There isn't much that would indicate that Umakanth Thumrugoti's first feature, 7 Days in Slow Motion, would be such a successful freshman effort. Until now, he's mostly worked on the effects teams for animated films like Treasure Planet, Chicken Little, and Bolt. And yet straight out of the gate, as young Ravi (Teja) is ambushed by his glaring parents just as he's shaking off the fuzzy grip of sleep, I felt like I was in good hands.
Ravi loves movies. With a Terminator here and a Bollywood epic there, an all-nighter watching flicks is preferred to studying. This causes family trouble, even though Ravi always seems to be near the top of his class in the central Indian city of Hyderabad. He also crushes on one of India's top actresses, Chand Ray. She's in town for a film festival, and Ravi and his two buds Hamid (Kunal Sharma) and Onka (Shiva Varma) will do anything to get a chance to meet her. The best way to do this? By using a camera accidentally lost by a visiting American journalist to create their own Bollywood movie, of course. So the camera is "borrowed," and the boys are off, dodging an awesomely mustachioed hotel doorman along the way.
Mom (Rajeshwari Sachdev) isn't having it, though. In this middle-class household, dad hides from his wife to listen to cricket matches, and grandma snipes passive-aggressively about her other, richer, more successful daughter. The only comfort and satisfaction Ravi's mom gets is knowing that her son will rank first in school exams seven days later. To her, this is everything, and it's impossible to overstate. Their dynamic is already turbulent and touched with unexpected sadness, before you add in Ravi's passion for film, which is distasteful to his mother, as it is generally frivolous and coarse and ruins his study habits and focus.
So, can Ravi and friends craft a Bollywood film in seven days without letting their families know enough to cause a meltdown while simultaneously studying for the most important exams in their lives? It's not as easy as it sounds. Our boys learn right away that making movies is hard: the story won't come together, the money is disappearing, the actors (other kids) are divas, the music supplied is dead awful, Ravi can't get enough sleep, and their movie's big heroine (Hamid's cousin) is suddenly getting married. (This last point at first spins off into a wonderful subplot but later encircles the entire last half of the film and becomes critical to the movie Ravi and company end up making.)
7 Days in Slow Motion feels like a movie made by someone who knows and loves movies, which is obvious enough anyway given the plot. Thumrugoti is doing this with his ears wet, so there are telegraphed twists and some of the other usual suspects. But then all of a sudden you get a terrific sleep-deprived hallucination sequence, as well as actions that don't solve everything neatly and smoothly but rather have consequences — and even some cross-dressing for good measure, too, because why not? There's a lot here that is flat-out wonderful to see from a green director.
Like any good movie whose entire plot invokes a possible meeting with a celebrity (real or fictional), the film has the always-fun game of will she/won't she when it comes to the celebrity making an appearance by the movie's end. Here, the question is resolved perfectly, with just the right balance and just the right tone. In fact, the way the whole movie unfolds by the end is completely satisfying, all the more because it feels quite unlike something Hollywood would do.
7 Days in Slow Motion is a charming, energetic film that most families would enjoy, and it's a worthwhile look at little-seen aspects of modern India. It's very accessible to American audiences, even if your only exposure to Indian film is Slumdog Millionaire. The movie is ultimately concerned with the ways children create worlds within themselves and the new stories that surround them, either as a way to deal with something difficult or as an extension of their giddiest dreams. And that translates across any culture. Ravi's friends ask, "What do you know about making a movie?" His simple response is, "All I need is a camera." Damn right, kid. Well ... close enough.