Starring Vinay Virmani, Adrianne Palicki, and Kunal Nayyar. Rated PG.
Hybrid films marrying Indian and western cultures have traditionally been a hard sell to mass audiences in North America and India. But this year, there’s been a breakthrough with The Hundred-Foot Journey and Million Dollar Arm, each of which achieved commercial success.
Dr. Cabbie aims to hit the same sweet spot with a comedic tale about an earnest young med-school grad (Vinay Virmani) who moves to Toronto with his widowed mother (Lillete Dubey). Virmani’s character, Deepak, dreams of healing the sick, just as his deceased and beloved dad did in Delhi.
However, reality intrudes when his medical credentials aren’t recognized in Canada. So Deepak ends up driving a cab under the direction of a hardbitten dispatcher (Stephen McHattie) and working alongside the real star of the show, fellow cabbie Tony (Kunal Nayyar), who becomes his mentor on all things Canadian. At times, this charismatic and lascivious “sidey” steals the film.
As the lead, the Canadian-born Virmani is convincing as a young immigrant physician, conveying the vulnerability and innocence of India’s Shahrukh Khan in his younger days. But campy performances by Mircea Monroe and Rizwan Manji portraying Deepak’s aunt and uncle, which were clearly intended for comedic effect, mar the state of suspended disbelief that helps a film like this succeed.
Naturally, Dr. Cabbie has a love interest, ably provided by Adrianne Palicki, ensuring that a Bollywood-style family melodrama can unfold in due course. Audiences might find the premise of an immigrant illegally practising medicine in his cab to be completely unrealistic, but this is standard fare in Indian cinema and it’s a convenient tool for director Jean-François Pouliot to convey the plight of those whose foreign credentials aren’t being recognized. And like many Bollywood films, Dr. Cabbie features a cartoonishly evil politician (Chris Diamantopoulos). But it’s still a distinctly Canadian movie, delivered entirely in English and lacking the lengthy and well-choreographed dance performances that have become a trademark of Indian cinema.
Toss in the marketing power of coproducer and Bollywood acting legend Salman Khan, some Seth Rogen–style sexual banter, and terrific cinematography showcasing Toronto as Toronto, and Dr. Cabbie likely has all the ingredients in place to attract an international audience.