It can be quite deflating to watch Rajkummar Rao participating in a bonfide ‘star-vehicle’. Rao, an actor who has made a career out of stunning performances in ‘necessary’ films, is clearly capable of leaving his mark even in films that don’t deserve his talents. But what happens when producers depend solely on Rao’s ability to carry the film past its glaring inadequacies, just like Dream Girl did with Ayushmann Khurrana recently. Films like Mikhil Musale’s Made In China are responsible for slowly eroding the credibility of an actor like Rajkummar Rao, something that’s been painstakingly put-together over a decade. Made In China takes its leading man’s impressive range of skills and shelters them under one roof – quirky.
Rao plays the character of Raghuvir Mehta, an Ahmedabad-based businessman dabbling in one venture after another, without much success. Supported by his wife Rukmini (Mouni Roy), Raghu is the starry-eyed black sheep of the Mehta family, who spends his hours watching videos of a motivational guru – Dr. Chopra (Gajraj Rao). Accompanying his cousin (Sumeet Vyas) during a trip to China, Raghu finds himself entwined in a business of an under-the-table drug to cure erectile dysfunction called ‘Magic Soup’. Partnering with a renowned sexologist,Dr. Vardhi (Boman Irani), to endorse his drug, Raghu soon finds himself in charge of a growing empire.
Director Musale finds his ‘social issue’ (like any recent Ayushmann Khurrana film) in the stigma around talking about sexual health. The film models Dr Vardhi’s character on the real-life veteran sexologist, Dr. Mahinder Watsa, even borrowing the title of his book It’s Normal during a public interaction featuring a hysterical Boman Irani. The film’s school-boy humour can be boiled down to a scene, where a partly dysfunctional neon sign of a certain ‘Hotel Peninsula’ reads as ‘Hotel Penis’.
Apart from a couple of scenes starring Boman Irani and Paresh Rawal (playing a tycoon), Made In China is an infuriatingly joyless film to endure. Visibly full of decisions by a producer looking to recreate the blockbuster recipe of Stree – Musale’s film features the lead couple smoking/drinking in the loo of their conservative household, a few remixed navratri classics in case people forgot about the film’s Gujarati milieu (in spite of the umpteen Thepla and Falguni Pathak references). The Chinese characters are plain caricatures, who exist purely to serve the film’s lazy humour.
This film falls back on the age-old Bollywood interpretation of the Gujarati accent, the puerile euphemisms while talking about sex, the done-to-death salesman lessons, to draw laughs. It has absolutely nothing new to offer. Forget about a point-of-view, the film doesn’t even meet Bollywood’s low bar of an ‘entertaining’ film.
Much like the Aziz Mirza-Shah Rukh Khan collaborations in the 90s, this is a story about a blindly ambitious protagonist who discovers his ability to ‘see’ by the end of the film. But neither does the film have the sincerity of Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, nor does it have the razor-sharp writing and insight of Rocket Singh: Salesman Of The Year. Like most of the other Bollywood star-vehicles, Made In China leans on Rajkummar Rao for a miracle to make such pedestrian even writing remotely watchable. Alas, it’s too much pressure on a star who is still finding his feet.