in Hadbahedi. Over the centuries Triphala has prospered and grown using dishonest means, while Hadbahedi has stayed true to its guru’s principles—and remained small and overlooked.

At a town meeting, the citizens are amazed to discover that they have another avenue to pursue in their efforts to get put on the map. An old midwife tells them that when Raj and Krishna Kapoor visited the Satyakam shrine in Hadbahedi, Krishna went into labor and with the midwife’s assistance had a baby. She has a photograph of the famous couple with her and the little baby as proof: the baby they named Rishi, and whom the midwife nicknamed “Chintu.”

A committee instantly sends off a letter of invitation to Chintuji, asking him to visit the place of his birth. Since Rishi has decided to throw his hat into the political ring, he accepts the invitation and arrives by small plane with his secretary Kutti (Teekam Joshi) and a PR person whom he has hired to help him campaign, Devika (Kulraj Randhawa).

The small but enthusiastic crowd which greets him are ill-prepared for the arrogant and spoiled film star. He has to be prompted by Devika to properly greet the elderly midwife who delivered him:

and he objects when the mayor addresses him as Chintuji.

Things only go downhill from here. Rishi is made grumpier by the sticky heat, but there is no electricity to power the AC; his hosts are vegetarian and he wants chicken; they are also non-drinkers and he wants his whiskey! The lukewarm cola he receives is the last straw (no pun intended).

He flings himself out of the house in a fury just as the mayor takes delivery of a big block of ice and drops it right under Rishi’s feet.

Now laid-up for an indeterminate amount of time in the unfortunate mayor’s house, Rishi truly becomes a nightmare guest, although there are some accompanying benefits. The town elders plead at the nearest utility company for a bigger quota of electricity so that he can have his AC. It turns out that the utility chief is a fan of Chintuji’s:

Romance begins to brew between local newspaper editor Arun Bakshi (Priyanshu Chatterjee) and Devika. Arun is hiding a secret which the whole town is in on, but they are not telling. Devika reciprocates Arun’s feelings, but also has her hands full managing the self-absorbed Rishi. The hapless mayor and his wife are bending over backwards—and going against their religious beliefs—to accommodate their meat-and-liquor-loving guest.

Meanwhile in Bombay, producer-director Mr. Malkani (Saurabh Shukla) is not happy with the delay to his project that Rishi’s mishap has caused. (It looks like a film I would look forward to!)

Malkani decides on the spur of the moment to take his crew to Hadbahedi to finish the film, even if it means rewriting Rishi’s part.

In addition to all this, word of the film star’s presence in the little town spreads, bringing all the attention its citizens could have ever possibly hoped for. The new Police Inspector (Govind Pandey) in rival Triphala comes to take a dekho at his favorite actor and spots Arun. Recognizing him, but unable to place him, the Inspector sets a newly-arrived reporter from Delhi on Arun’s trail.

Plus, a well-known politico from Triphala shows up with a lucrative proposal for Rishi, which will involve the betrayal of his birthplace and its people.

What other changes will Rishi’s (and the film company’s) presence bring to our sleepy little Hadbahedi? Will they get more than they bargained for, or want? What is Arun’s secret, and why would the police be after him? Above all, will Rishi—our Chintuji—learn anything from his sojourn among these loving and generous people?

So much of Chintuji reminded me about the inherent values that first drew me to Hindi cinema: respect for elders, an ability to see good even in the bad, an appreciation for simplicity, forgiveness for those who wrong you. And Rishi is simply superb as “himself”: demanding, rude, selfish and manipulative, but with flashes of humanity and oodles of charisma.

I love his career graph through this decade. Lage raho, Chintuji!

The character sketches of the townspeople are lovely, bestowing the action with humor and spirit as they struggle to deal with their boorish guest; and as a film fan I enjoyed the movie-within-a-movie scenes too—even the gratuitous but surprisingly fun item song courtesy of scantily-clad Sophie Choudhury and a bevy of gori dancers.

I could have happily done without the Arun background story: it meanders and would have benefited from some tighter editing (or scripting). My vote actually would be to eliminate it completely: it adds nothing meaningful and only distracts from Rishi’s personal epiphany and the town’s journey to fame. There is another pointless side plot in the form of a romance between Kutti and Rishi’s local nurse Mariamma (Padmashree), and the one other song could have been left out too. A strangely awkward attempt to pay tribute to Raj Kapoor is also inserted, but doesn’t quite mesh with the main story as intended. More focus on the townspeople and Rishi himself instead of these elements would have strengthened the film enormously.

Also, I must add that the subtitles are beyond annoying. A lot of dialogue is spoken in English and subtitled in different English. For example, the spoken word “sex” is subtitled as “physical intimacy.” Huh? In a scene reuniting Rishi with the Uzbek actress Kseniya Ryabinkina from Mera Naam Joker, she tells him that she “always dreamed to be here once again”:

Shirwas? Come on, people. Her accent isn’t that heavy. This subtitle idiocy happened often enough to irritate me quite a bit by the end.

In all, though, I recommend it as a fun and heartwarming story which treads gently between reality and fantasy. You might want to use the FF button judiciously, although it isn’t all that long a film, clocking in at under 2 hours. Don’t FF through Rishi’s scenes, though: he is wonderful. (He’s really beginning to resemble his father, too!)

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64 Comments to “Chintuji (2009)”

  1. ooooooohhhhhhh…i’ve been wanting to see this movie!! thanks for reviewing it!! (now scrolling back up to finish reading the review! =D)

  2. i wonder if Kseniya Ryabinkina played a character called “Shirwas” in Mera Naam Joker & the subtitle was referring to that? But ofcourse its very silly on the subtitler’s part to put words in her mouth, so to speak..

    Rishi Kapoor’s interviews around the time of the movie’s release reflected how excited he was about this movie, but he was very disappointed that he was virtually the only one promoting it! the producers apparently took no effort to market this movie.

    i need to see this soon. i love me some basically-people-are-good movies ::sigh!:: though Khooni Khazana might be campy fun like Khoon Bhari Mang!! ;)

  3. No, the subtitler just heard her accented “here once” as shirwas. Very dumb!

    But it’s a good film, lots of fun. Could have been better with more of a focus but I still enjoyed it thoroughly. Rishi is just awesome in it. Awe-some. All of the acting is good, in fact.

  4. I love stories about colorful small towns! Sign me up! And I so agree about Rishi in the 2000s: maybe his best decade ever?

    • I guess when you were stuck with the 80s and 90s, it’s not surprising that the 2000s are kinder! :P

      Although he did have the 70s as well! But I love the choices he’s making these days, and the risks he takes. He pulls them all off too, really shows his maturity as a person and an actor I think. Not that I would know ;D

  5. You are so right about the Chintu parts being the best, he was really good. It is good to see him play such a self-deprecatory role. And I agree most of the rest should have either been eliminated or shortened.
    Liked that Sophie Chaudhary song too, pretty innovative for Bollywood; the lyrics I mean

    • It wasn’t subtitled (HA HA) :) Pretty strange for lyrics to consist purely of movie director names! I was glad to see Sophie DO something. I always thought she was just famous for being at every party ever thrown in Bollywood.

  6. I watched this one because it sounded so interesting – Rishi playing himself in a zany re-make of The Man Who Came To Dinner! And my favorite TV actress Kulraj, too. I did not find it quite as heartwarming as you did, though. Parts were nice – especially the Rishi parts. He was awesome. But I found the Hadbahedi-ans’ determined goodness, even in the face of complete betrayal, very annoying!

    And that photo of Raj-Krishna is so obviously decades after Rishi was born! Couldnt he have found an earlier (and younger) picture of his parents?!

    • I guess I viewed it more as a fantasy than as real life, and so the goody-goody-ness of the townspeople was more “awww” than “uggghhh”. Or maybe it’s the Christmas spirit. I don’t know. But I mostly liked it, although it had its problems :)

  7. Sounds interesting. I guess Hadbahedi is like Sajjanpur or Sooraj Barjatya’s tiresome town in Vivaah (can’t remember the name). Anyway I cannot resist Chintu, he is my most favorite Kapoor :D

    • I still haven’t seen Sajjanpur (bad girl!) or Vivaah (??) but it is a very “small-town with a heart” kind of thing, which is generally more palatable if you don’t actually LIVE in a small town.

      But watch it for the Chintu love if nothing else!

    • No! Sajjanpur has interesting people, while Hadbahedi has goody-goody ones!!!

    • the small town in Vivah was Madhupur. Welcome to Sajjanpur is a film by Shyam Benegal with Shreyas Talpade and Amrita Rao. My sister has been raving about it but I somehow have not been inclined to watch it yet – perhaps i will during christmas hols!

      • I saw it because I am a massive Benegal fan. Sadly, he has lost his touch. People who love Benegal shouldn’t see it. As regards Madhupur: what an appropriate name (Madhu=honey) for a town (and its people) that gave me diabetes :p

        • LoL Pitu- exactly my reaction to Vivah! I am a big
          fan of Benegal too – haven’t missed any of his
          movies. Perhaps my sub conscious was telling
          me to avoid “sajjanpur” – hence I haven’t seen
          it yet. Thanks for the warning on sajjanpur!

        • LOL pitu :D It’s weird to me how sticky-sweetness is okay in Hindi movies although I generally loathe it in Hollywood ones. Guess it’s all in what you grow up with.

          I haven’t seen that much Benegal.

          Mandi, which I loved, and Ankur and Junoon which bored me to tears *ducks and covers*…

          • Memsaab, you need to see more of
            Benegal – Bhumika (smita patil was
            awesome), Manthan (Girish Karnad
            was very good so was Smita Patil),
            Dev (for AB and Om puri), Kalyug
            (produced by Sashi Kapoor)

  8. Rishi Kapoor was awesome in the 70s ie Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb, Doosra Aadmi, Rafoo Chakkar, Khel -2 Mein etc . He did well in some movies in the 90s too ie chandini and Deewana

  9. Qawwali Rishi, Disco Rishi, Sweater Rishi, Elder Statesman Rishi — I love them all! (And that almost sounds like a series of strange action figures, which I would buy in a heartbeat). He was very funny in this, and I couldn’t get over what a good sport he was, to portray himself as such an enormous jerk! At least my deity has a sense of humor about himself.

    • Loose sweater Rishi – you could see the pain in his eyes and in his interviews.
      But he did do all that dancing on the mountain sides with girls young enough to be his daughters ;)

  10. Ooh, a set of Rishi Action Figures (not dolls!!!) seems just the thing for the holiday buying season! He did portray himself as such an ass. Loved it.

  11. action figures? I thought the only difference between a doll and an action figure is the gender of the child it is marketed to!

  12. I m die-heart fan of Kulraj ,… that’s the reason I saw the movie

    but Its very nice movie …. comedy is good .. and direction is flawless plus every one acted very well …. also it received best reviews by critics average 4/5

    but these days movies runs on star value and budget … big budget movie with big stars does well even though there is no good script ….

    hence, this movie didn’t received wat it was deserving …
    due to lack of promotions by Eros .. hardly anyone knew in India that movie is releasing …. also it was leaked and was available on internet 1 day before its release …

    and then finally movie was removed from the theater in just 1 week …. :(

    so i felt very bad …. but then I came across your blog and glad to see that there are many others who liked the movie …

    • I’d never seen Kulraj before (not being an Indian TV watcher)…she is lovely. I liked Priyanshu Chatterjee too, very handsome man, and both are good actors.

      I’ve read too that Rishi was very disappointed at how Eros did *not* promote the film at all. I can see why, this is totally his film.

      • Memsaab, Pryanshu Chatterjee has done two other
        movies – one set in Canada – good one- can’t remember the name right now and “Dil Ka Rishta” with Aishwarya Rai –
        he had a small role in Dil Ka Rishta – Arjun Ramphal was the main hero – soppy movie but I liked it coz of Arjun.

      • Have you seen Pinjar? (I highly recommend the movie).He played Urmila’s brother – thought he did a great job! Recently saw him in Bhootnath too, as Amitabh’s son.

  13. Oh Memsaab, what is it with you and me? :)

    I watched ‘Chintuji’ last week, and loved it. With the same reservations you have, of course.

    But Rishi Kapoor is amazing. I just loved that whole dialogue about Kutti calling Neetu Kapoor and her saying he can take care of RK, the family is going to Switzerland! It takes some kind of guts to pull off part fact/part fiction at the cost of your own image. :)

    The opening voice-over does proclaim Hadbehadi as a Utopian town, it’s extreme goody-goody-ness is meant to be Utopian. What if people were like that?

    Ranjit Kapoor is so well known in theatre circles (and also ofcourse for writing ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron’) for his very, very dark sense of humour. I wish this had been darker.

    As for the subtitles, get used to it. HBO, Star Movies, Zee Studio, Sony Pix now show English films with subtitles (which I love because it just makes the dialogue so much more comprehensible) and regularly replace words like sex, arse, etc with more suitable language. Even when the dialogue is not beeped out!!

    • Ha! We are sisters Banno, that’s the only explanation…

      He is amazing, ditto for me on the Neetu part (and that Devika said “We can’t tell him she said that!” and then they lied to him, saying that his family were in …. uhh… Shirdi, praying him for him! Yeah, that’s it. And I agree re: the goody-goody town. They were all so cute and funny too that the goodness didn’t get cloying; I loved the old men kidnapping the Delhi journalist :)

      Say it isn’t so! re: subtitles. Maybe I DO have a reason to move to India! I’ll take over the subtitles! Geez. None of the dialogue here was bleeped out, and none of it was even close to offensive either. What’s offensive is that these people think that we won’t notice that their subtitles are different from what’s being said!

  14. Thanks for reviewing it. Will definitely look out for this one next time I go movie shopping. I have always liked Rishi in all his avataars. But the trailers of this movie didnt look all that interesting and it was not promoted at all.

  15. Hi,

    One of the best Rishi Kapoor roles in recent times was his bravura turn as the harried producer in Luck By Chance, possibly the best film of 2009. Do take a gander at it.

  16. Never heard of it!
    I know, I’m ignorant.
    Sounds nice and entertaining!

  17. On an academic note. There have been many not so well known alliances between Uzbekistan & bollywood. In fact Alibaba 40 chor (Alibaba & the 40 theives) starring Dharmendra, Hema & Zeenat has been shot in Uzbekistan & uses local stuntmen.
    Hmm good trivia research topic

  18. harvey, it’s worth a watch :)

    av—I just saw that Alibaba recently and it was surprisingly fun! Those Uzbeks made great dacoit-types!

  19. I love stories/films of villages with lovable/amusing/ likeable characters. That’s why I love ‘Aaja Nachle’.
    Love ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’.
    I think I would love ‘Chintuji’. I thought it would be a boring biography of his and had no desire of watching it. I can see why Rishi was upset with no promotions. People just had/have no idea.
    Thanks to you, I have some knowledge about it now. Enough to want to see it. :-)

  20. You will definitely love this, then, pacifist :) It is not in the least a “tribute to Rishi” film!!!! He is hilariously awful. Do see it and let me know what you think.

  21. I missed knowing about the existence of this one and now I can’t wait to see it. I love Rishi Kapoor. He doesn’t get lead roles much anymore, does he? Though he’s often one of the people I remember most from a movie – like his character in Luck By Chance.

    I saw Bobby, and then I saw him in Fanaa, I think. Oh, and then I found out he was one of the raincoated kiddies in Shree 420. I love how he turned out and I love what a good actor he really is.

    To the list of great Rishi movies I’d add Hum Kisise Kum Nahin – he is thin in the songs (only, possibly) and they are amazing, in particular the title Qawaali.

    Did this even release in the US?

    Finally re: English-to-English – I love this convention and hope it never ends.

    • Rishi has been a busy man for decades now :) He was great in Amar Akbar Anthony Virginia—I know you’ve seen that one!

      This is available on DVD, I’m not sure it ever made it to theaters here though.

  22. hey, it’s snowing on your blog!! 8-D

  23. I really like this Kapoor family. Even the fledgling Ranbir seems to be interested in more experimental stuff, and he’s got charm enough to pull it off.

    • I need to see Ranbir in something…he hasn’t made a film yet that I’ve really wanted to see though. Perhaps I’ll just have to suck it up for his sake. After all, I love the Kapoors too—one in particular ;-)

      • I think Ranbir has done just 3 films. Saawariya:you will want to kill yourself for watching it. Bachna Ae Haseeno: I have no idea why this film was even made. whoever thought it would work needs to get his head examined. Wake up Sid: thats a good movie. Credit ofcourse goes to Konkana. skip the 1st 2. go straight to the 3rd.

        • Wake Up Sid it is then! Thanks Prerna :)

          • i whole heartedly recommend Wake Up Sid. You know the wonderful feeling of reading a thoughtful & delightful novel on a quiet cloudy afternoon? that’s the feeling i got from watching the movie — the story slowly unfolded on the big screen, and as it ended i felt, wow, it was like a favorite novel coming to life..

            I know Amrita from Indiequill frequents this blog, her post on the movie captured exactly what i felt about it =)

        • Agree with Prerna about the first two – kill self re: Sawaariya etc – so I will cave in and rent Wake Up Sid, which I had on the AVOID list because of fear of death by Pusckishness.

      • I’d say, wait for a couple of movies before getting to the next Kapoor; he did well in WUS, but you can see that he’s not quite there yet.

        @Prerna: He’s also made Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani, which has split opinions. I haven’t seen it. It was this one, WUS and his next (forgot the name but it looks interesting, somewhat Up in the Air-ish) that I was referring to while praising his choice of movie.

  24. How I love reading your reviews!

    Rishi Kapoor is my favorite among all the Kapoors (to my defense I have not seen a film starring Shammi Kapoor yet) I always prefer him to much loved Shashi or Raj. (Amar Akbar Anthony is the cause of Rishi love).

    I have only watched Ranbir in Sawariya and I think he is more of a side kick material than hero. I hope this opinion will change with watching more of him.

    • I am curious about Ranbir, but couldn’t bring myself to watch Saawariya and haven’t gotten around to his others. I will look for Wake Up Sid! And I’m so happy you like reading my reviews, it is so nice to hear that ;-)

      But you really need to see Shammi. He blows the rest of them all away!

  25. Finally got around to “Chintuji” today; I wanted to watch it with my daughter, since we are big fans of “The Man Who Came To Dinner” on which this film is clearly riffing. How do you get someone in India to slip on the ice?…
    The Indianization of Western films is fascinating, because in the original, the small Ohio town in which the spoiled celebrity is forced to linger is not idealized. It was penned by writers who adored the Big Apple, and did not long for the country. Of course, in the second half, “Chintuji” plots its own course.
    Rishi is surprisingly unsympathetic playing himself, very brave. As a language learner, I love poor subtitles, because it gives me Hindi practise! And the insider filmi stuff is wonderful, loved the meta “Mera Naam Joker” interval, and the item number, “Akira Kurosawa, Vittorio De Sica.” King Chintuji silences them with the only Indian director ever on the international art house circuit, “Satyajit Ray.” Question: In this item number, the “French” actor about to be sacrificed looks an awful lot like he could be Prem Chopra’s son. Memsaab?

  26. Some more suggestions for newer movies -have you seen any movies starring Abhay Deol – Dharmendra’s nephew. This guy has been choosing real good scripts. I would strongly recommend
    Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
    Ek Chalis ki last local
    DevD

  27. At last I’ve seen the film :-)

    It saddens me that such gems come and go without fanfare or appreciation.
    Satire of course is not popular I guess.

    I loved the film shooting and that nonsense language that was being spoken (I guess you thought it was hindi :-)) but actually they were just mouthing make believe words.
    This dig at films(being meaningless) was hilarious.
    And that argument between the heroine and the dialogue writer over the ‘words’ (which meant nothing) LOL!
    The insistance of the writer that she shoot again with the right words – why? because the right words translated to I am pregnant. :-D

    I agree with all your points on what was unnecessary.
    It is a must watch. A gem!!

  28. Ranbir Singh in Rocket Singh, Salesman of the Year. Loved the ending. Have to repeatedly remind myself, he’s not supposed to be like Rishi or Neetu, he’s a completely different person and not to `judge’ him on the basis of his genes.
    Rishi Kapoor actually played the overgrown spoilt brat I always suspected he was in Chintuji. And he did a great job, showing his true colours. I hugely enjoyed Do Duni Chaar too. How delightful it was to see Neetu Singh again.
    Yes, that Arun Bakshi side plot and the assistant’s romance with the Mallu nurse was really not important.

  29. Memsaab, felt good to read your article about Chintu Ji, a movie that I really wanted to watch (but it wasn’t released in the city I was in, and NO TV channel has shown it till now :( )

    I too have been following Rishi Kapoor’s recent films, and love his choice of roles (especially in Luck By Chance, Do Dooni Chaar and the recent Agneepath). On some level, it is similar to Dilip Kumar’s 80s resurgence, don’t you think?

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