Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana is like a dollop of butter on a steaming alu paratha — you need to twirl it around in your mouth a few times to savour it, but the end result is warm, comforting, reassuring and homely. This is the kind of film that may not be spectacular, but has all the ingredients to ensure a satisfying watch that tugs at your heart without resorting to manipulative melodrama and brings on the hint of a smile, without unleashing cheap belly laughs.
Helmed by first-timer Sameer Sharma, Luv Shuv is a neatly crafted, slice-of-life comedy that takes a typically Punjabi title, but gives us a film that shows us a different side of the state that we, courtesy Bollywood, have only come to identify with yellow mustard fields and tandoori chicken. This is subdued Punjab, where the camera focuses more on dusty roads and dilapidated dhabas and whose sights and sounds are derived from the soil.
The close-knit and robust Punjabi milieu here is about characters who are fun-loving, love a good laugh and are open about their lives and loves. So much so that the son’s shortage of underwear becomes a family concern and neighbours take on the task of planning babies for a newly engaged couple.
It is in this atmosphere that Omi (Kunal Kapoor) returns after living in London for 10 years. In debt and on the run from a gangster, Omi comes back with the hope of pilfering some funds from his grandfather and paying off his loan. It is the same Daarji (Vinod Nagpal) who Omi had stolen money from and run away as a teen to London. However, once back, Omi realises that Daarji is not what he used to be — senile and with selective memory retention, Daarji now serenades a crow every morning thinking that it is his dead wife and rattles off the menu of his dhaba in answer to every question.
The now rundown dhaba is where Daarji’s heart and soul lies — the one in which he would whip up his signature Chicken Khurana, touted as the tastiest in the region. Only the old man knows the recipe of the dish, but is unable to recall the ingredients. When he dies, a rival dhaba owner makes Omi an offer he can’t refuse: the recipe of Chicken Khurana for a crore. Seeing it as a passport to rid himself of his troubles, Omi desperately pulls out all the stops to churn out the perfect Chicken Khurana. In the process, he not only discovers the magic recipe but his journey is also one of self-realisation.
Though slow in parts, Luv Shuv is a charming watch. This is a character-driven film, powered by a bunch of oddballs — each with a quirk and a secret. While Dolly Ahluwalia — who stood out as the whiskey-loving mother in Vicky Donor — makes the most of a cameo, the life of the film is Titu Mama, played by Tollywood actor Rajesh Sharma. The good-for-nothing lout, who after a stint in the local mental asylum, lives off the family, Titu Mama is the film’s nod to the classic Shakespearean fool. Garrulous and with a roving eye, he butts into every conversation and has scant regard for anyone’s feelings. At Daarji’s funeral, he laments louder for the loss of the recipe and nonchalantly chomps through a chicken leg during a tearful family reunion. Titu Mama is all that Luv Shuv represents — fun and unpretentious and with his heart in the right place.
Luv Shuv comprises some charming vignettes, one of which is the quiet romance between Omi and Harman, played confidently by Gangs of Wasseypur girl Huma Qureshi. Once childhood sweethearts, they start off on a sour note, but as the evenings roll on in the dhaba trying to perfect the Chicken Khurana recipe, Omi and Harman start savouring each other’s company — the romantic rides on her old scooter, the visits to the bustling spice markets and the lassi stopovers become a regular affair, until one winter evening when Harman clumsily plants a kiss on Omi’s lips, perhaps a nod to producer Anurag Kashyap’s own Dev D where the woman lugged a mattress on her back to make out with her man in the middle of the fields. The film’s most restrained character belongs to Kunal, who plays Omi with a quiet dignity and charm.
And then, of course, there’s the food for you to feast (your eyes) on. From the pickles laid out on the sun-soaked terrace to the milky lassi brewed in the courtyard, from the fresh cream being poured on a steaming bowl of dal makhni to the meat pieces bobbing out of a rich gravy, this is food porn at its sexiest.
If feel-good Bolly is what you are in the mood for this weekend, then in between the sexy bods of Student of the Year and the dishy Bond of Skyfall, show some love-shuv to Luv Shuv.