Friday, September 19, 2014


Release date:
September 19, 2014
Shashanka Ghosh


Sonam Kapoor, Fawad Khan, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aamir Raza Hussain, Kirron Kher

It takes a brave man to remake a much-loved Hrishikesh Mukherjee classic. Director Shashanka Ghosh’s Khoobsurat matches the mood of the 1980 original, but he wisely borrows just the bare bones of the story to come up with something that’s uniquely 2014 and uniquely his own.

This Khoobsurat then is the story of a bubbly, guileless, kind, successful young Delhi-based physiotherapist called Milli Chakravarty (Sonam Kapoor) who is hired to treat a wheelchair-bound erstwhile Rajasthan royal. ‘Maharaja’ Shekhar Rathore (Aamir Raza Hussain) is a tough nut to crack. Milli is his 40th doctor so far but she soon realises it’s his spirit that needs reviving, not his legs, for reasons this review won’t reveal. The Rathores live a strict, regimented life in their lavish palace overseen by the propah disciplinarian ‘Maharani’ Nirmala (Ratna Pathak Shah). Making up the rest of the family are their son, the dashing but boring workaholic ‘Yuvraaj’ Vikram (Pakistani actor Fawad Khan), and conflicted school-going daughter Divya.  

Like Maria in Sound of Music, Manju (Rekha) in the old Khubsoorat (different spelling) and other films in a similar mould, we know from the start here too that Milli will win everyone over by the end. It matters not, because the journey to that point makes for a sweet romantic comedy.

This may seem blasphemous to Hrishida’s fans, but if you set aside those rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia for a moment, you might agree that Manju/Rekha’s antics in her sister’s marital home, especially her loudness when she first entered there, defied believability. Milli’s exuberance never once resembles Manju’s early idiocy and is, therefore, more credible. This is a chirpy girl brought up in a happy, informal middle-class household by supportive parents, her convention-defying Punjabi mother Manju (Kirron Kher) and her quiet Bengali father (Kaizad Kotwal). Thrown into unfamiliar environs, Milli refuses to put a lid on her joie de vivre yet never comes across as being unaware of her surroundings or of how she sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sonam here does something she should do more often: she does NOT play a designerwear-addicted ultra-glam shopaholic and/or spoilt rich kid whose on-screen character mirrors her off-screen persona; quite the opposite and she looks stunning despite that. To find her Milli though, she reaches not into a wardrobe but into her self for that X-factor we saw in Saawariya’s Sakina, to deliver effusiveness and innocence tempered with sensitivity and wisdom.

Fawad’s staid Vikram is a perfect foil to her effervescence. It doesn’t hurt that he fits well into those suits and gives us a glimpse of a sexy torso in his bedroom one night, without strutting around like a peacock as some Bollywood heroes do these days. The supporting cast is strong, and the sweet chemistry between Ratna and Aamir merits a mention.

By now Kirron Kher could probably do the over-wrought Punjabi mom with her eyes closed. It’s to her credit that despite the burden of playing a cliche, she manages to be funny.

For the most part, Indira Bisht’s screenplay is consistent and realistic. One major grouse: the writing of Vikram’s character. We see him a lot, meet him often, yet don’t get to know him much. It’s easy to understand why Vikram falls in love with Milli. It’s also easy to see why she would be sexually attracted to him – c’mon, he’s cute! – but what evoked love? Can’t quite tell.

The writing does get occasionally lazy, with one particular situation of convenience being drawn up just to fit plot requirements. I mean, how likely is it that a royal Rajasthan household would offer a room with one bed to two guests, one male and the other female?

Early on in the film, another hard-to-believe scenario is unthinkingly thrown in to establish Milli’s egalitarianism. I can imagine a woman like her being kind to household staff, but how likely is it that the crazy-yet-sensible Milli would party, drink and dance wildly with them without stopping for a moment to wonder if the male employees might misunderstand her, considering the gender segregation prevalent in so much of traditional Indian society?

The film also unnecessarily slows down in the last half hour, feels stretched in Vikram’s interactions with Milli’s family and could have done without the generic song Abhi toh party shuru hui hai accompanying the end credits. The spotlight is almost entirely on Sonam in that number. Unfair to Fawad? Yes. But her family is co-producing the film and well, this is what Bollywood’s male stars do to heroines in entire films most of the time, so therefore ergo...

That song apart, Sneha Khanwalkar’s pleasant compositions with lyrics by Kausar Munir are unobtrusively stitched into the story; they are not lip synced but play in the background. The chosen locations show us a Rajasthan beyond sand dunes, and DoP Tushar Kanti Ray delivers eye-pleasing visuals without trying to impress with the grandeur of natural scenery or palaces.

Besides being fun, this is a sensible film. It’s non-judgmental towards Nirmala Rathore despite her harshness. The humour is never raucous and often used to convey an important point: note Milli’s response to Nirmala’s confusion on discovering that Ms Chakravarty considers herself a Punjabi. Except for some rough patches I’ve already grumbled about, this is a well-told story. There you go Sajid Khan, frothy does not have to mean foolish. Khoobsurat is proof of that.

PS: (1) Nice opening credits with visuals of the characters in gilded frames, against the backdrop of what looks like jacquard silk. (2) Is Manju named thus in a bow to Hrishida’s heroine?

Rating (out of five stars): ***

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
130 minutes 

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