Movie Review – Chintu Ka Birthday is the tale of a 6 year old kid’s celebrations in the time of US-Iraq war

By Joginder Tuteja

Rating: ***1/2

If you are someone who went to school in the 80s and the 90s, you would remember how distributing sweets in school was one of the most exciting parts about waking up on the morning of your birthday. One sweet each for all the classmates, two for the class teacher and four for the best friend – that’s how the mathematics worked.

No wonder, you relate to six year old wide eyed Chintu [Vedant Chibber], who missed his fifth birthday celebrations with friends and is now looking forward to having his cake, and eating it too. The only spoiler? Well, he is the son of Bihari parents who have moved from India to Iraq in order to sell ‘pure filter water’ and have now found caught in the midst of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the subsequent unrest that has followed after the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

This time around, he doesn’t want to miss the celebrations and his family – which comprises of an ever-positive father [Vinay Pathak], a homemaker mother [Tillotama Shome] who isn’t interested in having a third kid till she gets back to India, a teenage sister [Bisha Chaturvedi] who still believes in making lifesize poster greetings on her own instead of heading for the Archie’s gallery and a granny [Seema Pahwa] who is wondering whether the lure of taking a one-way international flight from India to Iraq was worth it after all – is supporting him too.

So far so good, even as the family rallies around him to plan a few surprises for Chintu, which also includes fixing a rusty oven. However, all hell breaks loose when a car bomb explodes in the vicinity and American army men [Reginald L Barnes and Nathan Scholz] barge into the family’s rented accommodation which belongs to an Iraqi local [Khalid Massou] who arouses ample suspicion.

What impresses about this largely sweet-n-simple tale is the manner in which this (ex) AIB production has been put together with an economic narrative by first time directors Devanshu Kumar and Satyanshu Singh. Lasting just 80 minutes, this movie set in a single house – which is in all likelihood a set made of a couple of rooms – is enlivened by smart use of sound design and background score.

Picture this, there is war happening around the house, there are helicopters whirling in the air space, there are bombs exploding on the streets, there are bullets screeching through all directions, and yet none of that is every shown. What you witness is everything through the use of sound, and the expressions that you see on the faces of the protagonists.

The one who impresses most here is Vinay Pathak, though one would have thought that it would be the kid [Vedant Chibber] who would be the most impressive of them all. However, for some strange reasons, the kid is made to smile only when he says ‘shukran’ [‘thank you’ in Arabic] while for rest of the film’s duration he is required to maintain a poker face. In comparison, the elder sister [Bisha Bhaturvedi] is far more likeable and even better is the Arabic classmate [Mehroos Mir] who comes later on the scene. He makes an instant impression, and how!

As for the film as a whole, this isn’t the kind that was designed to make an instant impression. Instead, the film maintains a constant pace throughout, with some bit of action that comes in the interim time duration, courtesy the two American actors who play soldiers. They are good. However, for some inexplicable reasons, there are profanities galore that are mouthed by the two characters which instantly robs the narrative of its innocence and makes it an ‘for adults only’ affair. Really, the film could well have done even without that and retained its charm.

For a film which is designed for children, had these portions been muted off, it would have made it a family affair. Moreover, there is a reasonable part of the film in Arabic, though that’s something that one can live with since you still get to know what the characters are trying to convey through their mannerisms and body language.

Watch it for a new unexplored story on play!

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