Film: "Cheeni Kum"; Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Tabu, Paresh Rawal, Zohra Sehgal, Swini Khara; Director: R. Balakrishnan (Balki); Rating: ****
The incandescent Tabu makes Amitabh Bachchan run across the London fields... "Just to see if you've the energy to do anything else," she tells him, her tongue firmly in cheek.
"Cheeni Kum" is probably the sauciest, slickest, and most scrumptious romantic comedy you'll see in the Hindi language in a long time.
She's in London for a holiday. He is a cantankerous sarcastic chef who can't take a snub even when it's served up on a platter.
"Cheeni Kum" makes you forget there's a difference of 30 years between the woman and the man. That's the magic of pure acting. The magic of two of the finest actors at work as they create an ebullient alchemy.
Also in this mellow ode to love, are an 85-year-old mom (Zohra Sehgal) living life king-sized, and a seven-year-old terminally-ill girl called Sexy (Swini Khara) who takes the chef as an intimate friend and watches all adult DVDs he gets her, since she won't get a chance to do so later.
Then there is the heroine's Gandhian father who can't stop reminding his son-in-law-to-be of his autumnal age. And last but certainly not the least, there's the churlish chef's kitchen staff comprising some of the most sparkling cameo-actors you've seen.
Unarguably, one of the finest directorial talents in this millennium, Balki just sweeps that age gap under the carpet.
It's hard to decide in which capacity Balki scores higher marks - as director or dialogue writer. Caustic and crisp, modern and passionate, the words weave magic across this intelligent yet spontaneous comedy of romantic errors.
The flavour of the exchanges between the surly chef in London and the serene Indian girl from Delhi, who makes the cardinal mistake of criticising the arrogant chef's Hyderabadi biryani, are distinctly pungent and peppery.
Just like the dishes from the kitchen of the Indian restaurant, the brilliant banter between Amitabh and Tabu is light on top, cooked just right and served at the right temperature.
As the relationship between the couple grows, you sense undercurrents of defiant and mischievous feelings trickling out of the verbal banter.
But then Amitabh and Tabu are that kind of actors. They imbue every encounter on the rain-slickened streets of London into an occasion to celebrate life.
Tabu is a natural scene-stealer and there seems to be no end to the surprises Amitabh springs on us. To imagine "Cheeni Kum" without Amitabh is to imagine that pivotal Hyderabadi biryani that brings the couple together without saffron.
This intimate, amusing and warm character-study of love and its sudden appearance in lives that have accepted its non-presence derives considerable energy from the supporting cast.
But Paresh Rawal, who as Amitabh's outraged father-in-law-to-be, is surprisingly bland. Zohra Sehgal, as Amitabh's spunky mom, and little Swini give life to the narrative.
There are moments in this quirky, captivating and curvaceous cinema that touch the highest notes of drama without getting hysterical. However, one does notice flaws in the second half.
What makes "Cheeni Kum" so unique?
While Balki's word-spin takes the romance into areas of absolutely seductive brightness, London and Delhi have been captured by P.C. Sreeram's articulate cinematography. Ilayaraja's talcum-fresh melodies add to the emotions.
It could also be the magic between Amitabh and Tabu, who seem to look into each other's eyes and souls with such warmth that you forget their age difference completely.
But there's more to it. "Cheeni Kum" is a film where the words match the thoughts of the characters so well that you forget someone else wrote the dialogues for the unlikely lovers.