Friday, July 11, 2014

REVIEW 275: HUMPTY SHARMA KI DULHANIA

Release date:
July 11, 2014
Director:
Shashank Khaitan
Cast:


Language:
Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sahil Vaid, Gaurav Pandey, Ashutosh Rana, Siddharth Shukla
Hindi


Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania (HSKD) is DDLJ revisited, packaged in fake liberalism. “Ja Simran, ja jee le apni zindagi (Go Simran, go live your life),” said the despotic father played by Amrish Puri to his adult daughter while granting her permission to marry the man she loves in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. That iconic dialogue from the regressive 1995 blockbuster is repeated in HSKD when another despot (Ashutosh Rana) grants permission to a boy to marry his adult daughter. It’s irrelevant that Kavya Pratap Singh (Alia Bhatt) and Rakesh/Humpty Sharma (Varun Dhawan) are in love and want to marry. What matters is that Daddy says it’s okay.

HSKD seems designed as a tribute to DDLJ, with the addition of a pretence at progressiveness. And so, Kavya is given two attributes that Bollywood seems to consider essential characteristics of a forward-thinking woman: she has sex before marriage and she drinks alcohol. You see, in Bollywood’s book, if a woman does both the above she has provided proof of being cool. Conversely, should we assume that they consider women uncool if they exercise their freedom to make informed choices not to have sex before marriage or not to consume alcohol?

This is what happens when closet conservatives feign open-mindedness. They forget that true liberalism is about letting men and women exercise choices, instead of demanding that they fit into moulds prescribed by the Left or the Right. They also end up revealing their true colours through characters like Kavya who out-drinks Humpty and consummates their relationship before taking any pheras, but will not marry him without Daddy’s clearance, even if Daddy is a louse who bullies the women in his family, taunts a daughter for being divorced, repeatedly hits Humpty and his friends, and gets them bashed up. Like society, the entertainment media often projects women as a prize to be won by men, but it still makes the skin crawl when an educated girl like Kavya is so passive that she barges up to Humpty even as he is being tested by her father, and asks: Kya tumhe mujhe jeetna hai ki nahin (Do you or do you not want to win me)?

I’m not saying women like Kavya don’t exist; I’m saying, please don’t position her as a liberal creature (or a “modern” ladki, which is what Humpty calls her at one point in the film).

As stories go, HSKD is light-hearted fun to begin with, before it gets repetitive and predictable in the second half. With just weeks to go for her wedding, Ambala girl Kavya escapes from home on the pretext of buying a Rs 5 lakh designer lehnga in Delhi. There she meets Humpty, the no-good son of a stationery shop owner, and his two loyal friends Shaunti (Gaurav Pandey) and Poplu (Sahil Vaid). Kavya and Humpty click immediately. He helps her friend out of a tough spot, while going to great lengths to help Kavya raise the money for her shaadi ke kapde.

That lehnga mission is treated so seriously by the film, that you’d think he was feeding starving slum kids or clothing street dwellers. As we know will happen from the very first frame of the film, boy and girl fall in love. Then boy and girl have sex. And girl promptly takes off to Ambala to marry Daddy’s chosen groom. In case you think those were spoilers, let me assure you they are not. There’s not a single moment in this film, not one, where I sat up in wonderment or shock or surprise and thought: oh my, now there’s something I’ve not seen in a Hindi film before!

The film’s noisy, generic soundtrack includes love songs, shaadi songs in which the entire mega-clan gathers to sing and dance, and in the end, a club number with the closing credits. In short, most elements in the formula are dutifully covered.

Creative laziness shows up elsewhere too when the story forgets Kavya’s fiancé Angad (Siddharth Shukla) in the end. Where did he go? No idea. And in the guise of coolth, what is this mindless film doing encouraging women to put themselves in dangerous situations? In one scene that seems highly improbable for India, Kavya, who barely knows Humpty at that point, joins him and his guy friends at his shop for a late-night drinking session, then casually decides to spend the night there with them. This is the opposite end of the spectrum from victim blaming in sexual violence. What next? A film encouraging old people not to get servant verifications done?

While the going’s good, Varun and Alia are their usual sweet selves though it needs to be said that he must now steer clear of that child-like way in which he sometimes rolls his R’s, and she should grow past her occasional baby-girl tone. The two Student of the Year co-stars may not have sparks flying between them, but they share a pleasant warmth. Rana, Pandey and Vaid are interesting inclusions in the cast. So is TV’s hot bod Shukla who is making his film debut here.

Now if only the screenplay had an iota of originality, heft or thought. Even when it is purportedly delivering harmless fun, its humourisation of the leads’ amorality is troubling. I mean, we’re meant to be charmed when Humpty breaks into a teacher’s house, hangs him from a tree and demands to be given pass marks; while Kavya, the teacher’s niece, agrees to take money in exchange for ensuring that he does get those marks. Again, I’m not saying these things don’t happen; just that the manner in which the film cutesifies these situations is rather unthinking.

This is disappointing because Dharma Productions has come up with some pleasant surprises in its smaller rom coms such as Wake Up Sid, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu and this year’s Hasee Toh Phasee. Even Dostana, beneath its veneer of frivolity, had some pathbreaking moments such as when a traditional Indian maa is shown accepting her beta’s homosexuality. What then explains the superficiality and absolute lack of meat in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania? HSKD is really funny in places, but it’s so insubstantial, unimaginative and regressive that that’s just not enough.

Rating (out of five stars): **

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A
Running time:
135 minutes
Poster courtesy: Everymedia PR


3 comments:

  1. Hi Anna,

    I find your review to be unnecessary in terms of social parallels. Whence first you dismiss father's approval for a match, firstly, not just in India but every girl or boy all around the world wants the entire family to be participative in a marriage. I find it laughable that you would dismiss parental role because in actuality too, this happens to be the truth.

    Secondly, I don't understand why everything is now compared against what a liberal woman should be. Liberal notions of feminism should just let women be as they want to be. Defining what a modern woman should behave like is just as harmful. Also, most people in this country do talk like this, are a little bit flaky and inconsistent. Its not so surprising.

    Granted the film is not an original masterpiece but I don't think it pretend to be a summer filler romance.

    Lastly, why have we stopped enjoying a vanilla Bollywood film that is not even trying to pretend to be groundbreaking for something else?

    Would appreciate if critics would judge a film based on what it is, instead of some new found benchmarks of morality and idealism.

    Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Parul,

      1. You say you find it "laughable" that I "dismiss parental role because in actuality too, this happens to be the truth" (sic). Should I find it laughable that you have not paid attention to the review you are commenting on? I've clearly stated that I don't doubt women like Kavya exist - the problem is when such women are projected as a "modern ladki". Many films portray regressive realities without glorifying them the way this film does.

      2. You say: "Liberal notions of feminism should just let women be as they want to be." That's exactly what I have said in the review. What's the disagreement?

      3. But if you - like so many others - think that "letting women be" should include having no problem with a woman accepting spousal abuse, participating in the dowry system, "voluntarily" committing Sati, etc, then of course I disagree. Kavya did not do any of the above, but she accepts a father taking away a daughter's rights and brutally beating up her boyfriend at the drop of a hat, yet she is projected as being progressive; and her regressiveness is romanticised as a daughter's true love for a loving, even if autocratic, father. In a country like ours where parents have been known to kill children in similar situations, it's beyond laughable that you would accept the romanticisation of this father-daughter duo's behaviour.

      4. Lastly, I don't know how in your first paragraph you have made such a blanket generalisation about girls and boys across the world.

      Feel free to disagree. To my mind, the whole point of reviews is to generate debate. But why dismiss my opinion as "laughable" just because I criticised a film that worked for you? That's not an opening that is conducive to a constructive debate, is it?

      Regards,

      Anna

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  2. Well, not to break down to minor details but if three fellows lounge around in your garden lying about how they know your soon to be wed daughter, any father would find it shady and have them kicked out. Infact now that you raise the issue of taking away rights, he merely asks the boy why he is better for a girl who is already spoken for. I didn't see anything regressive there except for the occasional, unnecessary slapping which I can imagine happening in such setups. With the cigarette swapping late though, it seemed like the father liked the boy but wanted him to prove his worth/ love. Also don't think there was such a huge stress on what "modern women" do. It seemed to fit what such characters do/ how they talk: "main toh paida hi hot hui thi" (clearly) They're shown to be immature, childish and hot headed as in the scene when they fight down the eve teasers without thinking things through or their college shenanigans. Most college kids behave the same, say these very kind of things.

    Sorry I hit a nerve with the word 'laughable'. What I meant is that a film that does not try to be pathbreaking cannot be evaluated against such intense parameters. It was a light hearted romcom and it never pretended to be anything else. I didn't enjoy the film much but I find such serious reviews to be a bit out of place. The gist of the movie doesn't fit with how its being reviewed by people, is my point. Well written review though, since it did generate a debate.

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