Writers: Arshad Jafferey
Songs: Syed Tabrez Pasha
Director: Kumud Chaudhary
Discovering royal lineage is a common fantasy but for Junaid in Arshad Jafferey’s Chote Nawab, showing in the UK Asian Film Festival, the reality is not quite as exciting as hoped. Exploring family identity, class and hidden secrets this comedy drama has a lot of plot points and character arcs to cover in its 102-minute running time but Director Kumud Chaudhary keeps the action flowing.
Afsar and wife Mariam return to India with their 13-year old son Junaid – the Chote Nawab – who meets his royal grandfather for the first time while attending the wedding of a family member. As preparations begin, the bride is dissatisfied, her boisterous cousin Fauziya is breaking hearts in the palace while the housekeeper and her son resent their employers, all of which will come to a head before Junaid heads home to London.
Chote Nawab opens with a charming cartoon that summarises how the former glamour of royalty has crumbled and creating high hopes for a movie in which Jafferey establishes some solid plotlines – the arrival of the newbie prince and his induction into palace life, the complicated connection between the family and the disrespectful staff members, as well as the burgeoning love story between the confident Fauziya and romantic hero Armaan.
That none of this plays out quite as expected is interesting but what initially has tones of the Princess Diaries and Crazy Rich Asians gets bogged down in subplots that emerge unexpectedly, overriding the perspective of Junaid in the slightly overwrought dramas of the wider family – particularly with an arguably unnecessary twist introduced in the final 20-minutes.
What Jafferey wants the film to say becomes increasingly obscure as these character arcs run off in different directions and Chaudhary is unable to marshal them back to together satisfactorily, giving the film an uneven tone. Whether love is something to aspire to, a series of physical impulses, a problem to overcome for material gain or a disappointment are ideas raised but never resolved by Chote Nawab which relies instead on a sudden and more sensational ending that hadn’t been properly seeded earlier in the film.
Plabita Borthakur’s Fauziya is the most memorable character, a good-time girl with a wild nature who grows on the audience as she comes to understand the meaning of family sacrifice. Akshay Oberoi’s Armaan makes for an ardent lover developing a strong chemistry with Borthakur through a couple of energetic musical numbers, while Svar Kamble is suitably wide-eyed as lead Junaid, learning to adapt from his London life and growing up during this revelation-filled holiday.
By expanding its focus beyond a young Prince being introduced to his birth-right, Chote Nawab is too easily driven off-course and becomes an over-plotted family melodrama. While there is some attempt to examine the battle between tradition and modernity, this overly ambitious film ultimately fails to deliver.
The UK Asian Film Festival runs nationwide and online from 26 May until 6 June 2021