Sunday, 11 March 2012

7 Welcome to London: A Comment

 
According to its’ writer, producer, director and star Asad Shan, ‘7 Welcome to London’ is already a successful film.  It’s difficult to determine the veracity of that claim but it is a good thing regardless, for no one wants to go wasting quarter of a million pounds when the state of the economy is about as sound as Kingfisher Airlines’ balance sheet. 
History – cinematic or otherwise – is littered with examples of men overcoming supposedly insurmountable obstacles through sheer force of will and Shan’s is a classic case of that theory in practise.  For the success of ‘7WTL’ will be entirely down to Shan’s much hyped ‘personal force’ and his determination to overcome the film’s distinct lack of many of the ingredients that make for an entertaining 2 hours of cinema.
The story is familiar enough, and it begins well with an unusual and slick opening credits sequence and a first half hour that is engaging at the very least.
 Jai (Asad Shan) is an illegal immigrant, a Punjabi, just arrived in London, who befriends Goldie (Aliakbar Campwala), an immigrant with equally dubious residency credentials but one who is slightly better established.  With Goldie’s help Jai finds work in a restaurant and embarks on his quest to repay the debts his family incurred when he made his unexplained decision to leave booming India to travel to recession-struck Britain strung on the chassis of a truck carrying Eastern European sausages.  Whilst contending with his economic and immigration status, Jai meets and falls in love with Simran (Sabeeka Imam) on an Eastbound District Line train.
It’s all an absolutely rum state of affairs as Jai first embarks on a bromance with Goldie whilst also trying to win over Simran and her overbearing sister Geet (Sandeep Garcha).  All hell breaks loose however, when Jai receives a call from India where the loan sharks have (once again, inexplicably) started circling the family home.
The movie then runs off in an entirely new tangent promising a thriller of sorts.
Prior to its release, Shan had promised a movie with a Bollywood heart and a British intellect, setting a story pregnant with Karan Johar’s melodrama in Guy Ritchie’s East End.  The problem however, is that the two sit as well together as Arbaaz Khan and Shobha De at a dinner for two.   Freeze frames introducing each of the characters interspersed with mawkish sequences of brotherly and romantic  love lend the whole picture an air of implausibility.  It is admirable to attempt to fuse different genres but real world examples such as hybrid cars and fusion cuisine remain works in progress.
What’s more, at its’ heart, 7WTL features one of the most topical and divisive stories of our time; the story of the illegal immigrant but it is one which the filmmakers are barely concerned with.  That’s primarily due the fact that Asad Shan is not entirely convincing in the role.  With his perfectly styled Shemagh scarf, neatly trimmed stubble and pearly whites he fails to capture an iota of the anxiety and pathos of the illegal immigrant.  He is at his best in the slow moving sequences, glancing down shyly with that glittering smile and you could hear the young ladies in the audience swoon.
For the rest of the movie he comes across as uncertain or out of his depth; switching from dreamy love boat to screaming lunatic or confronting a random gangster with as much menace as my 3-year-old twin boys telling me that they don’t love me for taking away their Nintendo Wii.
Perhaps this is the problem with being the writer, producer, director and star of the film for much of the 112 minutes are spent ruminating on his effortlessly handsome face and the ease with which he can carry off any given outfit.  Sujoy Ghosh, the director of the outstanding ‘Kahaani’, recently said a filmmaker had an obligation to tell a good story.  Here, it seems, the obligation is to all things superficial.
Intentionally or otherwise, Simran spends much of the movie glancing doe-eyed at Jai.  Goldie gets a handful of good lines to occasionally liven up proceedings and Campwala is a natural comedic talent.
The rest of the cast are largely caricatures of East Enders or exploitative Asian business types with little or no menace.
It’s no surprise, as the screenplay is such a muddle.
It is almost as if the writers sat together over a weekend watching boxed sets of British Films, Bollywood Films, Hollywood Films, Desi music videos , not to mention the first season of ‘Friends’ and the Russian Roulette sequence from Robert de Niro’s ‘The Deer Hunter’ and concocted a movie inspired by all of the above.  The film moves with the speed of a continental shelf from one segment of mediocrity to another and yet none of the relationships or characters is fleshed out.  It is left to the viewer to establish cause and effect – if possible – with the exception of this illegal immigrants’ impeccable British accent; the result of working in a call centre, presumably servicing the British banking or telecoms sector.
So why in heaven’s name did he leave?  This and many other questions remain unanswered.
Whilst the narrative may have missed the fusion boat, the same cannot be said about the music for the soundtrack is a triumph.  From Pakistani group Access Band’s Sufi-inspired ‘Yaadhan’ to the quite beautiful ‘Tera Saath Ho’ by Pakistani singer Falak Shabir, the soundtrack fuses myriad musical influences to great effect.
As a cinematic experience, 7 Welcome to London is an unmitigated disappointment, in spite of the fact that I went in to see the film with a singular lack of expectations.
Ultimately it is one man’s folly, certain to be enjoyed by the masses; an experiment and the realization of one quite good looking, personable – not to mention neurotic – man’s dream.
I’m pretty certain that you’ve got to love that.
-    Vijitha Alles

7 Welcome to London: A Comment

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