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Where EAST meets the Northwest

DESI IDOL. Manish Acharya’s Loins of Punjab Presents, a mockumentary about "Desi Idol" — a Bollywood-style singing competition loosely based on the "American Idol" phenomenon — opens March 20 at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre. Pictured are Ajay Naidu as Turbanotorious BDG and Kory Bassett as Otto (top photo) and Seema Rahmani as Sania Rahman. (Photos courtesy of Horn OK Please Entertainment)

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #10 (March 10, 2009), page 13.

Bollywood meets "American Idol" in hilarious mockumentary

Loins of Punjab Presents

Written and directed by Manish Acharya

Produced by Horn OK Please Entertainment

Opening Friday, March 20

at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre

By Pamela Ellgen

Cultures collide in the politically charged mockumentary Loins of Punjab Presents, a film chronicling the journey of several aspiring singers competing in "Desi Idol," a Bollywood-style singing competition loosely based on the "American Idol" phenomenon. Staged against the lackluster backdrop of a New Jersey hotel, the competition promises a $25,000 prize to the winner and is intended for Desis — people of the South Asian diaspora — but as the contestants learn, nothing in the rules actually stipulates that one must speak Hindi or even be South Asian at all.

The contestants are as diverse and bizarre as those appearing on FOX’s hit show. Middle-age saboteur Rrita Kapoor (Shabana Azmi), complete with recent Botox injections and a small dog in tow, will win at all costs. Seventeen-year-old Preeti Patel (Ishitta Sharma) is her most talented adversary, but contends with her stereotypical meddling Indian family. And Sania Rahman (Seema Rahmani), described as an aspiring Indian … ahem, "aspiring Indian actress," is another contestant, who can actually sing — something as rare in this farce as it is in its prime time inspiration.

While dazzling, these women are one-upped by the comedic performance of gay Bhangra rapper the Turbanotorious BDG (Ajay Naidu) who presents a disturbing combination of passion for his craft, wannabe gangsta attitude, and lyrics about bombing. Audiences will both laugh and shudder.

Another delight is the "Desi Idol" event coordinator, Sudarsh Bokade (Jameel Khan), a slick-talking, would-be womanizer who despite his charm (what man doesn’t sleep in a red thong?) cannot get in bed with his favorite contest judge.

Unfortunately, the drama between characters Josh (Michael Raimondi) and Opama (Ayesha Dharker) falls flat in the classic scenario of struggling cross-cultural relationships. Josh is a Jewish boy with sparkling blue eyes and a love for all things Indian, including his adorable Mubai-born girlfriend, Opama. Josh’s desire for the "Desi Idol" crown is amusing, but the fallout between he and Opama as she harshly reminds him he’s not Indian is perhaps even more laughable. Tears? Really? Then again, if the drama was intentionally overdone for comedic effect, bravo!

Nevertheless, their relationship does touch on one of the many challenging topics writer-director Manish Acharya addresses in Loins. An older New Jersey couple who watch as contestants unload their bags for the competition is sure one or all of them are terrorists out to bomb the community center. Watching Acharya explore stereotypes is amusing and worth another look. He leaves no stone unturned; some of the South Asians repeatedly assume that Josh, the only white contestant, is a bellboy or a banquet server.

"The movie reflects my beliefs and my concerns. Issues of belonging, of defining ‘home,’ of self-image — these are on the top of my mind," Acharya said about the film. "And the manifestation of these issues through a comedy, through songs, through characters that don’t normally populate cinema screens, seems like the appropriate way to both include my concerns in my work and make them invisible."

After a successful career in the software industry, Acharya earned an MFA in Film Directing from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Film Program and has won numerous awards from the school. More recently, he won the Best Feature Film award for Loins of Punjab Presents at the 65th Annual First Run Film Festival.

Loins of Punjab Presents is definitely worth your time. It’s opening at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland, on March 20. For showtimes, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>. To learn more about the film, visit <www.loinsofpunjab.com>.