Love Express

Love Express is a delightful rom-com from first time director Sunny Bhambhani, a graduate of Whistling Woods International Film Institute, along with debut performances by four more Whistling Woods alumn, all of whom, I predict, will soon become familiar faces on the big screen!

London raised Kanav (Sahil Mehta) agrees to an arranged marriage only because he does not want to be thrown out of his parents house and lose the luxury he is accustomed to. He is not pleased, however.

His bride-to-be, Asneet (Mannat Ravi), is an undergraduate from Amritsar who comes across to Kanav as both old-fashioned and simple.

Together they are trapped (like deer in headlights trapped) on a Punjab to Mumbai bound train full of family and friends celebrating the upcoming nuptials of this mis-matched couple.

Unbeknownst to Kanav is that Asneet is not happy about this arrangement. It seems she recently found out that the young man she had been pinning away for, the rather uncouth Kuljit (Siddartha Chaudhary), is in love with her, but he had always been too shy to express it. Finally admitting to her how he feels, just after her engagement with Kanav has taken place, Kuljit is philosophical about it being too late.

Asneet, however, is not as graceful.

Having had the engagement party in Amritsar, and now together on the train, Kanav and Asneet have barely spoken to each other. Well, mostly Asneet has barely spoken. Kanav runs at the mouth. Neither one thinks much of their to-be mate.

Kanav describes his family as an assorted box of chocolates, and that well describes the characters on board the Love Express!

Among them is the lovelorn Chirag (Vikas Katyal)…

…who spends the trip reading ‘The Seven Love Stories of Suleiman’ while all around him others are partying….

…Asneet’s outspoken ‘daada’  Bakshi (Om Puri) who flirts shamelessly with Asnit’s maternal grandmother Sarita (Alka Mehta), despite, or inspite of, Mrs. Bakshi’s (Daljeet Kaur) presence….

…Kanav’s parents, the wealthy and modern Mr. Chaddha (Gireesh Sahedhev) and his wife Prommie (Mamta Verma)…

….and Asneet’s more traditional parents Mr. Sujan Singh (Anil Mange) and wife Jasmeet (Roobie)…

… pretty, young Priyanka (Priyam Galav), friend of Asneet, is attending the festivities with her snobbish ‘aunty’ (Silky Khanna) who treats the girl like a personal assistant…

…and finally, Balli (Taran Bajaj), ‘the walking newspaper’ who wanders the train informing, usually, of what is already obvious….

Back in their train compartment Kanav finally gets Asneet to speak, and he learns that she is also not pleased with the circumstances.

Both boy and girl are relieved, but how are they to get out of this mess?

They decide that it would be best if they do not break the marriage, but if instead they somehow can get their parents to call it off.

In another part of the train Chirag’s friend Nona (Mayuri) tries to get him to join in the partying, but he declines.

But then Chirag notices that one of the revelers is his former girlfriend, Priyanka.

Chirage is thrilled to see her again after a 5 years separation. Priyanka, however, is not feeling the same.

It seems that the two had dated quite seriously in the past, but Chirag had made the decision to study in England. Priyanka had given him an ultimatum of marriage now or never. Chirag chose England over marriage thus Priyanka ended the relationship.

Back at the bride and groom’s compartment, The kids set plans in motion. Ashneet shows her mother Kanav’s phone with its pictures of all his various girlfriends.

The plan fails, though. Mom explains it away by telling her daughter that this is the custom in England, but that after marriage Kanav’s parents will be sure that their son settles down. And besides, she should be happy that these photographs are of girls, and not guys!

Meanwhile, Kanav tries his hand at convincing his mother that Asneet is not the good old fashioned Indian girl that everyone thinks she is, and that in fact Asneet has had many lovers.

Prommie, trying to make things better, insists that nowadays every girl has a past…why, even she, his own mom, has a past!

Chirage, still in love with Priyanka, tries his darnedest to make up with her

….even showing that he kept her photo on his cell all the years that they were apart.

But, Priyanka refuses to take an interest.

Chirag discovers that Priyanka’s widowed mother died a year ago and that the demanding ‘auntie’ of hers is not a relative, but is Priyanka’s future mother-in-law. Chirage interveens when he witnesses auntie abusing Priyanka.

Eventually Asnit and Kanav come up with a sure fire (and hilarious) scheme to get their parents to cancel the wedding. It works all too well. The marriage is called off, but this also causes a strain between the two sets of parents.

To avoid embarrassment it is decided that no one else on board should know of what is occurring until after the train reaches Mumbai. Of course the guests begin to suspect that something is awry after Jasmeet makes a spectacle of trying to leap to her death off of the moving train.

Naturally, rumors begin to fly.

What’s more is that now Kanav is started to see Asneet in a different light!!!

Will Asneet now be able to marry her Kuljit? Will Kanav be free of tradition and be able to go about his carefree modern way, or will he decide that Asneet is the girl for him? And what about Chirage and Priyanka? Will he cool off? Will she warm up?

Love Express is a delightful Hindi rom-com dancing to a Punjabi beat! It will make you smile, it will make you laugh, and if you are like me, it will make you teary eyed, too. In addition, there are some swell songs, a couple of which are all out musical numbers (yippee!).

Stories of arranged marriage are certainly no rarity, but to set the entire picture on a train chock full of wedding guests is a novel idea which helps make this film different than the average. Seeing new faces on screen is also a nice addition…’cause honestly, Bollywood could use some new blood! Seriously, yaar, I get a bit tired of seeing the same performers over and over again (well, ok, I never do tire of seeing John Abraham).  Make no mistake, this is a low budget outing, but you can rest assured that there is definitely no skimping on entertainment in Love Express!

Sunny Bhambhani keeps the story rolling along at a nice pace, with no dull spots (the film runs a brisk 100 minutes) and the newbie actors (Sahil Mehta, Mannat Ravi, Vikas Katyal, and Priyam Galav) each make their character 3 dimensional, human, and likable, and thankfully they all avoid the overdone mugging so common to many modern Hindi comedies. All four actors seem quite comfortable in front of the camera, and to tell you the truth, had I not known that this was the first film for each, I’d have never even guessed it. I thought they did a bang up job!

So now, let me introduce you to the cast:

Sahil Mehta (Kanav) has a surefire career ahead of him.

…He oozes personality, that is the best way that I can describe him. He is of the “Chocolate Boy” mold like Ranbir Khan, and in fact he reminds me very much of RK. Comedy strikes me as his forte, but I could see him having a great time in character roles, particular negative ones. I have no doubt we will be seeing more of young Mr. Mehta.

Mannat Ravi (Asneet) has the looks to play good girls, bad girls, and everything in- between…

…She can also act! The scene where she turns vamp is a hi-lite of Love Express and had me totally cracking up.  Her looks, which are beautiful, could be taken as “Bollywood” generic and get her pegged in secondary roles or in the type of heroine roles which under-utilize her talents. I suspect she will need to fight to really stand out in a crowd. But I wish her luck and hope she goes for it! If producers and directors take the time to see what she can really do, instead of typecasting her due to her beauty, I think she will do very nicely in her career.

Priyam Galav is also a beauty, but more in the line of a Sharmila Tagore or a Konkona Sen Sharma in that there is such wonderful character in her face, if that makes sense.

Looking at her she will automatically seem different than the rest of the crowd, and I can see a film maker noticing this right off the bat. And the fact that she has personality and talent to spare is evidence that if she goes for a career as an actress, nothing can stop her. I totally loved her in this film and look very forward to her next picture.

I want to save my final praise of the four leads for Vikas Katyal. From the minute he appeared on-screen I was mesmerized by this actor’s expressive eyes.

You have all seen someone who, when you look at their eyes, you almost see a story, they just radiate such emotion. It is uncanny how wonderful this actor’s eyes are…and the rest of him is wonderful, as well. Due to the story-line it takes some time for Vikas’ character to really come alive, but once this happens his ‘Chirag’ makes you want to grab Priyanka and tell her what she is missing out on. Just looking at him you feel how sorry he is for his past decision and that he truly still loves this girl, wanting nothing more in this world but to see her happy…preferably with him at her side. Although Chirag is a fairly serious character in Love Express he is not without his funny moments, and Vikas does a grand job here. For instance, a short scene where Priyanka is talking to another character while Vikas, standing next to her, mimics the girl, is spot on. I found this scene so amusing that I must have watched it a couple of dozen times! Of everyone in the cast, Vikas Katyal is the one I am most wanting to see in forthcoming films. The guy is perfect for an art comedy or a romantic drama, and, call me crazy, but he would be great in mythologicals…couldn’t you just see him in a Vishnu or Ram avtar?!

Others in the cast also do quite well. Om Puri is, of course, a hit as the grandfather. He plays so very well off of Daljeet Kaur, who in herself turns in a fabulous performance as his wife. I find few other credits listed for Ms. Kaur, but I am almost certain that I have seen her in something else recently and I certainly hope that I do see her again soon. (Ms. Kaur, call me…I really want to know more about you!). Even when she speaks no lines, you can read what she is thinking, she just has the greatest facial expressions. She is one fantastic character actress.

Taran Bajaj, as Balli, is hilarious and I found myself laughing every time he was on screen. I must catch more of his work!  I have seen Gireesh Sahdev (Chadda) in other films before and he is always a joy. Anil Mange, as the stoic Sujaan does not have a lot to do until a point in the story when he has an impressive emotional scene, and as Jasmeet, the actress Roobie (sometimes billed as Ruby) has some wonderfully funny scenes. Siddartha Choudhary as Kuljit rocks when he attempts to turn modern to impress Asneet’s family. Only Mamta Verna seems to get short shrift, as her character Prommy, while interacting with all of the others throughout, does not get quite as much of a chance to shine.

One thing  I have been unable to understand is the amount of bad reviews that Love Express received. The only thing that I can think of is that many film critics are just not fond of ‘feel good movies.’ Also, the comedy in this film is (thankfully, for me) not as ‘overdone’ as one would find in, say, one of the Golmaal pictures or an Akshay Kumar outing…which is neither good nor bad, just a matter of taste. Possibly it is that over the top comedy that many of India’s film critics prefer…certainly it is what they are used to seeing. It could also be a prejudice against a low budget, no-star feature when one is used to a steady diet of glossy, star studded event films. Some reviewers even had unkind things to say about the performances, which really leads me to wonder if they actually watched this movie!

Never-the-less, I absolutely, totally enjoyed Love Express and have already watched it three times (a rarity for me).The last 15 minutes never fails to bring a huge smile to my face…so don’t listen to those critics. Give Love Express a whirl! I think you will enjoy it!