July 11, 2014
Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sahil Vaid, Gaurav Pandey, Ashutosh Rana, Siddharth Shukla
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 soundtrack – often noisy and generic – 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):
Poster courtesy: Everymedia PR