Bollywood film tackles political themes while staying true to comedic tradition

Growing up, some of the only movies I watched featured brightly colored costumes, flashy musical numbers and exotic locales. No, I’m not talking about musicals, I’m talking about Bollywood—the Indian equivalent to America’s Hollywood.

The most prolific film industry in the world, Bollywood produces about 1,000 films every year.

As I grew older, I realized these movies weren’t actually that great, but I still come back to them on a regular basis because there’s just something I love about a cheesy love story.

Over break, I was given the opportunity to see a new Bollywood film called “Dr. Cabbie.” After a quick Google search, I realized it was a Canadian fusion film, meant to draw in a large English-speaking audience to boost ratings. Basically, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in the darkened theater that night.

Starring Indian-Canadian actor Vinay Virmani and American actress Adrianne Palicki (“Friday Night Lights,” anyone?) “Dr. Cabbie” is a charming and light film that works hard to cover some larger issues surrounding immigration and healthcare in Canada. Co-stars Kunal Nayyar (“The Big Bang Theory”), Mircea Monroe (“Heart of Dixie”) and Rizwan Manji (“Outsourced”) round out the cast and keep many familiar faces on the screen throughout the film while also infusing the film with quirky characters that are typical of a Bollywood comedy.

Virmani stars as recent medical school graduate Deepak from India who takes his mom to Toronto in the hopes of becoming a doctor and following in the footsteps of his dead father. However, he hits a major roadblock when he realizes his top-notch Indian education counts for nothing in the Western world. While a completely trained and qualified doctor in India, Deepak is unable to find a job as a doctor in his new home and is forced to start driving a taxi cab around Toronto to make a living.

Deepak doesn’t let driving a cab keep him from his dreams, though. On his first day of work, Deepak gets stuck in traffic with a pregnant Natalie (played by Palicki). Low and behold, Natalie goes into labor and Deepak has to bring out his doctor skills to save the day.

From that day on, Deepak begins to actually start treating patients from the back of his cab, including doling out illegal prescription drugs. While Deepak soon turns into a local hero for providing cheap medical care, he also finds himself in trouble with the law for his illegal practices.

While not ground-breaking in any way, “Dr. Cabbie[’s]” formulaic plot delivers plenty of laughs and heartwarming moments. The film struggles to fully ground the story in reality, but that’s often to be expected in a Bollywood-produced film.

However, “Dr. Cabbie” does do a good job at illuminating the continued problem of highly skilled immigrants being unable to attain jobs in their desired fields due to discrepancies between the Eastern and Western educational traditions. Multiple times, while Deepak is applying to hospitals, he brings up the fact that Canada has a dearth of doctors and that he is more than qualified for the position.

A normal Bollywood film runs about three hours, but Canadian director Jean-Francois Pouliot chose to keep the film at a more palatable 98 minutes. While the main plot fits perfectly into that timeline, Dr. Cabbie overextends itself with minor subplots that don’t add to the story or character development of the film.

Plot snags aside, “Dr. Cabbie” had just enough Indian influences within its script that I found myself nostalgic for Bollywood. There are really only two musical numbers in “Dr. Cabbie,” and they are heavily produced English/Hindi fusion pop songs with some typical Indian flair. Hindi is rarely spoken due to the Canadian setting, but the set design makes Toronto come alive on the screen, drawing more Indian influence into the film.

“Dr. Cabbie” certainly isn’t my favorite movie ever, but there was something about the strong Indian influence within the Canadian film that made me enjoy it.

Clearly, I wasn’t the only person to enjoy it, either, since the film was the second highest-grossing film in Canada the day it was released. The film has something everyone will enjoy, plot problems aside. For those who are interested in getting into Bollywood without diving headfirst into the glitz and glam, “Dr. Cabbie” just might be the film to dip your toes into.

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