November 20, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya
Hindi and Nepalese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Nepal, the dramatic film “Uunchai” features a cast of predominantly Indian characters (and with some Nepalese people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After their longtime friend unexpectedly dies, three elderly men decide to fulfill their dead friend’s wish to take an adventure trip and hike on Mount Everest, despite people telling them that they’re too old for this type of physical activity.
Culture Audience: “Uunchai” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s principal stars, but “Uunchai” is filled with cringeworthy stereotypes and takes too long to get to the Mount Everest part of the story.
“Unchaai” takes a simple and not-very-original concept (elderly people going on an adventure trip) and ruins it with a bloated run time of 173 minutes, very hokey scenarios, and mediocre acting. “Unnchai” (which means “height” in Hindi) is supposed to be about three elderly men who take a trip to Mount Everest in Nepal, as a tribute to their recently deceased friend. It takes the movie about 45 minutes to finally show them starting this road trip. The movie is half over by the time they get to Mount Everest.
Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya and written by Abhishek Dixit, “Uunchai” is a perfect example of a movie that is overstuffed with filler scenes that are completely unnecessary. And just as irritating is the movie’s unrelenting predictability. “Uunchai” tries to throw in a badly contrived “surprise” toward the end of the film. It’s really no surprise at all, considering that the movie’s central conflict is that these old men want to prove to naysayers that they’re strong enough and healthy enough to go on this Mount Everest trip.
“Uunchai” begins in Delhi, India, at a birthday celebration for a retired man named Bhupen (played by Danny Denzongpa), whose three best friends are at the party. Bhupen is a never-married bachelor who does not have any biological family members who are in his life. His three best friends are his family. All four of the men are in their 60s or 70s.
The other three friends are:
- Professor/author Amit Srivastava (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is separated from his wife and has no children.
- Bookstore owner Om Sharma (played by Anupam Kher), who is a widower with a married son, who manages Om’s store.
- Boutique owner Javed Siddiqui (played by Boman Irani), who is married and has a married daughter.
Bhupen’s party is a joyous event. Not long after the party, Bhupen tells his three buddies that he wants to fulfill a longtime dream of going with these friends to Mount Everest. He doesn’t want to do anything too dangerous, such as try to climb Mount Everest. Bhupen wants to go to Mount Everest Base Camp, which offers hiking and exploring activities on Mount Everest.
Amit and Javed are politely open to the idea, but Om is the most skeptical and nervous about it. Om quips, “We can barely climb the stairs, let alone a mountain!” However, after the four men have a night of drunken partying at a pub, Om agrees to take the trip.
Not long after they have this discussion, Bhupen suddenly dies of heart attack, alone in his home. His friends are devastated, of course. After the funeral (Bhupen was cremated), Amit is looking through some of Bhupen’s possessions when he finds four tickets that Bhupen bought for the Mount Everest trip. It’s how Amit discovers that Bhupen had been planning to surprise Amit, Om and Javed with these tickets as a gift.
Amit is so emotionally moved, he insists to Om and Javed that they all take the trip as a tribute to Bhupen. They also decide that they will spread Bhupen’s ashes on Mount Everest. The plan is set in motion to take the trip in the near future. They are going to travel to Mount Everest by car. Amit will do the driving.
The friends have two potential obstacles: First, they have to get the approval of their doctors. Second, Javed knows that his very possessive and nagging wife Shabina Siddiqui (played by Needa Gupta), nicknamed Bhabhi, will not let him go on this trip. And so, Javed comes up with a plan to let Shabina go on the road trip with them but to drop her off at the home of their daughter Heeba (played by Sheen Dass), who lives in Gorakhpur, India—about213 kilometers (or 132 miles) southeast of Delhi.
Because it takes so long in the movie for this road trip to actually begin, “Uunchai” has several tedious scenes of Amit, Om and Javed going through physical training and medical checkups to prepare for their Mount Everest adventure. Amit’s doctor advises him not to go on the trip because of the high altitudes of Mount Everest. Amit responds that he’s not changing his plans for the trip: “Doctor, I’m leaving tomorrow.”
During this long and monotonous road trip, “Uunchai” fills up the time with irritating bickering, usually instigated by Shabina, who is miserable being on the road. In addition, Om has some emotional baggage to deal with because he is estranged from his brothers, who live in a rural area and who think that Om abandoned them to become a businessman in Delhi. Om and his brothers have inherited some property, which has caused a family feud that is detailed in the movie.
When the four travelers get to Lucknow, India, they meet a woman in her 60s named Mala Trivedi (played by Sarika), who had a history with Bhupen. Her history is exactly what you think it might be. (It’s all so predictable.) And it’s why Mala ends up going on the road trip too. Mala is also with the men when they go to Mount Everest.
“Uunchai” is so formulaic and so treacly with its obvious attempts to pull at people’s heartstrings, it become a chore to watch this movie because of the way it drags on and on, without any real character development and nothing exciting happening. By the time these travelers get to Mount Everest, you can easily guess that they will have a tour guide who’s skeptical that these senior citizens are capable of keeping up with the rest of the younger people in the group. This cynical tour guide is named Shraddha (played by Parineeti Chopra), and she gets into stereotypical arguments with these elderly men—especially with “alpha male” Amit, who is the most determined of the three pals to prove her wrong.
And speaking of clichés, expect to see a lot of scenes of the old men huffing and puffing, as they run out of breath and struggle to keep up with the rest of the group during their physically demanding activities at Mount Everest. As shown in the trailer for “Uunchai,” Om slips and falls and inveitably gets hurt. And there are more “look at the old people trying to be fearless hikers” spectacle scenes that are too similar to each other and repeated over and over.
“Uunchai” also pours on the schmaltz in eye-rolling ways, such as a scene where the elderly travelers end up playing soccer with some Buddhist monks (who are in their monk clothes) and some of the local Nepalese people. Mostly, the trip consists of generic hiking scenes that show some beautiful scenery but has a lot of uninspired dialogue and a few contrivances. For example, during the trip, Om is distracted when he hears about some warehouse problems that are affecting his business back in Delhi.
Amit, who is a successful and famous author, is supposed to have the most fascinating life out of the three pals, but his life is depicted in a very shallow way in the movie. The only insight to any personal growth that Amit might experience is early on in “Uunchai,” shortly after Bhupen has died, when Amit remembers some constructive criticism that Bhupen gave to Amit. Bhupen told Amit that Amit’s self-help books were starting to sound less like they came from the mind of a writer and more like they came from the mind of a salesman.
Amit’s marital problems, which are barely mentioned in the movie, are then dealt with in a rushed and phony way toward the end of the film. Nafisa Ali Sodhi has a small role in “Uunchai” as Abhilasha Srivastava, Amit’s estranged wife. Amit is supposedly re-evaluating his life after Bhupen’s sudden death, but Amit’s marriage is treated like an afterthought in the overall plot.
“Unnchai” is the type of over-inflated movie where much of the production budget was spent on traveling and hiring the famous actors who headline the film. That money is wasted if the movie just turns out to be stale mush that rehashes similar movies about elderly people who go on a “wish fulfillment/bucket list” trip. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s terribly generic. For a movie of this annoyingly excessive length, “Uunchai” has very little to say that’s witty, enthralling or truly original.
Yash Raj Films released “Uunchai” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 11, 2022.