Saturday, February 27, 2016


Release date:
February 26, 2016
Abhishek Sharma

Manish Paul, Pradhuman Singh, Sikandar Kher, Piyush Mishra, Mia Uyeda, Sugandha Garg, Rahul Singh, Iman Crosson

Every once in a while a film comes along that is truly ordinary yet worth watching anyway because of one actor alone or only the cinematography or just the amazing costumes or some such. That unfortunate and rare distinction goes this week to Abhishek Sharma’s Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive.

This spin-off from 2010’s sleeper hit Tere Bin Laden – which made Pakistani singer Ali Zafar an acting star in Bollywood – features Manish Paul as Sharma, a struggling director who makes a film with an Osama bin Laden lookalike called Paddi Singh (Pradhuman Singh). A series of twists and turns follow, including the killing of the real Osama in Abbottabad by American Navy Seals. US President Barack Obama is in trouble when his country’s media demands proof that OBL is actually dead. Meanwhile, in another corner of the world, terrorists are mourning the loss of their leader and the consequent loss of business.

Obama’s aide, pretending to be an Indian American Hollywood producer called David Chaddha, pursues Sharma and Paddi to make a feature film on OBL. In truth what he wants is to shoot the actor being killed during a re-creation of the Abbottabad mission, so that the fake video and photographs can be presented to US journalists.

Team Sharma-Paddi become hot property when they find themselves abducted by terrorists who want to shoot a fake video message from Osama’s doppelganger, this one to embarrass the US and convince the world that the man is very much alive.

This is the kind of storyline that could have bred a fabulously hilarious two hours of non-stop nonsense. Don’t know about you, but some of us sometimes need to let our hair down and laugh at nothingness. Except that in this instance, something goes wrong in the journey from concept to film, and try as Team Tere Bin Laden might, they barely manage to be amusing. Except…

Except when Obama and Chaddha are in the picture. More on that later.

It is not that the rest are not trying. Some of them ham till kingdom come, others act. Manish makes do with widening his eyes to Sridevi-like proportions. Pradhuman looks alarmingly like OBL and provides the occasional laugh with his take on a folk singer pretending to be an actor playing the world’s most dread terrorist. Everyone else throws themselves into their characters with a gusto for which they must definitely be lauded. All the energy and enthusiasm in the world is not sufficient compensation though for the absence of that X factor, that magical ingredient that transforms stupidity into comedy, that unnameable element that is born when the right writing meets the right direction. Except…

Except of course in the scenes involving Obama and Chaddha, when everything inexplicably seems to fall into place. Such are the mysterious ways of cinema.

It almost feels like a spoiler to tell you who plays Chaddha if you do not already know from the promotions, because he is so believable as a deliberately over-the-top white man disguised as an equally deliberately over-the-top Indian that the actor himself becomes invisible in the role. In fact, he is so good as a pretend gora that he makes up for all those terrible white extras Bollywood has thrust upon us in film after film for years.

(Spoiler ahead) Sikandar Kher is not merely good, he is brrrrrilliant as a devious blonde white American who dons body padding, a wig and a device that switches his accent from Yankee twang to guttural Punjabi baritone at the turn of a knob. For those who don’t know, Sikandar (who has dropped his surname for this film) is Kirron Kher’s son from her first marriage. He made his debut in 2008 as the lead in two films, the critically slammed Woodstock Villa and a highly under-rated, poorly publicised, well-made Hindi film called Summer 2007 directed by Suhail Tatari. Both sank without a trace and in the intervening years he has appeared in marginal roles in so few films that it is safe to say he disappeared into oblivion. It is a wonder why, because his talent and engaging screen presence were evident from Day 1.

As a US government official, Sikandar is more white and more American than most white people have ever been, and as Chaddha he shows us how it is possible to laugh with a community instead of laughing at them. A lesser actor might have been so weighed down by the accents and make-up as to not bother to add anything more to his performance. Sikandar is not that lesser actor. His comic timing, his body language and his investment in this madcap role are all 100 per cent on target.

While the rest of the cast around him struggles with the limited material at hand, he gets able backing from African American actor Iman Crosson whose crackling imitation of Obama could bring the White House down. It is not that Iman looks like the US President – all he has going for him on that front are that he too is black and tall – but his mimicry is so spot-on that you completely forget how he is actually a much broader man than the real POTUS.  

Together, they – and the film’s mockery, through them, of the extent to which the US will go to maintain its global supremacy – save the day for this otherwise disappointing film.

It is only fair to point out that Tere Bin Laden 2 is not crude or distasteful in the manner of low-brow comedies we have seen emerging from Bollywood in the past. It is just proof – since so many people seem to need proof – that comedy is one of the hardest things to achieve in the arts.

If you must watch this film, watch it for Sikandar and Iman. If Sikandar’s poor visibility in Bollywood is due to a lack of trying, then it is his choice, but if it is due to a lack of roles, then the loss is totally ours. As for Iman…how I wish more Bollywood writers would write scripts that require the casting of an African American actor. He and Sikandar are a hoot and the only reason why Tere Bin Laden – Dead or Alive is not a complete write-off.  

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
110 minutes

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