Padmaavat (i): Ranveer Singh’s Khilji steals the show even as you can’t quite take your eyes off Deepika

Hands down, Bhansali’s period drama is a testament to the raw acting prowess of Ranveer Singh.

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You would have to be living under a rock if you still haven’t heard/read/debated the billion controversies surrounding Padmavati, right up to the point of its release where it was reduced to Padmaavat (minus the scintillating ‘i’) with as many as 300 cuts. 

And if your curiosity has not yet been stoked, despite the unasked-for-constant-stream-of-assault-on-the-senses via scathing movie reviews, think-pieces and just plain rants on the magnum opus flooding the internet, know that I envy your aloofness and determination to stay away from this muck, but also know, that you might possibly be missing out on one of the fiercest performances of a Bollywood hero in recent times, minus the excessive praise showered on Rajput valour.

Does Padmaavat cater to the bombastic, upscaled grandeur of Bhansali’s vision and overwhelm you with its largeness? Yes.

Is it an accurate account of historical events? No.

So what can we take away from this semi-historical, sometimes borderline annoying cine fest? Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of the quirky, psychopathic Alauddin Khilji, arguably his career’s best till date.

From the moment Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) steps into the pallid dark grey frame of the betrayal-infested darbar of his crook of an uncle, Jalaluddin Khilji (Raza Murad), with a CGI-constructed humongous ostrich by his side instead of just its hair as asked for, his intent eyes set on the breathtakingly beautiful Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari, playing Jalaluddin’s daughter) and the tantalizing pull of the Khilji throne simultaneously, you get a sneak peek into the evil residing in this man, lurking in every inflection of the words spoken, every twitch of the lips, every gaze lingering a second too long.

And when he mouths this famed line: “Kaynat ki har nayab cheez par bas Khilji ka haq hai”, you know you’re set to witness an extravaganza  of talent-meets-opportunity, in almost every frame Singh inhabits as the tyrant Afghan ruler. You are made aware of the lengths the monster Khilji can go to and the rules he is ready to break to obtain every ‘nayab cheez’ that comes his way. So if it means engaging in semi-adultery right on the night of his wedding, so be it. If it means betraying his uncle and having him assassinated by the very slave, Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh) gifted to him so he can finally declare himself Sultan, so be it. And in the same vein, if it means he has to endure mountains and deserts and some gauche humiliation for a man in his position, to invade the formidable Chittor so he can ‘have’ Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), so be it.

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This single line of thought defines Bhansali’s Khilji, a man so possessed by an all-consuming desire for a woman whose exquisite beauty he has only ever heard of, but never seen or experienced in person. Granted, this makes Alauddin Khilji look almost uni-dimensional and much like an incensed,  stalkerish lover-boy rather than the ruthless, strategic ruler he was; however, any regular cine-goer and Bhansali’s fan would realize this outright show of villainy and the smattering of barbarism in the character is only an old Bollywood trope of pandering to the good versus evil, Ram versus Raavan Hindu narrative.

In fact, this contrast is ever more apparent when paired against Shahid Kapoor’s Maharawal Ratan Singh’s sobriety and his unrelenting grip on Rajput aan, baan shaan, of which, of course, Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) is the center piece.

A couple brownie points for the story though: thankfully, the movie borrows only the romanticized account of Khilji’s conquest of Chittor as narrated in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat (the source 2018’s Padmaavat is inspired by). Had the director chosen instead to adapt the entire poem for the silver screen, we might just have come to know what a dickhead Chittors’s Ratansen was in the first place, given his seven-seas journey to capture Rani Padmini’s heart based on mere hearsay.

Doesn’t make for an epic tale of war and love, right and wrong,  does it, when you have two idiots with near-exact temperaments fighting for the same thing?

And so we stick to Padmaavat, where Raja Ratan Singh happens to be the lucky bloke coming back home with a stunning second wife from the distant land of Singhal, when he was only seemingly on a vacation hunting rare pearls for the first wife. And we have Padmavati who, by the show of it knows how to shoot arrows, knows her mind, and still falls for the douchebag Ratan Singh, making for a love story as cold as the ice in Siberia. From happily picnicking in the jungles of Singhal, the duo go on to get married before the audience could go “wtf!” and return hand-in-hand to the home turf in Chittor, sparking the general praja’s awe, royal priest Raghav Chetan’s (Aayam Mehta) lust, and the first wife’s jealousy.

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Matters move speedily, as the priest is caught snooping in on the king and queen’s intimate moments and is promptly thrown out of the kingdom. The fact that Raghav Chetan is let out alive instead of getting beheaded alludes to Rajput honour, as we first come to know, and, are repeatedly reminded around 145890 times over the course of the movie. This obvious lack of foresight on the part of the Rajputs also drives the rest of the story ahead, as Chetan, on his way out vows to bring Chittor to its ruins, which, as see see over the course of the movie, he succeeds at accomplishing.

Despite the rather quick introduction of the three main characters (Ratan Singh, Padmavati and Khilji), the story doesn’t quite progress as fast as one would have liked it to. Bhansali takes his own sweet time in building up the background and digging into the motives driving each of these three characters, while we are invited to soak in the palette of hues and colors, and the air of grace and ferocity simmering at both ends of the extremely diverse worlds forming the battleground of this epic love triangle.

I say ‘love triangle’ solely because of the almost romantic touch Singh brings to his character – the helplessness, desperation and the heart-brokenness is apparent in a scene in the film when Khilji ends up realizing his near-futile attempt of getting a glimpse of Padmavati after spending a whole night waiting outside his camp dangerously close to Chittor fort. Amidst the manic depravity, ruthlessness, even boisterousness, Ranveer manages to bring out a seemingly softer side of the cold-blooded ruler, which is a major coup in itself and as much of an artistic liberty a director can take when relying on a fictitious tale.

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Padmaavat, in no way is a straightforward saga of love, war and heartbreak though; its inherent turmoils deepened by Khilji’s marriage to Mehrunissa, and a simultaneous relationship shared with the slave-cum-companion Malik Kafur. Hydari enacts Mehrunissa with plenty of vulnerability and tenderness, but we see her largely relegated to the background until after the second half begins.

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With Kafur though, Bhansali seems to have taken a chance, choosing to subtly portray the undertones of a homosexual relationship between the slave and his master, rather than a blatant mention of the same. Jim Sarbh as Kafur is outstanding as Khilji’s homosexual aide, never loud or comical (as most Bollywood movies as wont to portray), with a queer accent and a gentleness characteristic of his position in the Sultan’s life. Sarbh continues to make an impact from the time he played a key role in Ram Madhvani’s Neerja, and topped it off with a different shade in the rather disappointing Raabta. In Padmaavat though, he might have taken on his biggest challenge till date, playing a homosexual character without making it raunchy, exaggerated or an outlet for comic relief.

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Kudos to Bhansali as well for crushing ‘gay’ stereotypes and bringing out nuances in Kafur’s character, while lending a fatalistic touch to this behind-the-scenes relationship,  and while it is neither celebrated nor denounced, the mystery behind this amorous chapter adds an extra layer of complexity to Singh’s Khilji – we don’t see him trying to shake off his bisexuality, or deny its existence, even when he is busy raging wars in a bid to capture Padmavati.

As torch-bearers of Rajput pride and valour, Shahid and Deepika nearly fit in the template of grace, magnetism and restraint demanded of their respective characters. In the director’s world of excesses, it is a miracle how they manage to effectively portray their love more through subtle glances and tenderly spoken words, rather than outright expressions of passion. Kapoor however, mostly lets us down after starting off smoothly, as we watch him struggle under the weight of the laden Rajputana values – his stomach sucked in, his lips puckered in an ungainly pout, and his nostrils flaring, we see him reduced to a cardboard character where somehow being robot-like is a substitute for being taken seriously. Stacked against Khilji’s savagery, Ratan Singh’s self-righteous, stern demeanor is reduced to a puddle, blowing off unnecessary steam without causing any real damage to the opponent.

As a sensible viewer, you are appalled and annoyed by how Ratan Singh could pass up decent opportunities to capture the lunatic Khilji when those chances as good as fell into his lap, all because: Rajput pride and honour. You are equally stunned when the king makes a mention of ‘usool’ in the battleground, right before slumping to the ground. And so, you end up mocking Rajput stupidity, and lamenting their absolute lack of war strategy, rather than raising a toast to their pride and glory. The sole thing the movie set out to do, but ironically ends up subverting in these crucial moments. 

However, all is not lost and there is much to Padmaavat than fighting fair and losing. The director fluidly taken you on a journey where pivotal moments in the narration that make it all too clear who the real boss is: it is essentially Padmavati who succeeds in driving the maniacal Khilji mad, shredding his ego down to pieces, making a defeatist out of the invader.

Deepika is grace personified, as she moves about buoyantly, the pleats of her royal sarees/lehengas  tucked in neatly, and her pallu dancing in seductive waves. True to the director’s promise of at least one song the audience cant stop humming to, we are treated to a visual splendour in the form of ‘Ghoomar‘, quite a masterpiece within a masterpiece. It would be an understatement to say the actress has never looked as bewitching in any of her earlier movies.

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Full credit to the director for treating her character as  more than just a cog in the wheel of this epic tale of love and war, when there was a mighty chance of her presence being drowned against the sheer scale of this project, but more so, by the compelling depiction of Singh’s Khilji that seems to tower over the very premise of the film itself.

In fact, much of the second half bears testament to Padmavati’s political strategies meeting with success, in not only avenging Rajputana humiliation and distress caused by instigator Raghav Chetan by having him murdered by the faithless Khilji, but in also  sneaking her husband away from right under the nose of the Muslim ruler. Her decision to not surrender to Khilji’s wily schemes climaxes in the much-debated and (mostly) ridiculed mass Jauhar, a cinematic glorification that has been lambasted by commoners and a few celebrities alike.

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More on this in a different post, but for a cinematic spectacle carved by an artist of Bhansali’s stature, one can hardly expect a dowdy, miserable showdown depicting jauhar as a bawl-fest.
Anyone who has watched the director’s earlier movies – be it Bajirao Mastani, Ram Leela or even Guzaarish – would know the man chooses to portray passion and dignity even in death, and roots for his characters’ abilities to determine their own fates, irrespective of how nonsensical and foolish that might appear to the outside world. I dare say, he probably believes, if one were to be snuffed out, one should exit the mortal world with a bang AND on one’s own terms!
As someone who hates insipid love stories in real and reel lives, I don’t quite mind the dramatic endings. However, in Padmaavat’s case, I quite welcome it because I see it as a powerful show between a man who thinks he can conquer a woman’s body simply because he feels entitled to, and a woman who intends to stand by her choices and not surrender, even if it means losing to death. I see it as a battle of wills. Not the usual Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Raanjha sob-fest, for sure.
I see it as a choice exercised towards freedom rather than sexual slavery when faced with an army of thousands of savage men. This psychological game might not appeal to us 21st century human beings, specially modern feminists, but to ferret and tear apart the motives and ideals that drove people in the 13th century to do what they eventually did, would be a pointless exercise.

So if you wish to partake in the visual expansiveness of the mega project, can allow for a weak plot line and a historically flawed account to consume close to 3 hours of your time, and are content watching Ranveer Singh turn upside down the trajectory of the traditional Hindi film antagonist while Padukone plays to the gallery, albeit, with controlled finesse, go ahead and give this a chance…but make sure you soak in the opulence on the big screen, not on TV!!

 Also, tough luck Karni Sena. Try harder next time maybe? 

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

Fukrey Returns: Makes you wonder why these Fukrey ever returned

One more time, the boys of the Fukrey gang are up to no good. But the reasons that compel them on to this straggly adventure may not be as relatable this time around.

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June 2013 was a jarringly tumultuous time in my life.

My career was in shambles, my relationships more so. Especially my love life – that was teetering on the edges of insanity and was begging for some fresh air, less fear, some cheer.

That’s when Fukrey happened; I distinctly remember having gone to watch this movie with my then-boyfriend since it was our #relationship monthversary (yeah, go on laugh). I remember both of us having laughed our guts out, and leaving the theater with lighter heads and heavier love for each other. Not that my career dived into a positive spin, but  hell yeah, all the humor and silliness did rub off on my then-floundering relationship.

Fast forward to December 2017.

I am married to the same man, and this time around too we were squabbling over something inconsequential when we decided to go watch this movie, because hey, filmy love binds us like no other.

However, we were in for a squirmy, uncomfortable shock because nothing about Fukrey Returns was the same anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting the sequel to be a caricature of its much-famed predecessor, but neither was I expecting these four twats to go around zoos and caves like they were on a regular visit to the mall, and dealing with the lady don (read: Bholi Punjaban) with the collective IQ of a bunch of four-year olds.

The audience breaking into uncomfortable, overdone, needlessly boisterous laughs even in the absence of anything remotely funny confirms what I felt all along – Fukrey Returns tries too hard, and you only throw in some giggles here and there coz you’re a loyalist. Now that’s a certified recipe for disaster for a movie claiming to be a comedy.

The setup is the same here: Bholi Punjaban (Richa Chadda) manages to get out of Tihar jail using her political connections and is now back in her element to make lives hell for these Fukreys, who, except for Zafar (Ali Fazal) are leading disappointingly morbid lives. Still in the lottery business, Choocha (Varun Sharma) and Hunny (Pulkit Samrat) continue to mint easy money on the strength of Choocha’s weirdly disconnected dreams and the latter’s weirder interpretation methods. Lali (Manjot Singh) who isn’t quite content on just having secured his entry to the college of his dreams a year ago now resents his father’s halwai business and is keen on setting up a coffee shop instead. Zafar seems to have crossed over the dangerous hurdles in his relationship with Neetu (Vishakha Singh) and is now on the verge on moving in with her, into their dream home.

All looks well, till political baddie Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) steps in with meaty stakes for rescuing Bholi from the roach-infested living premises of the prison, something the Punjaban lady don is willing to do anything to not cave in to. And so she greets the four idiots in the unlikeliest of places and has them kidnapped and bound like cattle, declaring revenge by asking them to step up and prove their usefulness, or else perish. To save their sore arses and their lives, they’ve now got to do her bidding – one thing leads to another and before they realize it, they are sucked into the familiar vortex of hatching get-rick-quick schemes and dangerous bets, eventually rubbing local politician Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) the wrong way and paying for it by dumping themselves in the stench-filled Yamuna.

A snake metamorphosing into Bholi who comically appears in a glittery naagin costume (remember Sridevi from Nagina (1986)?), an angry tigress and her cub, a Ponzi scheme that has hapless investors pushing the Fukreys to go take a plunge in the savage waters of the Yamuna pretending to be dead, Babulal Bhatia raking up his dark side in running shady lottery business and a couple more sins, political speeches and dirty agendas, and a long drawn yawn-inducing adventure leading up to the cave (from Choocha’s dream sequence) and beyond, is essentially what the sequel is made of.

Choocha’s dreams are more scattered and harebrained now, and that’s okay, but it looks like the climax was written first and then the chidiyaghar dream added as an afterthought to fit the narrative, which frankly, lacks any sense of urgency like the prequel did. And while Choocha now has to grapple with a new gift and dabble in the business of premonitions, which admittedly he does quite fervently, Hunny lacks the spontaneity and desperation he displayed in Fukrey and looks kinda bored throughout the movie.

But then this is probably why Fukrey Returns doesn’t stir up much in your belly because the entire plot looks contrived, from start to finish.

For one, Fukrey was a refreshingly put-together movie, with four protagonists at the helm with ‘issues’ or rather ‘problems’ typical to the bracket of youngsters falling between age 17-25.

Boys wanting to secure admissions in elite colleges because they want to have girls hanging at their arms and live the good life isn’t unheard of, and neither is a struggling musician desperately looking for funds for his father’s treatment an anomaly. Bundle these relatable desires and concerns with jugaad gifts like making money out of having dreams, and you have a sleek potboiler to be cherished over a tub of popcorn and full-throated laughs!

The nuances in Fukrey, be it in the way Lali develops the much-hyped crush over tutor Neetu, Hunny wooing Priya (Priya Anand) and then genuinely falling for her, Neetu confronting Zafar and presenting him with some hard life choices, were all elements that added to the overall grain of the story. No surprise elements here like the thieving beggar from the first part who actually had tons of money on him and bailed the boys out in a stroke of luck (Ashraf-ul-Haq, bless your soul, you did a fantastic job even with that itsy-bitsy role!).

But the key moment that sets off Fukrey is the scene where Choocha is pressured and literally cornered into coming up with a dream (which he conveniently lies about), and the resulting blunder lands them all in a deadly mess. This seems to be missing in the sequel, and the characters largely look lost and disillusioned, less with their lives as protagonists of the movie but more as actors not knowing why they signed up for this half-baked project.

Neetu and Priya, who were more invested in the first part and their roles better integrated in Fukrey, seem to have disappeared after a few half-hearted appearances in the first few minutes of the sequel, only to reappear much later post intermission, making it look the director suddenly wanted to make good their payment for acting in this deluded vision.

Bholi Punjaban is less feisty and more gullible in Fukrey Returns, lacking the punch or the audacity she possessed in the first part. You definitely don’t shit your pants or break into a sweat with this Bholi around! The climax though, makes this change in behavior and her subsequent change-of-heart amply clear, as she pairs up with Choocha, fanning his more than a year-long romantic feelings for her as well as her now comparatively ‘cleaner’ ambitions of climbing the political ladder. Oh well, she even does  a group dance with the whole tormented Fukrey lot, even touching her mother-in-law’s feet in the end!

The only characters worth sitting up and noticing are Babulal Bhatia (Rajiv Gupta) and Pandjitji (Pankat Tripathi). Babulal with his menacing underhand moves and dirty agendas contrasts well with the occasional straight-faced humor (a trademark of Tripathi) sprinkled in by Pandjitji, who is more engaged in this misadventure than he was in the last, to our delight, as well as our chagrin, because we eventually see how this rare talent is wasted in the sequel.

Sequels generally are tricky grounds to tread on, and unless they have solid character growth to offer, much of the familiar setting of previous movie (s) and tropes can seem like a vacation gone stale long back. In fact, one of the best Bollywood sequels I have watched till date happens to be Tanu Weds Manu Returns, which frikkin’ not only won Kangana Ranaut a National award but stood up as a benchmark for filmmakers planning to go the sequel/franchise way. I dare say TWMR trumped the original by a mile and more, with predictable characters peeling off layers of their innate character traits in unpredictable, fresh circumstances.

Unfortunately, most sequels in Bollywood are barely a patch on the originals; and thus, in this vein, Fukrey Returns can literally be summed up as a labor of love – laborious, tedious, never-ending, considering there is nothing much to go on about for close to 2 and a half hours of screen time.

The only thing that may lend you solace is when the credits roll and you are introduced to a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara kinda post-script where Zafar and Neetu are finally hitched, and Choocha (along with his lady love Bholi), Hunny and Lali seem to have thankfully found some purpose in life. An overdone song-and-dance sequence culminates in a picture of the four Fukreys sitting huddled up together on the beach, looking out at the sea, and probably thinking to themselves, ab bas ho gaya. Let’s move on shall we?

But that is also the only thing I could take away from the movie (both parts included) – their friendship and how they stuck together, irrespective of who failed the bets.

I hope that’s something you’ll take away too when you give the sequel a chance, but I also hope they return no more.

Rating: 2.5/5

Qarib Qarib Singlle: Two imperfect leads come together for a qarib qarib perfect love story

Qarib Qarib perfect!

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“Love is like wildflowers; It’s often found in the most unlikely places.” – Anonymous

So it is when 35-year-old workaholic Jaya (Parvathy) meets clumsy, chirpy Yogi (Irrfan) on a Tinder-esque yet glaringly un-sophisticated  and embarrassingly creepy online dating website called Ab Tak Singlle. No, they do not hit it off right away, much less fall in love, but embark on a charming ride that is languorous and unhurried in its pace, yet sweeping you up in its nuanced fluidity.

Marking South Indian actress Parvathy’s Bollywood debut and critically acclaimed director Tanuja Chandra’s comeback after a nine-year long hiatus, Qarib Qarib Singlle unfolds as a light-hearted rom-com in stark contrast to Chandra’s previous works underlined primarily by thriller and tragic themes (courtesy: Dushman, Sangharsh and Zakhm). Rooted in a radio play penned by her mother Kamna Chandra many years ago, the film takes the wittiest elements of the former, infused with a freshness that is easy to soak into, but hard to shake off.

The opening in itself is mighty impressive. Much is said about Jaya in the first 3 minutes- where a harmless, decked-up attendance at a friend’s wedding becomes a sore point for rehashing the past, serving as a window for the audience to have a peek into her life – she is a widow, a fact the world decidedly does not want to let her forget.

From this point on, we are drawn into Jaya’s superficially successful yet mundane everyday life, dotted with an unrelenting obsession with work but crumbling at the nooks and corners, exposing us to the brittleness of her being and the dark spots she casually dresses up in pastel shades and thick-rimmed glasses.

Don’t get me wrong – in no way does Jaya come across as miserable with her life, man or no man (the director takes great care to establish the same). And yet, one can’t help but notice how she is defined more by others’ perception of her than her own. From the subtly cruel and disparagingly insensitive friend introducing Jaya to her husband as the ‘woman whose husband died’ (at her own wedding, no less), to the friend shamelessly dumping her parental responsibilities on stepni aunty, we are repeatedly made familiar with society’s hypocrisy and conditioning that somehow paints married people in brighter strokes than it does someone who is widowed/unmarried.

Remember the friend back in college who didn’t have a social or romantic life of her own, and was relegated to the side, only to be called upon to  save her actively social and unabashedly promiscuous friends’ sorry asses? That might have been you, that definitely was me back in my Diana-cut, no-kajal, skinny-arms-and-legs days of adolescence, and this is what makes Jaya seem so real to us.

Enter Yogi and right off the bat Jaya’s closed, monotonous, ‘cultured’ existence is thrown into a state of pandemonium, where all that she knew about doing things the ‘propah’ way comes crashing down, albeit, riding on a lot of humor and sprinkled with just as many shocks.

Yogi is outspoken, effortlessly amusing, and an unabashed flirt. From the moment he occupies the screen, you are reminded of Monty from Life in a Metro and Rana from Piku who seemed to have just caught on from where they had pressed the pause button last. The brightness and unmistakable weirdness of the character is quite obviously carefully constructed, and yet, this in no way acts a barrier to the audience bursting into peals of laughter over Yogi’s hilarious antics – from sharing anecdotes about his exes apparently still pining for him to meditatively lecturing on how mangoes should be eaten (safeda kaatke, dussehri chooske), Irrfan, through his hungry, mischievous eyes, that careless gait and the relaxed demeanor conveys more than words can.

I am yet to figure out what about such loud, unsophisticated male characters appeals to me – bordering on the ‘social misfit’ type, these are the men women would least want to be seen with, let alone be in a relationship with. A man who insists you hand over your phone to him so he can teach your online ‘admirers’ a right little lesson, to inviting you over on a trip to revisit his past, believing his exes still hold a candle to him, you are left flabbergasted, amused, flummoxed by the sheer audacity of this impenetrable creature. Curiosity really does kill the cat, and so sneakily, quite unconsciously you feel drawn to this character, in a I-need-to-figure-this-chap-out kinda way.

The allure of traipsing through unknown lands with a stranger (who queerly still feels familiar and safe to hang around with), Jaya is pulled out of the trance of her remarkably ordinary life and hurtled into a time-machine of sorts, zig-zagging through incredible experiences and much needed laughter. And tons of warmth and that sly, crafty love that sneaks up on her when she least expects it, like a coffee brewing for a little too long.

On his part, Khan as Yogi eventually ceases to be the drifter that he has always been (or so we are made to believe, unless of course a sequel pops up), finally stopping to pause for breath and smell the roses as they really are (read: give love yet another chance, by pushing reminiscence of the past right where it belonged).

Yes, it is a familiar trope resorted to by Bollywood and Hollywood alike – the shy, introverted female lead paired against the boisterous, bolder gregarious male lead (or vice-versa). The plot isn’t novel as such, in the way it brings opposites together, bound by externally different, yet intrinsically similar circumstances – of really wanting to be loved and share a beautiful companionship instead of drifting about or hanging on to memories that no longer serve the soul.

The tempo of this sometimes tiresome journey though is saved by the initial build-up of curiosity, that continues almost till the very end, barring a few unmistakable hiccups along the way.

So missed trains and flights through Dehradun, Rishikesh, Delhi, Alwar, Jaipur and Gangtok repeatedly keep pulling us into the temporary world of this odd pair – each surreptitiously scanning the other’s mind, as if to tick off an invisible box in the head – until we’re hooked.

On the downside, the extreme interest in Jaya’s sordid, lonely existence seems at times overplayed in contrast to a vague summary of Yogi’s life and background – we only know he is a self-proclaimed poet and he somehow has his pockets filled with dough enough to go around the whole country (I’d really like to know how he digs in all that moolah from merely shooting shayaris off his mouth). Technically, the cinematography is disappointingly average, with the sheen of the locales relegated in favor of the couple’s (sometimes mindless) meandering through the film.

At times you wish the scenes didn’t jump too fast, and the sub-texts didn’t multiply with each location covered. Also, as hilarious and affecting as the overall journey was, the rational bone in your body does perk up quite a few times wondering, “Why the hell would any sane woman (and as sane as Jaya) agree to revisit this complete stranger’s past?” Also, that all of Yogi’s exes should welcome him with open arms and sexy dresses and off-kilter behavior (read: Neha Dhupia as one of the bunch casually flirting with Khan over some overwrought poetry) sounds preposterous and supremely wishful. You of course, know, this subtext has been thrown in to lend some padding to an otherwise simplistic plot.

So yes, that’s the level of trust, absurdity and incoherence on display here that unnerves you for a few moments here and there, till the leads recapture your attention and sweep you off your feet with their earnest performances.

The supporting characters here hardly support the narrative in any credible way – with the exception of Pushtii Shakti (the first of the exes the couple paid a visit to) who was the only one I could somehow relate to, the rest seemed to have been treated worse than furniture, as mere appendages.

Neha Dhupia looks phony at best whereas Luke Kenny as Jaya’s friend (ex?, what was he?) looks like he may have been shoved into the frame because no one agreed to do the part. Isha Sharvani as the third ex, seems to have wasted time showcasing her svelte body and fluid moves, I think a picture of hers with a garland around her neck might have sufficed. Navneet Nishan as the parlour-wali aunty Mrs. Saluja swings her part well, even though you find it stereotypical and bordering on a rehash of every other role she has ever played till date.

Jaya’s makeup has been tastefully done, with pastels and soft shades dominating much of her wardrobe in the movie. Full credit to Parvathy, for not being the quintessential Bollywood heroine and yet owning her part in her very first brush with this maya nagri. Her mastery over Hindi minus the familiar South Indian twang too is commendable.

Qarib Qarib, admittedly, is a flawed enterprise in more ways than one, and yet, it is hard to look away from the screen with such an oddly fresh pair tugging at your heart. If you walk in wanting to have a good time without letting your judgment come in the way, if you want to go all heart and not rationalize and identify rights and wrongs in the movie or identify isms and themes dotted across the length of the feature, you’ll probably come out with a silly grin on, wondering why it wouldn’t leave your mind – despite your brain having pointed out its occasional ludicrousness to you.

Rating: 4/5