Urvashi Cinema Hall at Fancybazar back then, was nothing less than a multiplex by today’s standards. Fulmama (umm, affectionate term for maternal uncle) and his friends were pretty excited to watch this ‘action’ film. Initially, I was underwhelmed. The movie starred this lanky, Chinese fellow who mumbled his dialogues and looked too decent to, you know, fight. A few more minutes, and my jaw dropped – this guy didn’t seem to have any bones in his body, and he made whupping bad guys look like Sanjeev Kapoor making Maggie 2-minute-noodles (bad example, I know, but you get the drift). Was I hooked! The movie was Enter The Dragon, and the guy was named Bruce Lee.
I wasn’t the only one fascinated by martial arts films, or as they were called then – ‘Karate’ films. Bollywood, being a fast learner as always, quickly threw up film after film, in the 70s-80s with heroes doing ‘Karate’ – which basically constituted our protagonist bending forward his torso about 45 degrees, spreading his hands like wings and making ‘poses’, accompanied by some appropriate ‘hoo-ha!’ noises. Over the years, some did it better than others. Our dear Akki did a verrry good job of this ‘posing’ – to his credit, he was trained in Taekwondo and Muay Thai – but we could catch precious little of that on screen.
And so, when I heard a few months back that a young first-time filmmaker had made India’s first true-blue Martial Arts-based action film, my first reaction was to smirk and quickly forget all about it. Some days later, Kenny Basumatary posted the trailer of his new film Local Kung Fu on Facebook. I had to check it out, since I knew Kenny as a discerning film-buff who wrote for PassionForCinema.com, a now-defunct hangout of film lovers and aspiring film makers, and also the fact that he hailed from Guwahati, my home-town. I saw the trailer. Getting hit with a brick on the face would have caused a lesser shock. It had some kick-ass action sequences, all of them as true to technique and style as the Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films of yore. And what’s more, it managed to be funny, with some hilarious moments. I saw the trailer again. And again. I hated that I couldn’t get to see the film right away.
As fate would have it (love that line!), in a few weeks, I was sitting in a suburban studio, watching the film. I couldn’t remember the last time I was this engrossed and ‘involved’ with a movie – biting my proverbial nails at some scenes, laughing my heart out at others. The story was rather simple. Charlie is a simple guy who’s trying his best to woo his lady-love’s parents and sister (“Ah, that takes rolling quite a few papads”, you must be thinking). But his luck and his tummy keep letting him down. Charlie’s passion is learning Martial Arts, and he seems quite adept. His would-be father-in-law gets in trouble with some shady characters – they rough him up. When they threaten his girl, Charlie must intervene. But there’s a problem – you see the ring-leader, Dulu, is a crack at Martial Arts, probably a notch better than Charlie! This is where the adventure begins – Charlie must fight to protect his honor, his girlfriend, and his bad tummy. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds.
Throughout this film you’ll meet a host of colorful characters, especially the most vibrant, somewhat cute and motley crew of bad guys you’ll ever see in today’s cinema. Watch out for ‘Bonzo’, the “no. 1 under-18 Don”, you won’t forget that one in a while. Dulu, the baddie, is as rotten as they come, but a man of honor nevertheless. He’d rough up innocent people for money, but also disciplines his brothers with a cane when they go astray. Tansen, his aptly-named side-kick, beside practicing kicks and punches, also keeps up his riyaaz of Hindustani Classical, much to Dulu’s chagrin. Kenny does a commendable job as the equally unsure-of-himself but at-times-cocky Charlie.
But soul of the film is the Martial Arts. One gets to see some dizzying action sequences – at times it totally seems like people are kicking each other for real. Kenny tells me the style employed in the film is close to Wing Chun, an ancient form of Martial Arts depicted in the 2008 film Ip Man and it’s sequel, Ip Man 2 (2010). The action is fast-paced, pulsating and real. The Great American Rope Trick, which is behind many a Hollywood ‘flying kick’, thankfully hasn’t been used here – more by choice than by compulsion. Kenny is a big time Martial Arts enthusiast, his passion for it almost equaling his love for cinema, as is evident from the scores of practice and combat videos that he’s uploaded on his YouTube Channel.
One might think all this action makes the mood a bit sombre. No sir. Local Kung Fu is full of the kind of scenes which you remember much later, when you’re back home doing something else, and laugh like crazy! There’s one chase sequence during the climax that is unique in the history of cinema – no shit.
After seeing the film, one finds it quite unbelievable that this quaint, delightful film was made with all of Rs. 95,000. That’s interesting, considering most of the scenes were of sterling production quality, with some decent performances and breath-taking action. More power to Kenny Basumatary and those like him.
If you are in Delhi, you can catch Local Kung Fu this Saturday (July 28), 9:45 AM, at Siri Fort Auditorium.