“When shit happens in my life, I turn it into fertiliser.”
Unlike Danny Boyle’s British drama Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Netflix’s Chopsticks promised a dose of quirkiness and fast-paced humour. Unfortunately, unlike Slumdog Millionaire, the film doesn’t deliver on any of the promises made in the trailer. By the time I realised where the plot was going, it was too late to backpedal.
Sachin Yardi’s 2019 Indian Hindi-language comedy-drama follows Nirma (Mithila Palkar), a young and unobtrusive Mandarin translator on a quest to retrieve her brand new car after it gets stolen. To do so, she enlists the help of Artist (Abhay Deol), a local con man, whose broody demeanour forces her to strive for the same level of self-assuredness. Together, they face the local mafia leader, Faiyaz (Vijay Raaz), and his beloved goat.
If the synopsis left you baffled, you are not alone. Chopstick‘s emotional investment relies on Nirma’s longing for her shiny new car, and the freedom it represents. However, that relationship does nothing to strengthen the audience’s engagement with the story. The stakes are very low – which reduces our interest in the film that much more. In a bid to keep us enthralled, the film strives to create attraction between Nirma and Artist, but even the characters appear uncomfortable at the prospect. The juxtaposition of a confident man and a docile young woman is nothing we haven’t seen before, but at least here it’s far from sexual. In fact, the innocence of the film’s protagonist channels the charm of Chris Noonan’s Babe (1995).
The film’s fixation on the antagonist’s goat only weakens the story, since the only thing you are left thinking about is Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009). The comparison grows ever more stark when you realise that Chopsticks is devoid of any humour, taking itself too seriously in moments of comical randomness. No actual jokes are ever uttered, apart from the recycled dig at Nirma’s name – inspired by the famous Indian company producing soaps and detergents. Instead, the quirkiness of the film relies heavily on circumstantial comedy. That would be fine and dandy if there were any moments actually worth remembering. Instead, we get long takes of Nirma walking across a room with unsettling music thundering in the background.
Finally, we have an ending so inconceivable, that it almost breaks the fourth wall. Except, what ends up being shattered is your grasp on sanity. If you are interested in a noteworthy Indian film, I recommend Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal (2016).