M Cream: Goa Film Bazaar Review
Four entitled kids embark on a trip to the Himalayas in search not of enlightenment but a mythic drug.
To judge by M Cream, the first feature film from NYU graduate Agneya Singh, India's new middle class is fast going down the bad route of the West, lost in the fumes of alcohol, drugs, sex and the good life that money can buy. He leaves the door ajar, however, for creative and socially conscious members of his 20-something generation who represent India's future. What's most memorable about this likable if predictable road movie is the down-to-earth coolness of the protagonist, played by Imaad Shah, the raggedy-headed son of celebrity actors Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak, who looks uncannily like James Franco in dreadlocks. Whether he and the exotic locations will be enough to get the film in front of festival audiences remains to be seen. Its strongest appeal should be for the local youth market, but its industry bow at Goa's Film Bazaar offers no guarantee that two sex scenes and a modest bit of nudity will pass the Indian censors.
Actually the film has something of the look and feel of a U.S. indie, which could make it easier for some audiences to identify with. Four kids embark on a trip to the Himalayas, not in search of enlightenment but a mythic drug called M Cream. Three of them are from rich families and one is a working photographer. In a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas voice, an off-screen narrator affectionately celebrates "my generation, a wretched blob of uppers and downers."
The prelude to the trip is a mega-party on the lawn of a mansion, where the camera weaves through dancers and local fashionistas. Sitting on the grass getting wasted is Shah as the character Figs (short for Figaro -- Mom loved opera), almost hidden behind his mop of hair. There he gets into his first snide argument with the lovely but straight Jay (Ira Dubey), a law student who takes the Free Tibet movement seriously. He doesn’t. He smokes ganja and guzzles liquor with his girl pal Maggie (Auritra Ghosh), a self-centered size 0 socialite who's dating -- and bedding -- handsome photographer Niz (Raaghav Chanana). The next day they're out of hash, and somebody suggests they go to the mountains in Maggie's jeep in pursuit of M Cream. ("One puff and you’re gone.")
Their first stop is Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama, but this crew has little interest in religion ("an emotional crutch," per Figs). After Niz takes some pictures for work, they join a drugged-out commune run by an aging American hippie (played for laughs by theater director Barry John) who sells them LSD. There's a lyrical interlude of the four tripping in the mountains to psychedelic music and spacy VFX, then the party splits up. Figs and Jay are finally alone to explore their differences and similarities in more depth, as they rather impossibly join a local resistance movement opposing the construction of a luxury hotel.
Young writer-director Singh navigates through a sea of updated cliches with huge amounts of energy, pulsating new music, split screens and lively camera work from cinematographer Mingjue Hu. In the end, it's the absurdly grimacing, mocking Shah who saves the day with his cool seriousness. He clicks as a reader of Allen Ginsberg and an emerging poet. And what looks like an awful wig turns out to be the signature dreads of the young actor, who is best known in India as a cult musician and unconventional stage thespian.
Venue: Goa Film Bazaar, Nov. 22, 2013.
Production company: Agniputra Films
Cast: Imaad Shah, Ira Dubey, Auritra Ghosh, Raaghav Chanana, Tom Alter, Lushin Dubey, Tenzin Woeser, Barry John, Beatrice Ordeix
Director: Agneya Singh
Screenwriter: Agneya Singh
Producer: Vindhya Singh
Executive producer: Agneya Singh, Vindhya Singh
Director of photography: Mingjue Hu
Production designer: Angelica Monica Bhowmick
Costumes: Gayeti Singh
Editor: Hemanti Sarkar
Music: Srijan Mahajan, Arsh Sharma, Nikhil Malik
No rating, 127 minutes.