After years of sugarcoated depictions of desis living in foreign countries, here finally is a film that attempts (if not successfully) to show them in a light of realism.
Sohail Khan┬┤s character┬┤s name is never mentioned in the film but he is meant to be the "I" in the film title. "I" comes to England from India with his father (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) to stay with his elder brother (Aasif Sheikh). The elder brother has a wife (Mona Ambegaonkar) as well as two children. After several members of the family are harassed by racist skinheads, supporters of the British National Party, "I" decides to fight back. This does not go down well with Cain (Tim Lawrence), the leader of the gang of the thugs, who terrorises the Indian family even more after being provoked by "I". Attached is a subplot where love slowly blossoms between "I" and Pakistani girl, Noor (Heena Tasleem). Will Noor┬┤s older brother, Aslam (Imran Ali Khan) accept this Hindu-Muslim (also add Indian-Pakistani) relationship? Will the Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis come together to fight their common enemy?
Despite an impressive directing style by Puneet Sira, it is the script that lets him down in the end. More attention and care needed to go into the portrayal of the white English characters. The skinheads are largely caricatures given the typical Bollywood villain treatment. The film does not explore where their racist views stem from or even what their own families think of them. It is mistake on the film┬┤s part to have Tim Lawrence┬┤s character down as the Gabbar Singh of London. The opening scene itself stammers the message home that BNP skinheads are like the Cat People. Whenever a character is about to be attacked by the racist gang, that person gets visions or an apparition of something like a ghost approaching them. Yes, these thugs are frightening people but the execution is entirely wrong. Mainly Hindi language, parts of the script allow for English language to be used and Lawrence has to deliver some toe-curlingly awful dialogue. Basically just take any standard villain in one of the old daku flicks of Hindi cinema and translate it into English and you have Tim Lawrence┬┤s lines. The actor tries his best with what he has been given and his acting is decent.
Another blunder that the film makes is that there are no friendly white characters. The policeman (Tom Sambrook) is thrown in for token measure. At which point, I should mention that the depiction of the police force is hilariously Bollywood-like. The police always arrive just when they are not needed. Back to my previous note, there are no regular white people who interact with the Indian and Pakistani characters in an affable way. This is not the England I know. Besides, if the story is all about unity among a community against a common foe then it is an error to have "I" fighting against the villains all the time. It is only he who wages a war and bashes them up. The several scenes where he beats three tough guys up at once are pathetic. Obviously, the realism is not always there. Clich├ęd melodrama is forever waiting around the corner like a big bad wolf.
That is not to say that the film doesn┬┤t have some redeeming qualities. The strongest point of "I - Proud To Be An Indian" is the illustration of English Asians. There are no big mansions, no luxury cars, no servants and no ungrateful NRIs who have lost the true meaning of family values. For once, I can identify with it, especially with the heartwarming setting in the ordinary everyday house. There is a short scene that I liked immensely. This is the bath scene of Kulbhushan Kharbanda┬┤s character after he has been attacked. The nakedness of his body underlines his vulnerability. This actor is his reliable self in the father role. Sohail Khan with his weather-beaten face fits into the role snugly while delivering sermons on patriotism and what being an Indian is all about. Aasif Sheikh and Mona Ambegaonkar act well and do not let us down. Heena Tasleem is endearingly cute but she is just there and does not get much scope. Imran Ali Khan has screen presence but needs to improve his acting. The background score is occasionally effective but is often clunky and loud. Sometimes where there should be silence, there is a loud growling noise to introduce the menace of the villain.
In conclusion, "I- Proud To Be An Indian" is timepass. But because of the unusual theme, it is not the masaledaar kind of timepass.