Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

n interesting movie to watch out for: Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World. It’s one of those independent movie, and can also be categorised as a black comedy.

This movie stars Albert Brooks as himself, playing an out of work actor, hired by the US State Department on a commission to go to India and Pakistan to find out what makes the Muslims laugh. In a post 9/11 world, the US government seeks to understand the Muslims better, and one way they feel they can do that is to understand what makes the Muslims laugh and light-hearted.

So Albert sets off to India with two men for security, and what follows is his attempt to ask the people of India what makes them laugh. He hires someone to type a 500-page report to submit to the State Department at the end of the one month stay. Without much success, and the Indian public shunning his questions, he proceeds to organize a public Comedy Show, pretty much like the comedy clubs in the US. Fliers are published and its a full house. Despite his full out efforts at different kinds of jokes and improvisation, the public fails to laugh.

Being humiliated by less than enthusiastic audience, Albert’s two security men have arranged for him to go to Pakistan across the border where there are several aspiring comedians who want to see Albert the comedian. So he goes to Pakistan illegally where he performs the same jokes to a much more receptive audience of Pakistani men who laugh at the jokes riotiously.

Once he comes back to India, we see that the officials at Indian government and Pakistani officials at the Pakistani embassy in India are made aware of a certain American in India, asking people questions and making an illegale trip across he border. Albert is asked to quickly leave India for his own safety. Once back home, little does he realize that monumental task he performed is not trying to figure out what makes the Muslims laugh but to escalate the tension between India and Pakistan.

This movie is a complete fiction, and quite an interesting one. My favorite scene was when Albert is in Pakistan and he is sharing jokes with the Pakistani men, and they laugh like crazy, as was I, yet the Indian would not understand the same jokes. It just got me thinking, do different cultures, born out of one country, share different sense of humor. I think it would. My other favortie scene(s) is when Albert walks into his office whereby he passes a large room where telephone operators are handling calls. You hear statements like “Thank you for calling Saks Fift Avenue. How may I direct your call?”, “Thank you for calling The Gap,” “This is the White House. How can I address your call?”

It’s a light-hearted comedy and whether you like or hate Albert Brooks will also define whether you like or hate this movie.

Some may see the portrayal of the Indians as India-bashing, but I think given its a comedy movie, some leniency must be given. Of course, it works for the portrayals of the Pakistanis too. Hollywood will never be able to get it right when it comes to portraying Asian characters, unless handled by an Asian director. I mean, in one scene, a top Pakistani official general could not even pronounce the name of a Pakistani city properly. Why don’t they research properly? The sub-plot of the Indian girl and her boyfriend loses momentum. There are slow bits in between, which somewhat tests your patience. But on the whole, it was an enjoyable movie, one to be seen with an open mind.

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