Friday, May 17, 2019


Release date:
May 17, 2019
Akiv Ali

Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Rakul Preet Singh, Jaaved Jaaferi, Alok Nath, Jimmy Sheirgill, Kumud Mishra

In the opening scene of De De Pyaar De (Give Me Love), a man throws a bachelor party for a friend. Enter: a stripper. Just as she is giving the groom a lap dance, enter: the bride. “Which man in the world will turn down a stripper at his own bachelor party?” says more than one character in defence of the fellow when the angry woman confronts him. He is projected as a hapless chap following his natural instincts, she as a humourless, unreasonable, screeching banshee.

The stripper gets drunk and ends up spending the night at the host’s house. When she wakes up she assumes something had happened between them and ribs the man gently about it. She is convinced of her hotness, sounds comfortable with the thought that he might have had sex with her when she was passed out and will not believe it when he says he did nothing. “Main behoshi ke bahaane ka mauka nahin deta,” the man explains. “Bahaana” in Hindi can be read as both “pretence” and “excuse”, so that translates to: “I do not give women the opportunity to cry rape using the pretence of having been unconscious as their excuse.”

Later in the same passage, she dispenses this wisdom about infidelity: you do not fall in love after one sexual encounter, so how can one sexual encounter cause you to fall out of love? In the context in which that sentence is uttered (that is, while discussing a woman not trusting the man she supposedly loves), here is a translation: a woman does not fall in love with a man simply because she had sex with him once, so how can she fall out of love with that man simply because he had sex with another woman just once?

The line is repeated later in the film by another character.

It’s that same old argument from the 1981 Jeetendra-Rekha-Shabana Azmi-starrer Ek Hi Bhool, in which a wife is taunted and demonised for not forgiving her husband’s single act of sexual infidelity because, after all, it was – as even the erring spouse has the audacity to tell her while demanding absolution – “ek hi bhool” (just one mistake).

Director-editor Akiv Ali’s De De Pyaar De has been marketed as an older-man-younger-woman romance, but make no mistake about this: what it truly is is a vehicle for claims of universal male victimhood, better disguised than its co-producer and co-writer Luv Ranjan’s three directorial ventures that have struck box-office gold in the past decade – Pyaar Ka Punchnama, Pyaar Ka Punchnama (PKP) 2 and Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (SKTKS). Just to make it clear that De De Pyaar De is a tribute to Ranjan’s earlier works, it features a cameo by Sunny Singh from PKP 2 and SKTKS. The only thing missing is the song from the PKPs: Bandh gaya patta, dekho bann gaya kutta (The leash has been tied / Look, he’s become a dog). 

Unlike those three films, the stars of De De Pyaar De are big names, and perhaps because of that the misogyny is less crass and cleverly packaged instead as a call to modernity, couched in humour, wrapped in the combined warmth of Tabu, Ajay Devgn and their relatively lesser known but equally charismatic co-star Rakul Preet Singh. I kid you not, when a man cheats in this film it is described as an act of generosity towards a woman in need. His advocate is so eloquent while batting for him, that I almost wanted to give him a Nobel Peace Prize for Sexual Kindness.

The story as you already know from the promotions is centred around Ashish (Ajay Devgn) and Aisha (Rakul Preet Singh) who fall in love despite the quarter-century age gap between them. Ashish is a wealthy businessman living in London and estranged from his wife Manju (Tabu), who is a hotelier in Kullu and has brought up their two children. Aisha works through the corporate grind during the week and is a bartender on weekends.

The first half of De De Pyaar De is devoted to Ashish and Aisha overcoming their own mental blocks against their relationship. Post interval they travel to India to introduce her to his family. Confusion and misunderstandings follow, but inevitably there is reconciliation. How that reconciliation is reached or what it amounts to is what the trailer does not reveal.

Despite the troubling set-up with the bachelor party scene, what follows between Ashish and Aisha is sweet and I found myself wondering if the opening chapter was just an aside, possibly the director’s bow to his mentor’s persecution complex about men. Big mistake.

That said, it makes for such a pleasant change to see a male superstar of Devgn’s generation playing his real-life age instead of a 20/30-something screen character. He and Singh have genuine chemistry between them (although he should perhaps be officially banned from kissing women on screen since he seems to go cold in such scenes).

He of course is a talent familiar to Hindi film-goers. The very attractive Singh’s decade long filmography, however, is dominated by Tamil and Telugu cinema and she has done very little work in Bollywood so far. She is good, so the loss is yours, Bollywood.

When the action shifts to Kullu, it begins to feel a bit confusing that Ashish and Aisha’s age difference is an issue in the eyes of their family, when a viewing of Hindi cinema for the past four decades would have convinced a foreigner that a 15-20 year age difference is routine in Indian man-woman relationships. Male stars of Bollywood – from Amitabh Bachchan onwards in particular – have, after all, courted younger and younger heroines as they have grown older and their stature has risen.

De De Pyaar De’s sense of humour continues in the second half, but the misogyny too is now front and centre. It peaks in a horrid competitive scene between Aisha and Manju in which Aisha makes nasty ageist comments using a “puraani gaadi” (old car) as a metaphor for an ageing woman. It is worth noting that when she speaks of Ashish’s age early on, it is written as fond teasing, when she speaks of Manju’s age she is downright mean.

Tabu, of course, is luminous, and when she is around she overshadows everyone else including the gifted leads. It hurts though that she agreed to be part of this disturbing film in which her warmth makes an odd bedfellow with the animosity towards women underlying the entire screenplay and a weird twist in the end that is supposed to be cool but is too terribly contrived to be convincing.

She also gets to deliver the message that is obviously the primary purpose of De De Pyaar De’s existence: “We need to stop blaming him for everything.” In the scene in which Manju makes this statement, “him” is Ashish, but we were not born yesterday, so yeah we get it, “him” is all bechare men being blamed unfairly for all the wrongs in the world for which women should take equal blame, most especially when it is ek hi bhool. Haiye. Poor things.

On second thoughts, the flippant tone of that last paragraph does not sufficiently convey the sadness I felt as a woman watching a film on male victimhood with Alok Nath in the cast. Context cannot be ignored in the matter of casting, and in this case the specific link between the actor and the theme of De De Pyaar De makes it impossible to separate the art from the artist. This is the same Alok Nath who has multiple allegations of sexual harassment and violence against him, and whose first reaction to a rape charge by a TV stalwart last year was to casually say, “Neither am I denying this nor do I would (sic) agree with it” and “It is useless to react on the allegations as in today’s world only what a woman says will be considered.”

I am not delving into the timeline of De De Pyaar De’s casting and production, because Nath plays a small supporting character who could have been ousted if the producers (Ranjan’s Luv Films and T-Series – undoubtedly a moneyed lot) had the will to do so, whereas Hollywood icon Kevin Spacey was House of Cards’ leading man yet was dropped following multiple sexual abuse charges against him and Ridley Scott re-shot a film to replace Spacey for the same reason. Of course it is worth remembering, as the US magazine The Atlantic noted in October 2018, that most “men of #MeToo” in the American entertainment industry have been or are being gradually welcomed back after a brief exile. And in a film industry not far from Bollywood, Malayalam megastar Dileep – who was chargesheeted in a 2017 rape case – played a character in Kammara Sambhavam who got to mouth a line about false cases of sexual violence.

So yeah, Alok Nath is in a film about male victimhood, fronted by personages no less than Tabu and Ajay Devgn. In your face, women!

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
135 minutes 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Poster courtesy:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Release date:
May 10, 2019
Punit Malhotra

Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, Ananya Panday, Aditya Seal, Abhishek Bajaj, Samir Soni, Manoj Pahwa, Gul Panag, Guest appearances: Will Smith and Alia Bhatt

Can a leading man’s nice-guy demeanour hold up an entire film? The answer is to be found in the new Tiger Shroff-starrer in town. Shroff has a likeable quality about him, but his facial muscles remain more or less stationary throughout Student of the Year 2, which I suppose could be deemed appropriate considering that the plot itself has not moved since Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan battled it out over a trophy and Alia Bhatt in Student of the Year (SOTY) in 2012.

That film was directed by Karan Johar, and whatever its failings may have been – the foremost being that it sinfully underutilised Bhatt’s acting talent and reduced her to a Barbie – at least it had her cuteness, Malhotra’s hotness, Dhawan’s fledgling acting skills, the trio’s undeniable charisma and a superficial fun factor going for it. The sequel, produced by Johar and directed by Punit Malhotra (I Hate Love Storys), pretends to be about two girls and a boy but it doesn't really care about the girls, and the boy, well, he is played by Shroff who cannot act to save his life or a film.

SOTY is centred around the very very middle class Rohan Sachdev (Shroff), star athlete of the low-brow Pishorilal Chamandas College, and his rivalry with the very very wealthy Manav Singh Randhawa (Aditya Seal) of the snooty Saint Teresa College not far away. When Rohan beats Manav unexpectedly in a track event, the stage is set for a clash in their personal and student lives culminating in the annual Dignity Cup tournament between the colleges of Dehradun and Mussoorie that will also decide the winner of the Student of the Year trophy.

You know women mean even less to SOTY 2 than they did to SOTY 1 when the bad guy promises the good guy that at the end of the contest he will have the trophy on one arm and the latter’s girlfriend on the other, and his attitude echoes the attitude of the film itself, which treats their female collegemates as prizes to be won and lost, nothing more. The irrelevance of the women is further underlined by the fact that Student of the Year is a battle between eight colleges, of which we know at least two to be co-ed, yet the competitions shown are all for boys alone. The girls are not even in contention.

To analyse SOTY 2 primarily on the basis of its gender apathy would be to take it too seriously though. What it ought to be judged on are its blandness, triteness and poor casting. Cliché is piled on cliché in this unoriginal screenplay. 

The rich as the evil ones – check.

The middle class as guileless, largely good and at worst, misled by the rich – check.

Loneliness in an upper-class family contrasted with warmth in middle-class family and community life – check.

Glamorous, perfectly made up girls in tiny clothes – check.

Enviably slim female waistlines and legs perennially on display – check.

Boys with muscular, perfectly sculpted bodies – check.

Male biceps and abs perennially on display – check.

Boys who obligingly take off their shirts for our benefit – check.

Boys and girls who look doll-like in their physical flawlessness – check.

Soul – none .

Tara Sutaria who plays Rohan’s girlfriend Mridula has a lukewarm personality, but Ananya Panday, who is cast as mean girl Shreya, has an X factor that pushes its way past the layers of gloss in SOTY2. Both characters are initially positioned as significant but are in fact marginal to the proceedings. The graceful and striking Ms Panday (actor Chunky Pandey’s daughter) deserves more.

Aditya Seal acts better than Shroff but has a somewhat dull screen presence, which made me wonder why his role was not given instead to TV actor Abhishek Bajaj making his film debut here as Rohan’s kabaddi teammate. In a tiny part, Bajaj makes a far greater impression than Seal does as the second lead.

Even the choreography does not throw up anything extraordinarily original. The usually cheery Vishal-Shekhar too roll out a generic soundtrack that does not do much even for the remix of a lovely old Hindi film song in an early dance-off.

There are certain plot elements in SOTY 2 that could perhaps have borne fruit if they had been explored by a better writer, such as the starting point of the story which is about a boy making his girlfriend’s dreams his dreams and having none of his own. This is a reversal of what we see in real-life man-woman relationships, and who knows where it could have been taken. Here though, the screenplay by Arshad Syed is so preoccupied with foregrounding the men that the point wanders away before being referenced once again briefly in the middle and the end, thus adding up to not very much. 

Class struggles among the youth in educational institutions have great potential, as we know from Mansoor Khan’s memorable Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar in the early 1990s. SOTY 1 chose to spend more time on its characters’ bodies, make-up and wardrobes, its soundtrack and dance routines than on its writing, but proved to be entertaining in its own limited fashion. SOTY 2 seems not to even try.

This lack of passion is mirrored by Hollywood superstar Will Smith who dances unenthusiastically for a few seconds on stage in this film in what must rank as the worst conceptualised, worst shot superstar guest appearance in Bollywood in recent memory. Smith’s scene competes with Sutaria’s insipidity, Shroff’s acting and numerous plot clichés to be the answer to the question: what’s the worst part of Student of the Year 2?

Rating (out of five stars): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
146 minutes

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Posters courtesy: