Gujarati director Mikhil Musale’s Hindi debut combines seemingly untwinnable ideas: the nature of Indian enterprise and the need for sex education. Made in China is a bit like one of its hero Raghu’s never-ending schemes to get rich – the basic idea is solid and supported by undeniable enthusiasm, but the project is doomed to failure.
The comedy also sometimes functions like one of the under-performing customers who hasn’t yet sampled Raghu’s tiger penis aphrodisiac potion. Made in China ends up being neither this nor that, despite a nice beat of conversational humour, good-natured characters, and the idea that the cult of the billionaire is a bit of a sham.
The 129-minute movie’s best joke is its hero Raghu (Rajkummar Rao), a Gujarati who doesn’t know how to make money. Raghu’s salesmanship skills are as woeful as his ability to hit upon the unique idea that will fill up his bank account. His wife Rukmani (Mouni Roy) supports him through his endeavours, and they share a sweet relationship, snatching smokes and swigging alcohol when nobody is looking.
Raghu lives in Ahmedabad in the prohibition state of Gujarat, and one of this movie’s hidden entrepreneurs is the guy who ensures a steady supply of tipples.
Bullied into accompanying his supercilious cousin Devraj (Sumeet Vyas) to China, Raghu meets the charismatic businessman Tanmay (Paresh Rawal). Tanmay cuts through the mystique of TED talks and How To Get Rich blather: the customer is a fool who is waiting to be sold things he doesn’t actually need (only Tanmay uses a far less complimentary noun).
Raghu reasons that while Indians need good roads, what they really want is better sex. He returns from China with a dealership for a tiger penis-flavoured powder and persuades sexologist Tribhuvan (Boman Irani) to back his product. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic oath, Tribhuvan complains, but he signs up nevertheless, and bedrooms across Gujarat begin moaning with relief. Meanwhile, just about nobody in the movie comment on the illegal poaching of tigers in the service of sexual pleasure.
Up until a point, Made in China is a mild satire on how the much-vaunted entrepreneur isn’t very different from a snake oil salesman. It gets complicated – and confusing – when Musale and co-writers Parinda Joshi and Karan Vyas move Tribhuvan from the sidelines to the centre. Melodrama enters the picture in the form of social disapproval of Raghu’s latest moneymaking project. Devraj ups the villainy by trying to trip up Raghu.
Made in China sometimes resembles the recently released Khandaani Shafakhana, in which a woman faces social censure for trying to run a sex clinic. However, the sequences in which Tribhuvan’s sex therapist declares that “It’s normal!” to talk about sex, seem to be from some other movie.
Tribhuvan does appear to have nailed the problem: Indians think about sex at work and take their work-related stresses into the bedroom, he observes. The movie tries to marry the world of the inept trader with nothing to sell and the enlightened doctor with something important to say, but no amount of magic potion can make this union work. The suggestion that medical knowledge needs to be monetised to be effective is contradictory. The movie’s big idea – social change will come only if it is packaged and sold – makes as much sense as one of Raghu’s windmill-tilting schemes.
As it gently but inexorably goes off the rails, Made in China offers some neatly observed character sketches. It’s not hard to see why Tanmay instantly warms to Rajkummar Rao’s Raghu: he is an ordinary guy trying to make a living, and is played by Rao with a big smile and a bigger heart.
Sumeet Vyas is also well cast as the condescending Devraj. Mouni Roy brings nothing to her portrayal of Rukmani, and the character’s moralising about Raghu’s latest income-generating mode is a clumsy attempt at putting a zigzagging plot on course. A real entrepreneur’s wife might not have reacted in this way. Raghu is clearly not alone in his belief that he is the man with the plan.