September 13, 2019
Ayushmann Khurrana, Annu Kapoor, Vijay Raaz, Abhishek Banerjee, Nushrat Bharucha, Rajesh Sharma, Manjot Singh, Raj Bhansali, Nidhi Bisht
Ayushmann Khurrana, poster boy of quality blockbusters in Bollywood, has made a habit of playing men leading dual lives. In Vicky Donor he was secretly a professional sperm donor. In Andhadhun he was a pianist indulging in elaborate fakery when his initial lie forces him to tell another, then another and another. Writer-director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s Dream Girl has him playing a man pretending to be a woman on a phone sex line.
Khurrana’s Karamveer Singh has had a talent for impersonating women from his childhood. In desperation for employment in his adulthood, the boy from Gokul agrees to work at a call centre at which women offer solace and conversations to men who dial in. In his avatar as the sexy sounding Puja, Karam makes an unexpected discovery. Although there are a few sleazy chappies at the other end of the line, a majority of his clients turn out to be decent folk desperate for company, empathy and a listening ear.
There is a message woven in there about the extent of loneliness in the modern world where social networking sites give people an appearance of having numerous friendships while in truth most struggle to find even a single considerate confidant. The overriding aspect of Dream Girl though is its comedy. Puja’s interactions with her/his regular callers in the first half of the film are hilarious with an underlying, understated poignance despite a spot of stereotyping here and there. Karam’s world goes dramatically awry when each one falls in love with this kind, funny stranger who seems to understand them better then those they meet on a daily basis.
From the second half, Dream Girl struggles with bumpy writing. The story and screenplay by Nirmaan D. Singh and Shaandilyaa (who is a TV comedy veteran) run out of considerable steam post interval once Karam starts trying to get rid of Puja’s admirers. The team does not know how to make the point they wish to put across without getting too preachy, or how to remain funny without getting flippant to the point of being mean and offensive. And Shaandilyaa as the dialogue writer seems not to have been struck by the irony of a film being insensitive while calling on society to be sensitive to those around us.
The downhill ride begins in a scene in which Karam visits an old lady to spill the beans on her grandson, who is one of Puja’s suitors. His comments directed at the lady’s age are jarring when contrasted with the tone of the film and his characterisation until then. Karam had tossed around a couple of such throwaway lines on his first encounter with her early in Dream Girl, but they passed off in the manner of a scene featuring an actual ageist guy and the actual ageist comments even apparently good people tend to pass in real-world social interactions without realising how hurtful they are being, and also because this was not the dominant takeaway from that passage. The post-interval scene with the grandmom though is ageist from start to finish in a crude, disturbing fashion, and ends up painting Karam as a rather nasty person which he was not shown to be until then.
The writing falters repeatedly from here on. When Karam tries to get an elderly widower out of a relationship with Puja by tapping the man’s conservatism in the matter of inter-community marriages, the scene is so poorly written and confused that it seems more like he is trying to convince the guy to stay on in the relationship.
The screenplay gets repetitive in the second half, runs out of ideas and also leaves loose ends hanging. Just when you think Dream Girl has succumbed to what critics have in the past called The Curse of the Second Half though, it picks up once again thanks to certain cast members with unfailing comic timing.
Pyaar Ka Punchnama girl Nushrat Bharucha is unable to make an impression playing Karam’s fiancee Mahi in Dream Girl. It is a measure of how irrelevant her character and that relationship are to this film, that the entire affair is pretty much wrapped up in the first half within the span of one song, the least interesting one of the lot here. The empty writing of Mahi, her grandmother and a policeman’s clichéd nagging wife shows Team Shaandilyaa’s disinterest in – or perhaps ignorance about – women. Like Mahi, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’s Manjot Singh too is treated like a stepney by the screenplay, although he gets to evoke at least some laughter within the limited material handed to him.
Ayushmann Khurrana is good as always in Dream Girl, especially while doing women’s voices. His accents are not consistent though. His tendency to sometimes swallow words, which has been controlled by his directors in the past, is also occasionally a problem here, and is exacerbated by the sound design of Dream Girl which allows extraneous elements to drown out the spoken word here and there. Still, Khurrana holds the film together by ensuring that Puja is amusing but never a caricature.
The ones who save Dream Girl though when the writing dips are three men playing Puja’s admirers: Annu Kapoor (Vicky Donor) as an old man whose son has been urging him to remarry, Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding, Delhi Belly) as a shayari-spouting Haryanvi policeman and Stree’s Abhishek Banerjee as a diffident music fan. These smashing artistes and the Meet Bros’ largely peppy soundtrack make Dream Girl worth a visit to theatres despite its rough patches.
My favourite part of the film comes with the song Dil ka telephone, which brings these disparate fellows together. Indian lyricists often mix languages randomly without the blend contributing in any way to the development of characters in a story and the scenarios they inhabit. But when Messrs Kapoor, Raaz and Banerjee’s characters turn up with the song “Tu mera dream girl bann jaaye / I’m searching for your love” written by Kumaar, the marriage of English and Hindi is comical precisely because these are men that we know absolutely do not actually speak like that. Besides, few actors have the ability to throw themselves into a situation and convince an audience to suspend disbelief like this trio can. Shaandilyaa should thank his stars that he managed to rope them in for Dream Girl.
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost:
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