‘Mango Dreams’ (2016) made its UK premiere at the opening gala of the London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) 2017 at the exclusive Regent Street cinema. In the presence of key media and guests along with director John Upchurch, the film saw a full house for this drama making its debut on the big screen in the UK. Written and directed by American John Upchurch the film stars Pankaj Tripathi, Ram Gopal Bajaj and Samir Kochhar with a guest appearance by the great Naseeruddin Shah. This file has done a few rounds around major film festivals before coming to the UK and has received a fair response throughout audiences in various countries. It would be interesting to see how the film fares with the excited London audiences at the film festival that is also featuring the likes of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ (2016), Chalk N Duster (2016) and Bazodee (2016).
The film opens to a flashback sight of two young Sikh kids playing near a mango tree when they have a till and one walks away. Bajaj plays the role of Amit, an old doctor in Ahmedabad whole simple and honest ways are best known with his patients as he truly believes in serving people. He is lonely though with his son settled in USA and his wife has passed away and spends his free time in old memories of his brother on that mango tree in his village in Punjab before he lost everything in partition. He soon realises he is losing control of his mind to dementia and memories will start to fade that he is truly trying to hold on to. Hearing of his condition his son, Samir Kochhar playing Abhi arrives at his home and urges him to come along with him to US but till he sorts out the paperwork wants his father to check into an old age home which he refuses to do and wants to go on a journey to relive his past. They have an argument & Amit storms out to bump into Tripathi playing Salim as a rikshaw driver whose son Amit had saved. He decides to help him and they embark on a road trip from Gujarat to Punjab stopping at various locations living his past. Both the characters share their stories and connect at a different level. Both have faced religious violence in their lives and they develop a bond as they continue on the journey. They help each other find peace with their past and find happiness in the present moment. Abhi manages to track his dad too and all 3 finally arrive at the village in Punjab to find it is on the other side of the border. A warm-hearted soldier decides to help in and checks on the other side of the border and finds someone who knows him. He allows Amit to step on to the other side of the border if he wants to go. Who is this person on the other side and what will Amit do is where the film meets its climax.
For an American, John Upchurch gets the intricacies and emotions of the story right. For a film about Indian partition, old age and dementia there is a lot of strong issues the film tackles in a nice road-trip format giving a chance to each of the characters to develop and connect with the audiences. The story is the best part of the film and is a really strong piece of work being the first full work by Upchurch. The direction is not that great though as there were a number of things that could be a lot better.
Firstly, the film is completely in English and that just doesn’t work. A lot of the emotions in the dialogues is lost simply because Hindi / Urdu is a lot more expressive and smooth in conversation when it comes to such serious topic. The first 20 mins feels really odd and is uncomfortable to watch as viewer but then as the story picks up it gets easier to come to terms with the full English conversations. The editing by Upchurch is rather choppy too and could have been a lot crispier. The start of the film is rather weak and boring and takes a long time to set the stage and get the viewer engaged. The end before the climax drags on a bit too.
The screenplay and cinematography are average too. The script falls flat at times and misses opportunities to build on the scenes while there are a number of parts in the film that feel rather unwanted. Some scenes are very well written though and they are mostly for the main part with Salim and Amit together. They pack a good number of laughs as they slowly bond and get on with their journey. The camera work is amateur at times but fairly decent when you consider the budget and the scale of the film. The film doesn’t have the impact of a road trip film which is where the cinematography could have been amazing going from Gujarat to Punjab which is where the film misses a trick as such. The music of the film is perhaps one of the better aspects of the film production. The music works well in setting the mood and location of the scenes.
The performance by Tripathi is the winner of the film. He is simply amazing driving a range of emotions from sorrow to laughter in an effortless manner. He is the real soul of the film and it would be dud bore to watch it without him. His casting is absolutely accurate and his performance is precise in every scene. Shah is perfect in his cameo but could have done a lot more which makes one wonder if he should have been the lead of the film. Bajaj is good overall but in the start of the movie it was almost unbearable to watch with some overacting. But when Salim comes into the shots, they start bouncing off each other to deliver some very good chemistry between them. But nonetheless, Bajaj does justice to the lead role and brings it a lot of credibility. Kochhar is good as the American son and does a fair job in his limited role.
‘Mango Dreams’ has a really good story around partition and inter-racial problems in India but it tackles it in a beautiful way. It has a great message that is strong and emotional and fits in well in 2016 with the current times and issues on the border between India and Pakistan. The film lacks good direction, production and performances but for a first time low budget film this is a fairly good effort. There is some overacting throughout but overall the cast does a decent job. Tripathi is the real star of the film and his chemistry with Bajaj is iconic. The setting is great as the film goes through places at a steady pack. The post-production is weak on the film and it is difficult to forgive at times. It just gives the film a very TV look rather than a big screen film. It shouldn’t have been in English to start with which clearly doesn’t work in the film’s favour. But overall once you are half way through the film keeps you engaged till the end. With a good story this is a really nice effort for a first time director on a low budget film and is a fair viewing experience.
BizAsiaLive.com Rating – 7/10