A knockabout Kiwindian comedy with a light seasoning of pathos, this self-funded project does not exceed the expectations raised by its modest origins.

But to say so is not to damn it out of hand, because it has much to recommend it.

Sure, there is a mismatch between ambition and skill here. The pace is variable and it's nowhere near as lean as a first feature should be - it would have manoeuvred more easily if it had jettisoned the romantic subplot. But for all its schematic predictability, it has a kooky energy to it that is hard to resist.

Naaido, the writer, plays the main character Sid, a new migrant from India (opening scenes shot in Delhi are among the film's most assured). Sid's aspirations come into conflict with those of his parents Dinesh (Vasisht) and Apu (Patel). They want him to study but, behind their back, he is working at a local restaurant where he finds himself dragged into a cooking contest which seems like a cross between Survivor and MasterChef.

Underdogs will battle against the odds and secrets will be revealed at inopportune times.

A nicely symmetrical structure has another character hiding the truth about his life but Sid's story is erected on a flimsy premise: his desire for a motorbike, which seems at best fanciful, at worst trivial and never an urgent dramatic force. More problematic is a lack of narrative coherence: the camera zooms in on a flower forgotten on a seat but nothing comes of the forgetting and Sid at first refuses the restaurant job (why?) but changes his mind when
he's splashed by a passing bus (why?).

A lot of what happens in Curry Munchers happens for no apparent reason and much of the dialogue seems to be filling air time rather than advancing the story. Some meaty plot material thrown in at the end suggests a lack of forethought.

But for all its flaws, the film shows promise that is cause for rejoicing - another new voice contributing to the country's cinematic dialogue.

LOWDOWN
Stars:
2.5/5
Cast: Aulander Naaido, Alison Titulaer, Ben Mitchell, Tarun Mohanbhai
Director: Cristobal Araus Lobos
Running time: 109 mins
Rating: PG (medium-level violence), in English and Hindi with English subtitles
Verdict: Labour of love has a kooky energy.

-TimeOut