I’ve often wondered how the super-rich live, though I’ve never been curious enough to attend one of their parties. After seeing “Crazy Rich Asians”, I am glad I am neither crazy nor rich, though proud to be an Asian.
But hang on, this film, an extended orgy of upper-crust celebrations, designer clothes and shallow emotions doesn’t have a single Indian character. The people populating the canvas of shimmering shindigs are sinfully affluent Chinese who wear their wealth on their sleeves (and much of anywhere else), effortlessly.
The super-rich Chinese hero Nick Young (played with foamy finesse by Henry Golding who has never acted before) lives in America and has a girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Young) of modest means.
Now here’s the thing. Rachel doesn’t know how wealthy Nick is. (Hard to believe. Where did she think all the expensive gifts were coming from?). She only gets to find out he is a billionaire after he takes her to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding.
What unfolds in Singapore is an orgy of hedonism with the director John M Chu closing in on objects of obscene luxury as though he were tracking down the symptoms of a rare diseases known as Opulencia. My word for excessive wealth and not enough time to enjoy it.
Nick does have a lot of time to indulge in his wealth, though. He revels in the riches, as though to the manor born. The untrained actor playing Nick is every inch the suave, eligible billionaire. He talks of his wealth with just the right mix of flippancy and arrogance. But the film and its premise of “The Prince and The Showgirl” (I missed the wise butler, though there is giggly patriarch) just seems like an inflated attempt to trap audiences into a state of stuporous splendour.
There are so many young people out there who are bound to wonder what it would be like to be Nick Young or to marry a Nick Young. Either way, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a deliriously rudderless ode to illimitable prosperity. The characters are all extravagantly rich or wannabe rich, like the heroine’s best friend (played by the quirky Awkwafina) who sees nothing wrong in marrying into wealth and unabashedly enjoys her best friend’s boyfriend’s luxury.
At least this character is honest about her hedonistic yearnings. The heroine Rachel is a simpering portrait of working-class righteousness who flutters her eye lashes at her unspeakably rich boyfriend’s lifestyle and runs up the spiralling staircase in his mansion when his mother (the formidable Michalle Yeoh) insults her.
“You can never be one of us,” says the mother to her son’s chosen life partner.
Yes, the rich mother actually mouths this old-as-the-hills line which every rich parent in Bollywood cinema has hurled at their wealthy scion’s middleclass love-interest.
Come to think of it, “Crazy Rich Asians” is an unabashed Bollywood ripoff. It conveys the shallow drama of wealthied frisson that we see in Karan Johar’s cinema. It purports to take potshots at decadent wealth but is actually in awe of the Rich & The Beautiful. The director steps into the world of the indescribably wealthy with the naked admiration of a modestly-reared child in a toystore filled with wondrous delights. He doesn’t know where to look and what to buy.
Director Jon Chu buys into his privileged hero’s wealth with such disarming honesty that it is almost sinful to declare this a film a crazy rich dude filled with scratch-level emotions instilled into people who have never known a day’s deprivation.
The film glides in the opposite direction. It heaps us with a torrent of wealth and enjoyment and tells us that pleasure pursuits of the very rich are not to be scorned but embraced. By the time the handpicked wedding song, Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” begins, I was convinced that the world can’t help falling in love with the jet-setters. They are irresistibly unselfconscious of their moneyed privileges.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is an unapologetic celebration of lavish wealth. It has no life beyond the swish and glide of expensive fabrics. I am sure hearing the sound of ancestral money is soothing to those who dream of conquering their cravings by buying them out.
In the meanwhile there is this film. So full of its own chicness, it can only hear the yawn of the nawabi lifestyle where the question every morning is: How do we spend money today?
This super-successful film’s director must also be asking himself the same question.
(Subhash K Jha can be contacted at [email protected])