The Assamese indie is cheeky, irreverent and sticks to its brand of humour – goofy, charming and silly – while telling a simple story.
Sometimes we underestimate how absurd – and funny – real life is. It’s notable how comedies embrace life’s dispiriting elements – lack of meaning, chaos, cluelessness – and turn them into something memorable. Which is why filmmakers attempting comedy and failing is an unfortunate sight, for it exemplifies not just poor understanding of cinema, but life itself.
We know the tricks: a character behaving out of character; a background score, initiating a decidedly unfunny scene, nudging us hard to laugh; needless exaggeration. Remaining stone-faced at something that’s intended to be funny doesn’t feel pleasant. You feel joyless.
We don’t do comedies too often, and we don’t do them well. In fact, to be precise, we no longer make a certain kind of comedy: stories centered on everymen bumbling through life, stories where stakes are low, where there’s no real sense of danger, where the humour is absurd and eccentric, playful and innocent, farcical and endearing.
But a recent Assamese indie, Local Kung Fu 2, is a remarkable exception. Like its prequel, Local Kung Fu, “made on a budget of Rs 95,000”, Local Kung Fu 2 is also low on budget, high on laughs. Based on William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, Local Kung Fu 2, on the surface, parodies mainstream actioners. Unlike the action sequences of numerous Indian films, where violence is immaculately choreographed, Local Kung Fu 2 allows for, and revels in, small screw-ups.
Consider these scenes. Intending to land blows, one group of men is after the other. But one of them – a man in his 40s – looks disinterested; he doesn’t want to run (or fight). Why? His stomach’s grumbling. (The same guy, in the film’s climax, goes to buy a packet of Eno in the midst of a fight.) During a heated exchange, a short man pulls a stool, stands on it and then glares at his rival. Elsewhere, a local goon, charged up to beat someone, begins to cross the road in anger but gets scared by a cycle. A young guy doesn’t want to fight because nothing interests him after his break-up.
Even though largely subversive, Local Kung Fu 2 knows how to have fun with regular cinematic tropes. Its martial arts sequences, for instance – even though life-like and anti-climactic – have a dramatic ring to them. Whenever fighters square off and exchange blows, copious dirt flies off their shoulders, fists and thighs, showing Local Kung Fu 2 doesn’t look down on visual embellishment. It has – of all the things – brand plugs: Hero Pleasure and Vivo V5. (When was the last time an indie plugged a brand?)
Kenny Basumatary, the writer-director-producer of Local Kung Fu 2, who also plays the film’s central character, has the gift of making the mundane hilarious. And although the film is consistently funny, it never shoehorns its humour. It doesn’t wholly bank on its one-liners, either. Several funny moments – small and subtle, part of a larger scene – whizz past, inducing a delayed laughter.
Local Kung Fu 2, unlike many forgettable comedies, isn’t interested in setting up and delivering gags, emphasising them with obvious visual and aural cues. It isn’t serving jokes on a platter. It isn’t trying to impress you. More importantly, Local Kung Fu 2 is funny because it’s consistent in its own world, deriving humour from the quirks of its characters, from situations that are unique to its spirit.
Although Local Kung Fu 2 is similar to Gulzar’s Angoor (as they share the same source material), it also has shades of the iconic comedy Andaz Apna Apna. Like Andaz Apna Apna, Local Kung Fu 2 has a greedy comical villain, Punchi Baba, a cross between a priest and a crook. Like Teja, Punchi Baba also has two intellectually compromised assistants, Bob and Nogen, who love making plans. None of them work. Like Andaz Apna Apna, Local Kung Fu 2 also winks at the stereotypes of commercial cinema. For instance, Punchi Baba smiles creepily whenever he comes on screen, accompanied by echoing laughter, and a melodramatic background score. (Later in the film, a character goes, “Are you in a saas-bahu serial?”) When the Eno guy is getting pummeled in the climax, he says, “Why are you beating me like Amrish Puri?” The digs at Hindi soap operas, however, even though funny, feel obvious and trite – traits, thankfully, not present elsewhere in the film.
It’s quite evident that a film like Local Kung Fu 2, cheeky and irreverent, is self-aware and smart, but it doesn’t go overboard with them; instead it sticks to its brand of humour – goofy, charming, silly – while telling a simple story. Shot with a relatively inexpensive DSLR camera, Local Kung Fu 2 has a distinct home video feel to it. However, the stripped-down visuals do not compromise but aid the film, for they make it more relatable, more real. This is the cinema of streets, of ordinary people. Local Kung Fu 2’s characters look and talk like us; they complicate simple situations; they’re immature and lame – like we often are, with friends and lovers, comfortable with the fact that we’re not being observed or judged. More importantly, Basumatary doesn’t let the lack of budget affect the film. Apart from some unconvincing acting from a few peripheral characters, Local Kung Fu 2 is well-made: it’s intelligent, engaging and taut.
A lot of our films, especially indies, are preternaturally serious, trying too hard to shock, or tug at our heartstrings. But Local Kung Fu 2 breaks that monotony. Unlike many indies, it isn’t trying to be profound; it isn’t asking the big questions; it isn’t proving a point. And yet, it does what’s expected of good films: it respects our intelligence, lives up to its promise and is comfortable in its skin.
I haven’t laughed this hard in a theatre for quite some time. But I realised, after having watched the film, that Local Kung Fu 2’s real charm is not that it’s funny, but that it’s innocent. In this world of push-button outrage and manufactured cynicism, Local Kung Fu 2s are hard to come by. We don’t make them like that anymore. Because we’re not the same people anymore. We’ve forgotten how to laugh like teenagers. We’ve forgotten how to be silly and goofy. In such a scenario, you feel protective of something like Local Kung Fu 2. It reminds us of the selves we’ve lost, but, at the same time, tells us that maybe – just maybe –we’re only a few laughs away from being pulled right back.