Director: Atul Malhotra | Cast: Rez Kempton, Sam Vincenti, Martin Delaney, Karen David, Laura Aikman with Meera Syal and Nina Wadia
With over 1.4 million indian Punjabis in the UK, Indian cinema was always destined to thrive on British shores. But it’s been close to three decades that the British Indian-diaspora of filmmakers have taken hold of western audiences and gained consistent critical acclaim for being able to open its doors to film lovers from various backgrounds. Indian cinema in the UK, unlike other subcultures, has managed to successfully navigate the line between what it means to be British whilst staying authentically Indian.
Cinematic wonders such as East is East, Bend it Like Beckham, Anita and Me et al are to name a few – but it’s been close to a decade since the real big Brit-Indian flick took ahold of the nation’s audiences.Enter stage left, the independent movie: Amar, Akbar and Tony. An adaptation of a very popular Bollywood 1970s film of similar name (Anthony instead of Tony), and one of two adaptations this year alone.
It does its best to emulate and bring its own flare to an ever popular convention. This film succeeds in highlighting the prevalent issues regarding young generations of immigrant cultures navigating through western ideals whilst straining to stay true to strong cultural traditions. Amar (Kempton), Akbar (Vincenti) and Tony (Delaney) are three normal London lads; not taking life too seriously but on the brink of doing so. Amar is forging a promising career in Law and ready to marry his sweetheart; Akbar has his sights set on starting his own business and getting with a non-muslim girl, and Tony… well Tony, the only white boy in the group of friends, is a sort of honorary Asian, and he’s in love with the local Indian goddess who’s out-of-bounds (under the watchful eyes of her protective mother and bullish older brother) to almost everyone let alone a non-Indian.
When Tony’s comical determination to pursue his heart, and loins, lands him in hot water the film takes a sudden dark and unexpected turn. Changes the course of all three men’s lives dramatically. Essentially it’s a story of a three-way bromance, with some very poignant and current issues regarding duty, gender politics, value in proprietary and sexuality touched upon throughout.
Unfortunately, that’s all they are – touched upon. Where the aforementioned films were able to draw on similar topics with more conviction and attention to detail, Amar, Akbar & Tony though engaging and humourous for the most part, continuously falls short of really digging deep on the serious and complex stories centered around its main characters.
The trope of using time-jumping to move the story forward, is slightly disappointing and jarring – and at what some may view as the films most pivotal and climatic point. We miss a chunk of what could have been a potential opportunity to really get behind the three young men and explore the solidity of male friendship as well as their cultural deviations and obstacles.
That’s not to say that the subplots aren’t individually intriguing, they’re just half-baked. Tony, though goofy and endearing, never really seems to learn his lesson about appropriating a culture so steeped in tradition – so his appreciation comes off as some sort of fetishism with Indian women. Akbar is a parody of a well documented and better executed jack-the-lad; oozing confidence but never really coming up against obstructions other than a shaky dinner between his Muslim family and his white English in-laws to be; Amar on the whole carries the weight of the film and, in the beginning, the strongest storyline so it’s frustrating to see it become so tortuous in its follow through, rendering most of its good work in the first half of the film a little redundant mid-way and through to the end.
Director Atul Malhotra undoubtedly knows his comedy cues and manages to bring together an impressive array of comedy talent in his writing debut, with strong and expectedly ridiculous guest performances from Nina Wadia, as an indian bride matchmaker, and Meera Syal as a cougar mismatched with a bewildered Tony.
But where Malhotra succeeds in drawing on the experience of two of Britain’s most prolific comedians, he stumbles to draw the same strong performances from his lesser known main cast. Perhaps this is because two out of the three storylines carry the weight of bringing a deeper conversation to the topic of what it means to be born as a first generation immigrant in the UK?. Martin Delaney as Tony, in this version, white but still affected by the strongholds of indian culture, is perhaps the most experienced actor of the trio; he’s funny, likable and extremely adept at conveying the right emotion against an ever-changing premise.
Karen David as Amar’s new love interest is beautifully played – but such is her ability to convey devastating emotion in a film wrought with sensitive contemplation, that it feels out of kilter with the film as a whole. Amar Akbar & Tony joins a well established and inclusive collective of independent British-Asian sub-genre films. It may not be the game-changer that its predecessors of recent years have been, but it does offer sincere laughs and admirably bold attempts to explore issues that are still taboo in South Asian culture today and for that well-intentioned reason alone, this film probably deserves your attention.