Tere Bin Laden -- Film Review



OAKLAND, Calif. -- In the gently subversive comedy "Tere Bin Laden," an enterprising young Pakistani TV reporter named Ali Hassan gets the idea to orchestrate an elaborate video hoax, starring an uncanny Osama Bin Laden lookalike, in an attempt to earn a $25 million reward and a ticket to America.

Obstacles pop up at every turn. The man who bears a chilling resemblance to the world's most wanted terrorist is a simple-minded chicken farmer who isn't bright enough to get the joke; and Ali's hoax ends up having global consequences, including an American military strike on Pakistan dubbed "Operation Kickass."

The film has done remarkably well in India, and its novelty factor may also draw expatriate Indians to theaters in droves.

Western audiences aren't likely to be so impressed. America's aggression presents an easy target, and we're already used to seeing our country expertly lampooned - from "Dr. Strangelove" to contemporary satirists like Harry Shearer, Jon Stewart and Sacha Baron Cohen. The film elicits chuckles, but few solid laughs.

Writer-director Abhishek Sharma earns points for originality and coaxes fine performances out of the film's star, pop singer Ali Zafar, and National School of Drama alum Pradhuman Singh as Bin Laden.

The Western actors fare worse, especially the motley crew of ragtag American hippies cast as U.S. military brass; and Barry John, Bollywood's acting coach to the stars, a transplanted Brit with a garbled American accent so atrocious that one wonders if this is India's revenge for decades of bad American characterizations of South Asians.

Satire, especially political satire, is new to Indian cinema, but this month marks the release of "Tere Bin Laden" and the Sundance festival favorite "Peepli (Live)" on American screens.

Indian movie satire may still be in its infancy, but it deserves encouragement. So if "Bin Laden" occasionally comes off as sophomoric and slapdash, just mark it down as growing pains: Sharma has announced that "Tere Bin Laden 2" is already in the works.

Opens Aug. 6 (Walkwater Media)
Cast: Ali Zafar, Pradhuman Singh, Chinmay Mandlekar, Barry John, Chirag Vohra, Nikhiil Ratnaparkhi, Piyush Mishra, Seema Bhargava, Rahul Singh
Director/screenwriter: Abhishek Sharma
Producers: Aarti Shetty, Pooja Shetty Deora
Executive producer: Marjorie Rodrigues
Director of photography: Santosh Thundiyil
Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Dhruv Dhalla
Lyrics: Jaideep Sahni
Costume designer: Diksha Moitra
Editor: Suresh Pai
Not rated, 96 minutes.