Miss India is like a practical joke that just doesn’t know where to stop. It goes on past two hours way past its punchline to an exhausting finish when the film’s female hero, the very pretty Keerthy Suresh, is reduced to a series of defiant postures which make her look like the high-school bully who won’t do her homework because… well, everyone else is doing it, emerges winner in this rather awful film. Right from her childhood Manasa Samyukhta enjoys her cup of chai. Fine. But that doesn’t mean she can turn the whole of America away from coffee into tea addicts? In any case, how Indian is tea?
The Chinese and British like it as much we Indians. China recently found another way of owning the world, leaving Manasa to sell chai to America. On the idea level, Miss India is not an outright damp squib. But the execution is deplorably poor. The direction at times borders on the absurd. Sundry characters flit in and out in pairs and bunches looking uncertainly in the air as though waiting for the director to call the shots. By the time Manasa moves to San Francisco (the visuals are so postcard-like you pine for a bull in a chai shop) with her family to pursue her dreams, a good 60 minutes of the film’s playing time is done.
Manasa’s actual ascendancy as the chai queen happens in the second half. Events are crammed into the plot post mid-point, like a dinner party where the hostess forgot the food in the oven. As the ambitious wannabe entrepreneur, Keerthy comes across as more obstinate than focused. Pursing her lips defiantly when scolded by her family for dreaming too high, writing off the man who wants to marry her with a nose-flaring diatribe (“What gave you the impression that I wanted to marry you?”), and most of all, taking on her business rival KSK (Jagapathi Babu) who is the Coffee King about to be shown his place by the Tea Queen, Keerthy knows this is her film. What she doesn’t know is that owning the film is like owning an elephant in a high-rise apartment.
The plot is so driven by stereotypes and clichés that I often wondered if I was missing something. The characters are all stiff and uni-dimensional, the worst blow coming from actor Naresh as Manasa’s father with early signs of Alzheimer’s. His forgetfulness becomes a running joke in the plot. I wondered what is worse, slotting a woman into tradition-bound roles in life, or ridiculing a serious illness because the director just doesn’t know where to stop. While the narrative is choppy and filled with labored humour, the performances by Caucasian actors in some parts is unintentionally hilarious. Not only do they behave as though they would rather be anywhere else than in this, but their voices are dubbed by Indians trying to sound American, which is almost as bad as selling chai to a nation hooked to coffee. Chai with Karan, anyone?