Where's the Party Yaar?

Where's the Party Yaar?

Directed by Benny Mathews. Starring Kal Penn, Sunil Malhotra, Prem Shah, Serena Varghese, Tina Cherian. (2003, NR, 110 min.)

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Nov. 7, 2003

Cheerfully hewn in the tradition of the "big party" college farce, this Houston-set ensemble comedy is more than a little bit broad: smelly-immigrant gags, wacky montages, a Bollywood song-and-dance number. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yaar has enough heart to redeem its cruder moments, and it turns out to be quite a little charmer. Hapless Hari Patel (Malhotra) is what his Americanized family calls an "FOB" – fresh off the boat from India and sportin’ a head full of coconut oil, squeaky-clean sneakers, and a passion for electrical engineering. A dork in any language, Hari is doubly embarrassing to Mohan (Penn), his too-cool-for-school housemate, a party promoter who prefers hip-hop to bhangra. Complications ensue en route to the exclusive "Desi Fever" fete, which is strictly off-limits to Hari. Too bad Hari believes it’s his destiny to breach the velvet rope – and meet the girl of his dreams inside. The movie walks a fine line with its characterization of Hari, a stereotype incarnate who’s kind of like a South Asian version of Urkel. Naturally he’ll go apeshit in a 99-cent store and drink chai from a saucer while floating in the pool. But if the filmmakers (most of whom are first-generation immigrants themselves) do crack jokes at the expense of recent arrivals, they also poke fun at the pimpmobiles, fashion obsessions, and suburban McMansions of second-generation arrivistes. There are some great visual gags (Mohan’s identity-challenged tweenage brother morphs from b-boy to Goth to urban cowboy) and witticisms throughout. (A single shout – "Mr. Patel, your Toyota Camry lights are on!" – disperses dozens of party-minded desi dudes.) The cast and crew are largely rookies, and the film’s independent pedigree shows at times (some choppy edits and sparsely populated crowd scenes), but Mathews makes a remarkably assured debut, and the production design is nicely evocative of the desi milieu. Another standout is Penn, an easygoing, almost deadpan actor with plenty of leading-man appeal. In combining a wacky comic tone with a satirical statement about ethnic identity, Yaar is reminiscent of Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle. Likewise, it should provide Mathews and co-scripter Sunil Thakkar with a solid start and mark them as talents to watch. (Where’s the Party Yaar? previously played Austin during the SXSW Film Festival.)

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