There’s nothing more satisfying than a good underdog story — especially if the underdog is someone who thinks out of the box. There’s perseverance, hope (and the lack of it), smarts and a whole lot of heartfelt moments. Rajkummar Rao’s Made in China has all the aforementioned ingredients and all the right intentions, but loses marks for execution.
Directed by Mikhil Musale, Made in China tells the story of the Indian dream. Much like the US dream, the Indian dream is also about making it big, on your own, and becoming famous.
Raghuvir Mehta (Rao) is a small-time businessman in Ahmedabad who dreams of being a successful entrepreneur. Despite many failed attempts at launching products like a roti maker, Jamway (a close cousin of Amway) and many more, he is finally beaten into submission and starts working at his late father’s shop. His wife Rukmini (Mouni Roy) has stood by him throughout all his attempts and loves him unconditionally.
Raghuvir suffers as the black sheep of a rich Gujarati family that’s always comparing him to his older, more successful brother (Sumeet Vyas). He is sent on a business trip to China, where he meets an unlikely opportunity — selling Chinese Tiger Magic Soup, a male enhancement powder. He then searches high and low for a good sexologist in Ahmedabad to partner with and stumbles upon Dr. Vardhi (Boman Irani). The two set out to change the lives of the country’s men, and their own lives in the process.
While Made in China makes for a good underdog-outsmarting-the-world tale, it also tries to pull an Ayushmann Khurrana and give out a social message. The message? Like the multiple small-budget ‘small-town’ films that we have seen in the past few years, this one talks about sex and the need for sex education in India. While the intentions of the film are admirable, as it deals with the stigma attached to sexual health with care and sensitivity, the execution falters. The story lingers too much on the build-up — Raghuvir’s previous failures, his mind-boggling experience in China, his struggle to become an entrepreneur and his work on the Tiger Magic Soup. Much like what the magic soup promises, the film takes a long time to climax and when it does, it’s underwhelming and predictable.
The performances by Rao, Roy, Vyas and Irani are on point. Rao with his trademark knack for bringing out a character’s awkwardness and nuanced emotions, plays to his strengths here. Roy does well as his polished wife who seems out of his league, but the pair doesn’t manage to create as much chemistry as one would want from this unusual couple. In fact, the film focuses on their relationship without actually delving into how it came about, leaving an irritating gap. Rukmini is highly intelligent, educated, modern, and a Mumbai girl who somehow ends up in love with a small businessman from Gujarat, who cannot string two straight sentences in English. Their unlikely love story could have made for an entertaining and sweet sub-plot, but sadly, isn’t given time.
Despite good performances, the film remains lacklustre in parts. What keeps it going is your investment in Raghuvir and his dream, along with some excellent one-liners and references. The direction is carefully done but the writing could have been snappier. The songs are good but forgettable.
The film, like most of 2019’s releases, could have been a game-changer if it were treated with a little more courage and ingenuity. Unfortunately, this one, too, makes it to the ‘Wait for it to make it to Netflix’ list.