Chandni Chowk to China, the first ever Bollywood Kungfu comedy takes you on a madcap journey from the by-lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi, to Shanghai, the Great Wall and rural China, marrying in its wake hilarious gags, breathtaking action, spectacular locations and heart stirring emotions.
Our protagonist Sidhu (Akshay Kumar) is the lowest on the totem pole, cutting vegetables at a road side food stall in Chandni Chowk in Delhi. He longs to escape his dreary existence and looks for shortcuts- with astrologers, tarot readers, & fake fakirs basically believing anything except himself, despite his father figure Kaka's (Mithun Chakravorthy) best efforts. His redeeming moment arrives when two strangers from China claim him as a reincarnation of a war hero in the past and take him to China.
Sidhu now dreams of wine, women and a princely existence in foreign lands. Thanks to the devious translator, a conman by the name Chopstick (Ranvir Shorey), little does he know that he is being taken to the promised land to rid the Chinese village of the vicious smuggler Hojo (Gordon Liu)!
So Sidhu blissfully sets forth to China with Chopstick who instigates dreams of a delicious future and forgets to reveal the perils which await him.
Along the way he meets Sakhi (Deepika Padukone), Ms. Tele Shoppers Media (Ms TSM) who has embarked on a journey to pay homage to the land of her birth and her dead father and twin. Initially Sidhu through a series of lucky coincidences manages to sidestep being beaten by Hojo's men but finally Hojo catches up with him and exposes him as the country buffoon that he really is. Sidhu has the fire of revenge in his belly and finds the one man who will make him a Kungfu expert and set the village free. Armed with his Sifu (master), faith in himself and the love of the fair Sakhi Sidhu sets forth to conquer all
BEHIND THE SCENES
The screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan reveals that the spirit of this action comedy was fuelled by two films he enjoyed watching as a child- both directed by one of the producers of the film, Mr. Ramesh Sippy. Sholay, a film in the genre of Seven Samurai; and Seeta Aur Geeta, the tale of two female twins separated at birth, one a firebrand and the other a gentle soul. And the films of another of his all time favourite directors Manmohan Desai, maker of Naseeb, Amar Akbar Anthony among other romp fests.
"These were the kind of films I grew up on", says Shridhar, "the kind of films I loved - the daunting part was to write a contemporary script evoking the spirit of those masala movies that combined action and comedy." Add to the mix his fascination with Hong Kong cinema, and you have the recipe for great Kung Fu curry! "From 36 Chambers of Shaolin to Kung Fu Hustle I love them all and I particularly like the way humor can be blended with action the way Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow do it, a tradition that goes all the way back to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd." This is what Chandni Chowk To China has attempted, so it can truly be called the first ever Bollywood Kungfu comedy film!
Finding a director who was equal to the formidable task of maintaining the delicate balance of all the flavors in the script while executing some very complicated logistics on a tight schedule was a challenge as well. Rohan Sippy, one of the producers of the film who had developed the script, found director Nikhil Advani, literally in his backyard.
"Nikhil is a dear friend which made the prospect of working with him very comfortable and exciting as well."
"One day Rohan came over and handed me the script of Chandni Chowk to China. I was instantly fascinated", says Nikhil. "Rohan had recently returned from a recce in China and the location photographs further whetted my appetite. Of course after the initial euphoria of a new, exciting project it dawned on me that I was dealing with two new elements; action and comedy."
Rohan had met Huen Chiu Ku,sterling Kungfu action director, during his trip to China, who signed on to the project. Huen Chiu Ku, more widely known as Dee Dee brought to the film the kind of action they were looking for; at times raw and comic, yet smooth and lyrical when needed.
Nikhil is a director who is used to being intimate with every aspect of his films, from costumes to music to the lighting scheme to how he wants the shots executed. In that aspect Dee Dee's style was unorthodox, and took some getting used to. " There was no shot breakdown, initially I would be on set, wondering what Dee Dee would cook up next!" says Nikhil, but this blend of intense preparation and whirlwind improvisation worked perfectly for the action and the humour.
Rohan had brought the film to Warner Bros. " I knew that with this material, combining the two countries, India & China, that have captured the modern imagination, and combing their martial arts spectacle with our song and dance extravaganzas, we had the potential to go beyond the general audience for Bollywood movies."
"Its been a wild ride. We have shot in some unbelievable locations. We had a rig on top of the Great Wall of China and Dee Dee's stunt team on wires suspended off the wall.
Can you imagine, shooting action on one of the seven wonders of the world, in freezing cold, running up and down and all over the wall for different sequences. It was breathtaking in its audacity!" Nikhil muses.
The production was shooting in three different countries India, China and Thailand with crew from all three countries. "We have had Hindi- Chinese, English-Chinese, Thai- Chinese-Thai-English-Hindi, basically chaotic translations going on the whole time.
Another major feat was recreating our Chinese village and cheating some other Chinese locations in Thailand. We had to be very careful with the details of our production design.
We were shipping props from India to Thailand, from China to Thailand, making sure we got all the intricacies accurate. Of course language barriers were unavoidable, but luckily led to minor lost in translations, which in retrospect were mildly funny at times."
A huge compliment was when Mr. Ramesh Sippy walked on to the village set and said, " It looks like Ramgarh" says Nikhil- the name of the mythical village in Sholay- the most popular and longest running Indian film in history.
" We have no doubts that with our potpourri of exciting elements, and very talented international cast and crew, this film will succeed in exciting audiences worldwide" says Mr Ramesh Sippy.
This is no typical role for Akshay Kumar, the lead of Chandni Chowk to China, who is also one of the biggest stars in the country today- it is his return to action films. Akshay, who has given consistent hits over several years has already exhibited his excellent comic timing. Now he will take it a notch further. For Akshay the film is also an emotional journey. He grew up in Chandni Chowk and was a chef in Bangkok before meeting his destiny and becoming a much beloved actor and star worldwide.
The story of the bumbling Sidhu, whose journey to China gives him an identity, a chance to believe in himself and save a village resonated somewhere, and Akshay was keen to essay Sidhu.
"Shridhar and I were so clear that he was the only choice for the part, and were so keen to have him on board that we actually created a poster with him in it to give him a feel for the film. I think the poster bowled him over so much that he wanted to sign on right away- and in fact it is the same concept we have used in the teaser poster of the film!" says Rohan.
" I don't think we could have envisioned any other actor in the role of Sidhu. Akshay has breathed life into this role. People will feel sympathy when he is a fumbling Sidhu and will cheer when he beats up the bad guys. There are very few actors who can convince the audience to accept them as a simpleton and as a Kung Fu expert within the same movie. Beyond being an exceptionally versatile and professional actor, he is one of the very few actors in Bollywood, who has the physique and agility to have carried off the exacting demands of this role. He is a daredevil, he loves performing stunts, reveling when they are risky." say the director. This attitude helped the production immensely because there was a stunt being filmed every single day, more often than not all day long.
With Sidhu cast, we had to find a very special girl, who would be the very beautiful Ms. TSN and at the same time the fabulously sexy femme fatale Meow Meow, someone who was fresh, physically fabulously fit and a good actress. Luckily the most exciting debutante actress to hit Bollywood films in a while, Deepika Padukone came on board.
"Look out for this girl" says Ramesh Sippy. Deepika who was a supermodel before she joined films, rarely gives the impression that she is an ingenue. She is extremely self assured before the camera and has held her own with such a seasoned co-star as Mr. Kumar. Dee Dee was worried initially about Deepika's ability to execute the stunts, but along with every one else he was impressed with how efficiently she performed the stunts while flashing her million watt smile.
Roger Yuan, a Ireland based actor came on board as the Chinese Sifu who teaches Sidhu martial arts. Roger is a seasoned stunt actor who has been in several Hollywood and Asian films. This was his first foray in Bollywood films. He had to learn Hindi, which Roger found harder than stunts, but passed with flying colors.
The true casting coups have been Mithun Chakraborty who plays Kaka and Gordon Liu, the protagonist of yesteryears cult classic 36 Chambers of Shaolin, who was cast as Hojo. He is also widely known as Pai Mei from "Kill Bill- Vol 2." "Our generation grew up on Gunmaster G-9 Mithun and 36 Chambers. And now these legends were here in flesh and blood, shooting with us!" says Shridhar and his excitement is echoed by the director and producers.
The sequences between Mr. Chakraborty and Akshay are the most emotional in the film.
He plays Sidhu's conscience and is also the catalyst to Sidhu's transformation from a man who believes in taking the easy way out to a man who believes in himself. Their scenes form the soul of the film, while the chemistry between Mr. Kumar and Ms. Padukone lights up the screen each time.
"When you have such a powerful presence as Akshay Kumar, you need actors who not only hold their own, but also bring a certain je ne sais quoi to their roles and create a wonderful camaraderie at the same time and I can't tell you how happy I am that it has been achieved" signs off Nikhil
THE ART OF WORLD CINEMA