I would say “why didn’t anyone tell me how good this movie is?”, but then there have been people screaming at me in the comments to watch it for months now, so I can’t really say that. Anyway, it’s good! Really good! Running Shaadi good (my gold standard for overlooked brilliant little rom-coms).
Okay, I’m going to start with an “aw Grandpa!” story. That is, one that makes you go “awww, Grandpa!” at the end of it. So, years and years ago, when my sister and I were teenagers, we were riding in the car with Grandma and Grandpa. And Grandma was giving us advice, the way she liked to do. Advice that was about 50 years out of date, but still delightful because it was Grandma. Stuff like “make sure to learn bridge, so you have something to do at parties” and “if you are offered a drink, just get seltzer water with lemon and a little sweet and low and then no one can tell you aren’t really drinking” and “engineers make the best husbands” (okay, that one’s timeless, guess what my brother-in-law does?). So she suddenly burst out with “I hope you girls marry for love!” Which is crazily out of date, who in America marries for something besides love? Also, did Grandma turn down some millionaire because she loved Grandpa more? Actually, that I could believe, Grandma was very very very very very popular. Very very very. And it was also really sweet, because my sister and I weren’t exactly popular or having millionaires lining up to marry us, but in Grandma’s eyes we would have our choice of Bill Gates on down.
(Obviously this isn’t Grandma, this is Betty Grable. But Grandma kind of looked like this. Very very popular. Only had eyes for Grandpa though, thought he was the handsomest smartest coolest man in the history of the world)
But that’s not the “aw” part. No, the “aw” part comes after Grandma makes her big statement, and Grandpa suddenly burst out with “And don’t let anyone marry you for your money!” Because Grandma was sure we could marry Bill Gates, but Grandpa was sure we were going to be Bill Gates. Okay, now you can say “awww”.
So, why am I starting this review with this story? Because the entire time Anupam Kher was onscreen, I kept thinking about it. Because he was both Grandma and Grandpa combined, he wanted his daughter to get married, but he was also sure that only the greatest person in the world deserved to marry her.
That’s a hidden tragedy of the dowry system. What it does to the father of the bride. Who has spent his whole life thinking that his daughter is the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of the world (because that’s what all fathers think), and now is hit with the harsh reality that she isn’t just worthless to society, she is a detriment, a burden, a blight on society to be swept away and ignored.
That’s not just what I was thinking while watching this film, that’s what Parineeti’s character was thinking as well. She isn’t going to battle for an abstract concept of fairness in the dowry system, she is going to battle for her father, her poor tired worried father whose heart has been broken over and over and over again. And that’s what makes it work, I think, better than Badrinath. It doesn’t start with some abstract concept of dowry. It starts with heartbroken worried Anupam Kher, the soul of the family and the one true love of his daughter, who we want to give one moment of dignity back in his life. Dowry comes from the father of the bride. Start there.
I really want to talk about how awesome Aditya Roy Kapoor’s character was too, but I can’t without getting into SPOILERS. So, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
Like I said, we start with the father of the bride. Poor Anupam Kher, eagerly looking for the car with the potential groom to arrive, greeting them effusively, putting up with their insulting attitude to his home and his neighborhood and everything else. And even putting up with their blunt questions about how much money he might be able to send along with his daughter. And only after all of this does Parineeti make her presence known. Coming down the stairs and announcing that she is rejecting the groom, even if he wants her. His whole CV is a lie, he can’t even speak English properly, and he asked her if she has seen “blue films”. She doesn’t want him.
Parineeti, see, this is no problem for her. She is young and resilient and confident. It’s Anupam who worries. Because parents always worry more about their children than their children worry about themselves. And what brings this movie to a higher level is that it shows Anupam’s fears aren’t entirely unwarranted.
Not in some dramatic “an unmarried woman can never be truly happy” way. No, in a very grounded real way. Anupam is in a minor accident, Parineeti insists on staying home from her shopgirl job to take care of him for the day, and is fired for it while Anupam listens from the other room.
It’s a whole system. The jobs that women have tend to be less responsible, they are the waitresses and shopgirls and secretaries, not the managers and bosses. Because the system is set up with the assumption that a woman will have a husband, and the husband will provide the majority of the income, the solid responsible reliable job. And so young women end up being in these tenuous positions where the only jobs they can get are jobs they can’t count on. Parineeti is fine, for now, because she has her father with the reliable job. But Anupam is clearly suddenly seeing what could happen to her after he dies, if she is on her own going from uncertain job to uncertain job, fighting a little extra hard for everything (movie tickets, autorickshaws, service at a restaurant, it’s all harder if you are a woman alone). Parineeti is young and confident and doesn’t fear the future, but Anupam fears it for her. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to buy security for her.
Parineeti comes at it from a different direction. Anupam just wants to find a way to save his daughter from the problems of society, Parineeti is furious and wants to fight against those problems. And they meet in the middle when Anupam realizes her fight might be the way to solve his worries. It’s a gamble, but it’s worth it if he can ensure she gets what she wants. What she really wants.
See, Parineeti had a little bit of a Grandma in her, she was thinking that the perfect guy would solve all her problems. She was looking for the dreamy guy with the good English accent. She was brave and confident in her future, because she thought that was her future. And she found the guy, the perfect guy. Only to realize she couldn’t wrap her future up in a guy, even “the perfect guy”. Because her future was still not “hers”, it was reliant on him. And on her father being able to “buy” him for her, to give enough money to “help” the couple get started.
This scene is really disgusting. The family from the opening, they had comparatively modest requests and they were open about it. But Parineeti’s perfect guy, he and his parents are patting themselves on the back for not asking for dowry, at the same time they are asking for far more money than anyone else in order to “help” the young couple get established.
What makes it extra disgusting is that this is so close to what families really do. A nice check to the married couple from uncles-aunts-grandparents on both sides of the family to get them started in life, that’s pretty consistent across all cultures. But to force such a thing, something that should come from love being turned into a demand, it just has an extra level of gross that isn’t there with the direct dowry requests.
And so we can understand why Parineeti reacts so forcefully to this last insult. Not for herself, but for her father, who was being held up and robbed by people she had brought into his life. And so she comes up with their kooky plan. To take their savings (supposed to be used for her dowry), put on a front in a different city, place a matrimonial ad, film a dowry request, call the police on the groom’s family, and then offer to drop the charges in return for a pay off, take the money and leave town.
It’s a great plan, both in terms of what the characters came up with, but also in terms of the scriptwriters. Because it lets them have all the fun of a con job and a heist, but with no guilt. Because they are just getting their own back against another in a long series of demanding horrible families.
Enter Aditya Roy Kapur! He is SO GOOD in this movie! Super charming and confident and different feeling. We can see what Parineeti starts to see in him, and we can see through his eyes what he sees in Parineeti. Because he is an odd duck. Part of a wealthy family, but happier speaking broken English to his customers at the family’s massive cheap food restaurant than going to school for an advanced degree like a rich boy normally would. And quick to fall in love with the gorgeous confident woman who arm wrestles him for the bill.
He is so different from the other boys, not because he can speak perfect English or any of the other things on their original “wish list”. But because he sees Parineeti as her father sees her, she is the prize, he is lucky to have her. He puts in an effort even in the first meeting, bringing food and begging for a chance to talk with her. While everyone else strolls in assuming Parineeti and Anupam should be grateful just to be in the presence of their perfect son.
But most of all he is different because he wants a wife who actually likes him. That’s something no one else worried about, even Parineeti’s English speaking boyfriend just strolled in and assumed she would love him. But Aditya wants to make an effort, knows he has to make an effort. Maybe it’s because he is such an odd guy with the bright clothes and funny accent, he knows most women don’t like him. Or maybe it is because he has always been confident in himself and able to go his own way in all things, from clothes to dating. But whatever it is, he is different.
Their “romance” is very quick, really just one song that covers 3 days spent together. But we can see Parineeti softening and becoming more and more herself over the course of it. Her “disguise” for this trip is so perfect, because it works to show us how she sees herself for “real”. In the real world, she has practical shopgirl hair, easy to tie back in a ponytail and keep out of the way. Her make-up is a quick dash of lipstick and a smidge of eye shadow, no time for anything else. Her clothes are jeans and a shirt, easy to wear while riding her scooter. But now, in this fantasy life, she has put on a long hair wig, perfect make-up, expensive floaty fitted clothes. She thinks this is what she needs to be, this is what will get her a groom when her “real” self failed. And it gives her the confidence to deal with Aditya the way she does. And the confidence to answer him honestly when he asks her questions, to show that she loves eating his food, that she enjoys simple things like going to Hindi movies, and that she wants to drive the sports car, not just ride around while he drives. And that is what Aditya falls in love with (and the audience as well through his eyes). Not the gorgeous woman everyone else sees, but the confidence that her disguise gives her. Arm-wrestling him the night before their official first meeting, gobbling up the food he brings to their official meeting, and revealing more and more of her “real” self the longer they stay together.
And Parineeti spends long enough to get to see through to his “real” self as well. Or rather, the way he accepts her “real” self. A guy who, finally, supports her and appreciates her and treats her as well as her father treats her. Because in the end, it all circles back to Anupam again. Only now it is Aditya as Anupam. Because just as Anupam has been saving money for years for Parineeti’s dowry, to ensure her happiness, so has Aditya. Only he didn’t know it was for Parineeti.
This isn’t the first movie I have seen (Badrinath, again) in which the groom tricks his family into thinking that the dowry is from the bride when actually he stole it from his own family. But this one feels a little different, because Aditya had the dowry ready to begin with. He knew, whoever his bride was, he did not want her to pay dowry. And so he had been saving and preparing as well, for the woman who would love him for him, and who he wanted to know for sure that he loved her for her, not for the money.
And then the ending is very rushed. Like the other sweet simple romances I have seen over the past few years (Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Dulha Mil Gaya, Khoobsurat), this film doesn’t really have a second half. Right when we reach the point that the twist would happen, it just doesn’t. Parineeti goes back home, realizes she loves Aditya and can’t take his money, Anupam agrees to whatever she wants (as always), and they prepare to go back to Lucknow to hand him the money back. Meanwhile, Aditya, heartbroken (and not so coincidentally, his big dramatic emotion scenes all take place the night of and morning after the wedding, meaning he is wearing basic traditional garb and looks a lot more serious and heroic than ever before), has managed to track her down to Hyderabad and has come there to find her, furious.
And then there is a chase at a train station, the gangsters who offered to launder the money for Parineeti are chasing her, even with a gun to her head she refuses to give up the cash until she can hand it over to Aditya, and Aditya comes up as she is being threatened and automatically defends her, thus proving his love. And embrace, and THE END!
It’s just so fast! And there are these little hints that I would have loved to see more of. For instance, Aditya is preparing to travel to Hyderabad with a gun because “they don’t know how many people are in her gang”. To me it felt like there was a slight clue that he had it in his head that Parineeti might be in danger, that somehow she might have been caught up in a gang and he needs to rescue her. Wouldn’t that have been a great movie? For Aditya to go around trying to save her and misunderstand and Parineeti playing along and pretending she was part of a big gang. Or, how about how they won over Aditya’s parents to their marriage? What if Parineeti had to put on a different disguise, and there was another elaborate plan? Or just, what if Aditya tracked her down and pretended to still be in love with her while planning to get her arrested, and then as he got to see her normal average life he fell in love even more?
This is my biggest complaint, really, with this film and with Khoobsurat and others. Give me my second half! Instead of just the first half of a film and then at the point where the interval would normally be, poof! Ending!