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Monday, September 08, 2003 - 02:33 PM Permanent link for Review:   Where's the Party, Yaar?
Review: Where's the Party, Yaar?

Saw the movie Where's the Party, Yaar? on Saturday night w/ a few folks here in SF (including our special guest Godless Capitalist) and, overall, I liked it ( out of 5)  [my pre-viewing description of the movie is here].  Within my group, there were a pretty broad range of reactions with one friend who felt the movie dragged on way too long all the way to a gal pal whose "sides hurt from laughing so much."  

In my case, another friend saw it Fri night & strongly warned me to lower my expectations going in - he did NOT like the movie and found it rather juvenile and over-bearing.   Perhaps due to the warning, I got more chuckles than expected out of the movie and was solidly entertained.

WTPY had a good dose of what I was looking for -- snapshots of Houston Desi Culture -- Malayalee's, University of Houston, McMansions, and so on.  Especially enjoyable was something implicitly portrayed -- the extreme comfort so many young desi's (currently in the 18-25 range) have with their "desi-ness".   They were cool, self-assured, and carried little of the social insecurity that plagued the desi kids who grew up in my age bracket (26-33-ish).  

In my time @ HS / College, it was pretty hard to be both hip and ostensibly Desi - being cool generally meant blending into "All-American" culture.  This was no doubt a factor in Desi's dominating nerd ranks so well & provided fodder for the "C" in ABCD.   We were at the bleeding edge of the Desi demographic wedge -- the children of the first wave of Indian professional parents who emigrated in the late 60s / early 70s.  

For the kids in WTPY however, demography fed by more liberal mid70s / early 80s immigration has provided a critical mass of other Desi's, and thus a full cultural circle with it's own social ladder and roles / responsibilities at every rung. There are now Desi jocks, prom queens, hippies, druggies, thugs, in addition to the geeks - all of whom are portrayed in the movie.

The turning point here was somewhere around my senior year in college (1995) which tapped into the mid 70s wave of immigration.  A large part of these kids' "social ambition" could now be fulfilled within an environment where Desi is a norm - something effortlessly portrayed in the movie.  5-10 years of additional Desi penetration into America has made all the difference and provides them with a college experience quite distinct from mine.

There are, of course, both Good and Bad aspects here - a topic worth an in-depth blog article some other time.   The downside risk is unassimilation and balkanization;  the upside is a type of assertive self confidence and, in this case, an interesting artistic ethos.    Navigating the middle road is tricky but not impossible and is one of the things that makes growing up Desi, and thus the movie, interesting. 

Desi is now a "3rd culture" that's neither mainstream American nor FOB Indian.   A few short years ago a story like this would have centered on how the FOBs made the Lead look uncool to his White fraternity brothers;   now they make him uncool to his Desi party co-hosts.   (Alas, the plight of the FOB appears to have changed little in those years  ).  From my vantage point, Desi's are looking less and less confused about being neither here nor there.

WTPY makes a good attempt to capture this in a freshman effort;  however, with some emphasis on the word freshman.   Execution was uneven with some parts very well done but others displaying far too many rough edges.   The plot was surprisingly sophisticated & multi-threaded but there were a few "groan" generic storylines:

  • Oh wait, you mean the dorky guy w/ the bad hair actually has a good heart and something to teach us cool, materialistic, heathen bastards?  
  • I'm a cool 'playa' but the one gal in the ocean who's captured my attention really just wants an honest, sincere guy?....  guess I'll have find that man inside of me by the end of the movie

Thankfully, the production managed to provide us with 1.5 hrs of desi-themed entertainment without requiring yet another climactic Indian Wedding scene.  

Other threads in the plotline showed a film-making maturity that's rare in this genre.  For example, some characters are introduced as minor supporting elements but elegantly transform into major story drivers at the end -- a technique frequently employed in Western movies, and as a result, something that audiences are trained to detect.  Consequently, executing this well takes a bit of skill on the part of the director which WTPY successfully demonstrates.

Most of the humor in the movie comes from the filmmakers' acute attention to detail & cultural observation.   There's a lot of "you know, that really *is* how guys like that dress / act / live" realized through the exaggerated representations put on screen.   The comedy is more often visual than verbal or physical.   The supporting character actors are thoughtfully chosen and the various "freaks" fill their roles out well.

One big disappointment was that I was expecting MUCH stronger music and dance party sequences in the film.   What could be more uniquely Desi than some heavy-beat remixes and a packed-to-the-gills party filmed with cool cinematography?  I wanted Punjabi MC, slo-mo, strobe lights, hands & drinks in the air and confetti.  I guess some sort of genetic memory still yearned for the Desi wedding scene but set in a club instead.

The group that put the movie together is also known for their Desi parties in Houston and certainly had easy access to the apropos cast of extras necessary to make a few scenes like this.   I think they tried, but for some reason, they just couldn't pull it together.  

The general, non-Indian, populace will likely have a hard time figuring out the references deeply embedded in the movie.   But, there is enough general comedy to make the movie enjoyable nonetheless.  Though frankly, it's probably not that compelling unless you're a student of cultural dynamics -- I'd highly recommend bringing an Indian friend for cultural translation.    For the Indian crowd, the movie's a fun ride as long as you set your expectations appropriately going in and allow yourself to be easily moved by quick, low-cost laughs.

Update: A detailed story in the Houston Chronicle w/ the filmmakers.
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