July 13, 2012
Saif Ali Khan, Deepika Padukone, Diana Penty, Boman Irani, Dimple Kapadia, Randeep Hooda
Cocktail is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai revisited. Regressive messages are most dangerous when they sport a veneer of liberalism, and KKHH is a classic among such films. Karan Johar’s highly entertaining, well-packaged debut film put up the façade with Rani’s little skirts and the Western designerwear crowding those college corridors. Beneath the gloss though, KKHH had a very clear point to make: that unless a woman conforms to the accepted definition of femininity, the man she loves will never realise he loves her. Or, more literally: ladies, you will lose the man who loves you unless you lose to him in basketball while wearing a sari. Ishaqzaade just recently put up a similar pretence of being forward-thinking with its gun-toting, abusive heroine. When push came to shove though, she simply rolled over and panted like a pet puppy for her man.
Cocktail reveals its true colours post-interval. It also becomes dull. In one sentence: it’s got a breezy, funny first half in which a promiscuous man and a promiscuous woman are viewed through equally – yes, equally – non-judgmental eyes; and a mostly rona-dhona second half in which the woman is reduced to a conformist who made me cringe.
The story revolves around London-based Gautam (Saif Ali Khan), an incorrigible womaniser who targets any human female below a certain age. One of them is the ultra-desi Meera who has come to London to be with her husband (Randeep Hooda). Hubby turns out to be a scumbag who married her in India for her money but rejects her when she lands at his doorstep. Meera bumps into the ultra-non-desi Veronica (Deepika Padukone), a man-iser (if there is such a word) who could give Gautam a run for his money. Veronica takes Meera into her home and they become best friends. As fate would have it, shortly afterwards she also takes Gautam into her bedroom and they become live-in companions much to the discomfort of Meera who does not like him.
Sexually philandering men have always been the subject of comedy in Bollywood. Look no further than No Entry, Garam Masala and Housefull for examples. What makes Cocktail seem unusual is that it also gives us a philandering heroine but handles her too with a sense of humour … in the first half that is. When interval time strikes, she crumbles into a bundle of nerves and misery, desperate for the things women are expected to crave – salwar kameezes, marriage, the works – while the man remains a cool dude even when he falls in love, I suppose because that fits the film maker’s image of neurotic, frustrated spinsters and happy-go-lucky bachelors.
It’s possible that most audience members will not share my feminist concerns. However, it would concern everyone, I suspect, that the pacy first half of Cocktail with catchy, appropriately-placed songs gives way to a slowing-moving second half that almost completely loses its sense of fun and is filled with just too many boring songs! Worse, the dramatic transformation in each character’s emotions and behaviour is so sudden as to be almost inexplicable. Some of the Hinglish dialogues sound a tad unnatural and suspiciously like they are trying hard to be ‘cool’.
Deepika plays her part with elan in the pre-interval portion but in later scenes is done in by the confused characterisation that cashes in on a widely prevalent social stereotype. She looks stunning throughout, of course … Oh god, how does she maintain that waist?!!! Diana Penty has been well cast not only because she pulls off the staid, composed Meera, but also because she’s a looker to match Ms Padukone and actually resembles her to the point that they could play sisters in a film some day. The one who has the toughest part in Cocktail though is Saif whose Gautam could so easily have gone unbearably over the top … he comes across as being rather bizarre in his womanising methods at first, but I found myself gradually drawn to his crazy character. The high point of his performance – and of the film – has got to be the hilarious scene in which Gautam’s mother (Dimple Kapadia) meets Veronica and Meera with him for the first time. That’s the scene in which good direction, good writing, good acting and good casting all come together.
Director Homi Adajania has much to explain though. Why did he pace the second half of the film so differently from the first? Does he think sexual promiscuity is the only sign of a ‘liberal’ woman? Isn’t self-assurance the mark of true liberalism? Why did he chicken out in his portrayal of Veronica as the story progressed? Why does the film specify that Gautam is 32 years old? C’mon, I love Saif’s acting, but the actor doesn’t look a day below his 41 years; his real age is further emphasised in Cocktail by the fact that his two leading ladies are gloriously smooth-skinned, slim-waisted 20-somethings; and I can’t for the life of me understand why it’s so hard to cast a mainstream Hindi film hero as a character who is the same age as the actor is in real life! Saif is not alone in this. In the recent Agneepath, for instance, 38-year-old Hrithik was playing a Vijay Dinanath Chauhan who is supposedly in his late 20s! One more question for the team of Cocktail: did the heroine in tiny skirts, who smokes, drinks, consumes drugs and sleeps around have to be a Christian Veronica while the ‘good’ desi girl wearing long skirts and long-sleeved tops is a Hindu Meera? Hasn’t Hindi cinema evolved beyond this ridiculous stereotype that ruled the 1950s-80s? Or has it not?
Well, that’s Cocktail for you … bubbly in the first half, boring in the second, pretending to be free-thinking but actually narrow-minded and stereotypical to the core.
Rating (out of five): **1/2
Censor rating: U/A
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocktail_(2012_film)