Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beauty and the Geek, a la Bollywood

I'm going to do this a little different than I normally do, so as to break the mold a little and make for easier reading. That Aditya Chopra's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi - coming eight years after Mohabbatein (2000) and more than a decade after his modern classic debut with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) - is the year's most anticipated film is no secret. It is also no secret that in these past two weeks alone it has broken about every worldwide record around as far as Hindi films are concerned. But to what extent does the film itself live up to the hype? The question can perhaps best be answered with a classic case of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly...

The Good:

Novelty: An average, working man marries a much younger girl due to unforeseen circumstances and decides upon the best way to win her heart. Since when do Yashraj films even depict the average, working man? Many plus points for this one.
Loveable leads: 1) Shahrukh Khan's Surinder Sahni is incredibly sweet, someone you truly feel for, even if his logic does irritate you at times. He's like that awkward neighbor who meets you in the lift and very politely says 'hello' but never oversteps his boundaries, and 2) Anushka Sharma's Taani, too, is at times tough to understand, but it's nice to see that she is far from the perfect, saccharine heroines we are often accustomed to. You see her lifestyle with Suri, and you just get her and her motives in what she does.
Performances: Shahrukh truly shines as Suri - it's a heartwarming effort from someone who has pretty much tried and tested just about everything. You can see the little bits of improv that were there in a film like Om Shanti Om, not to mention every time Suri looks at Taani, you can almost see the love in his eyes. Anushka is a welcome addition to the plethora of new actresses on the scene. She is mighty cute and charming and never overplays her part, nor is she simply makeshift. She is given a variety of emotions to work with, and she essays the part like a natural, no simple task when you are matched up against Shahrukh in your first film.
Melodious music: It takes a bit of time to grow on you, but seeing the songs on screen make them somewhat irresistible. Haule Haule is an instant favorite, the accordion also making up a significant part of the background music, while Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai is simply lovely. There are only four songs, which help proceedings greatly in a 2 hr 45 minute film.
Choreography: In a film largely centered around dance, they do well to incorporate the dances, as well as elevate the level of skill in the actual sequences. Anushka is a great dancer, although it is the number she is not in - Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte - that stands out as a work of visual art, a fitting tribute to Bollywood heroes/heroines over the years, even if you do sense a major Om Shanti Om hangover.
Beginning and End: The film opens extremely well, setting up a very intriguing journey, and it ends almost equally well. The last half hour really pulls you back in, as emotions run high and you feel you are in familiar Yashraj territory.

The Bad:

Faulty plot:
The premise is novel, but the plot is not without its glaring flaws. How Taani cannot see that Raj is Suri's alter-ego is beyond anyone, with even his voice being the same as that of her husband's. Also, the transition Suri makes to Raj is far too immediate, even if he is trying to mimic what he sees in films. It would have been so nice to see some awkward moments of Suri trying to become Raj, figuring out a walk, a way of speaking, interacting, rather than just being him with the snap of a finger.
Shahrukh Khan: How is he both good and bad? If his portrayal of Suri is touching, that of Raj is downright obnoxious. He is too loud and too much of a caricature to even like, let alone love. How Taani can fall for him is anyone's guess, as it is only in Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai that we see any nice gestures from him. Yes, he's a mockery of a lot of on-screen personas that Shahrukh himself has played, but somewhere the joke is lost, and Raj becomes Shahrukh Khan just "playing Shahrukh Khan". And that, my friends, is my most unbiased opinion as an ardent Shahrukh admirer since the time I began watching Hindi films.
Pacing: Dear oh dear does this film drag in the middle. For that wonderful beginning and end, there is a repetitive middle where you aren't really sure what they are going for. Raj is annoying, Suri and Taani hardly interact, and you wonder where the 'extraordinary story in every ordinary jodi' went. The placing of Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte is also as random as they come, and it hardly makes sense why Taani will imagine Raj with other leading ladies rather than herself, not to mention why she imagines Raj as a capable dancer when he has been nothing short of disastrous in front of her.
Sumo Suri?: The entire scene with the sumo wrestler leans more on the absurd side and overstays its (non-existent) welcome. Wasn't there any other extreme activity Suri could have engaged in to make his lady love smile?

I suppose the Good and the Bad should suffice, fortunately it doesn't get too 'ugly'. The main plus point is the film's simplicity, in that there are basically three characters, Shahrukh, Anushka and Vinay Pathak as Suri's best friend and one main storyline. At times it's perhaps too simple, but the best thing about keeping it simple is that people will come out calling it a 'nice' film. So maybe we expect more than 'nice' from Adi Chopra, but let's face it - he is unlikely to recreate DDLJ for as long as his career goes, and not every film he makes will be epic.

Verdict? The love story may not be 'extraordinary', but its jodi is heartwarming enough to justify the price of admission.