Friday Not-So-Classic: Neal ‘n Nikki! Surprisingly Good, and Also Bad

I thought this was a movie so strange and unpopular that there was no reason for me to ever write about it, but then in the comments on my post on overlooked rom-coms, we got to talking, and turns out other people also like it, so I might as well talk about it.

I rewatched the movie in preparation for writing this and it is sooooooooooooooooo much worse than I remembered.  And also, at the same time, sooooooooooooooooo much better.  The thing is, the concept and story is down right brilliant and super ahead of its time.  But the dialogue, the directing, and (most obviously) the performances are all TERRIBLE.  Like, I was watching it thinking “is it possible that Tanisha doesn’t actually know how to speak Hindi?  Did she learn these lines phonetically?”

Image result for neal n nikki

(I’ll also get into the styling in a bit)

I am going to make a strong guess that one person came up with the story concept and various specific clever details, a second person wrote the dialogue, and a third person directed the film.  And none of these people were ever in the same room together and able to talk about their individual concepts for the film.  The story person, that was the brilliant person, so with no clear information, I am going to call that person “Aditya Chopra”.  The dialogue person, who came up with these stupid stupid google-translate-English-to-Hindi dialogues, I am going to call that person Anvita Dutt Guptan (dialogues for this, Bachne Ae Haseeno, Dostana, Shaandaar, and various other films all of the same “talking about sex is funny” quality).  And the director, I’m gonna assume that actually is Arjun Sablok as listed, who previously made Na Tum Jaano Na Hum and somehow managed to sink even lower in directing quality between that film and this.  He currently manages a “Bollywood” night for a bar in Uttar Pradash.  Which is maybe the cruelest punishment I have ever heard for a director who once got a chance to make a movie for Yash Raj.  And yet, also deserved.

See, the reason I am so mad at Arjun Sablok is because this movie was truly brilliant in concept before it was destroyed by execution.  And honestly I DON’T think it was the actors, they were just the most visible symptom.  Tanisha was natural and lovely and perfect in Sardar right at the same time, there is no reason she couldn’t have been natural and lovely and perfect in this.  Uday was better than her, but still not great, and not nearly as good as he was in even Dhoom 3.  It’s the director, he just destroyed them.  Oh, and also Anvita, but I was already mad at her for having a leading role in destroying an entire language.  No seriously, the kind of Hindi film scripts she helped make acceptable are killing language.  I don’t even speak Hindi and I am mad about it, that’s how clear it is.

Bringing it back to this film in particular, I can see sort of why Arjun got the job.  The best part of Na Tum Jaano Na Hum is the spoof song.  This whole movie was supposed to be that kind of spoof, light and self-aware and fun.  Only Arjun’s steady decrease in ability film to film made him not able to even put together as good a spoof song in his last film.

Let’s see, what else is bad?  Costuming, obviously.  Part of Tanisha’s struggle to act is possibly due to severe hypothermia, considering she has no body fat at all and is wearing about 2 square inches of clothing at any given point.  And Uday spends about 75% of his screen time either taking off or putting on shirts, or sometimes just casually sitting around drinking coffee with no shirt, the way you do.

Make-up/styling, also terrible!  Tanisha’s highlights make her look haggard, Uday’s lipstick is way way too dark and strong.  Also, Uday’s hair is kind of stringy and bangy.  And this is all not just a superficial problem, the costuming for Tanisha is a miss-match with what her character is supposed to be, and Uday’s hideous face thing causes a big problem with his whole “instant lady killer” character.

But the plot!  The plot is BRILLIANT!!!! On about 5 different levels.  If only the execution had lived up to it.  And I also just flat out do not believe that this plot was developed by either the director who didn’t know how to film it, or the dialogue writer who couldn’t write dialogue, the two accredited writers.  So I am going with Adi.  Or, maybe, Uday!  Certainly Pyaar Impossible had some similar small clever touches.

(Flashbacks within a show within a show!  This movie was much better than it got credit for)

 

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

Let me give you a taste of the brilliance: Uday introduces himself in voice over, as a sports hero and a ladies man, we see a girl riding a bike with “Neal was here” on her t-shirt, a crowd of cheerleaders cheering for him, and then all of them gathering around him in his hero’s football uniform.  And then the voice over says “no, of course not, who has that?”  And poof!  The fawning girls are gone!  Our hero isn’t the perfect ladies man with the crowd of adoring women after all, because that’s a ridiculous trope.

This whole movie is about puncturing those tropes.  And also about a slow-building very realistic love story (terribly executed, of course, but otherwise well done).  And about the merging of Canadian and Punjabi identity.  And about male-female gender assumptions.  And also, randomly, about French-Canadians.

The basic outlines of the plot are pretty simple.  Uday is going to get engaged in 3 weeks, so he asks his parents if he can have some fun in Vancouver by himself first.  In Vancouver, he keeps picking up women, but being interrupted by Tanisha who has a series of odd jobs around the city.  He gets angry with her, she offers to help him pick up women if he helps her with her ex-boyfriend.  He pretends to be in love with her to make the boyfriend jealous, she gets the boyfriend back and then rejects him, she and Uday meet up again at a party that night and finally kiss, sleep together, the morning after is awkward, Uday goes back home (aware that he is in love with her but not sure what to do about it) and discovers that his fiancee is Tanisha’s cousin.  He challenges Tanisha to stop the wedding and admit she loves him, she finally comes to stop the engagement but before she can, the shy traditional Sikh singer speaks up and admits he is in love with the bride and the engagement is canceled after all.  And, finally, when they are alone, Uday admits he loves Tanisha and proposes.  Happy Ending!

So, here’s what’s interesting!  First, the sex is handled PERFECTLY!!!!  Much better than in other later movies.  For one thing, they talk about it a lot beforehand, and talk honestly.  Early on Uday teases Tanisha about being a virgin, she initially denies it but then admits it, and Uday is surprisingly mature and tells her that she is right to wait for something special because whoever it is, she is going to remember them forever.  And he is even more mature and doesn’t tell her the details about his first time (which is part of what makes me believe him when he acts experienced).  And so, when they kiss and then make love, the next morning Uday is completely aware of what a big deal this is for Tanisha.  He was not “swept away in the moment”, and neither was she, they both made a decision and knew what they were doing.  But that doesn’t mean they woke up the next morning calm and relaxed and confident in what it meant for the other person.  It was neither the “we just got drunk and somehow it happened even though we didn’t even like each other before” kind of sleeping together, or the “and suddenly magically we know everything without talking about it” kind of sleeping together, the two kinds that most movies fall back on.  And it’s definitely not the “I thought you were a bad girl and didn’t realize you were a good girl and now I feel guilty” kind of sleeping together.  It’s the “I really really like you and maybe love you and now it is the next day and I am so happy and scared you don’t feel the same way” kind of sleeping together.

For another, this version of NRI is different from any other version.  It’s rural NRI!  Uday’s father runs a horse farm and loves his horses.  He wears a cowboy hat and it’s not an affection.  Uday and his friends are country rich, with ATVs and big houses and football.  But when Uday gets to the city, despite having girlfriends before and being an NRI type, he is still out of his depth because he’s not a city type.  I have yet to see this version of Canada and this version of the NRI life in any other movie, and yet I also know it is real because I have met these NRIs in the world, they just don’t get movies made about them.

The romance is also set up really well.  It’s not just “ha-ha, she keeps showing up everywhere”.  It was foreshadowed and built in to Uday’s intro.  First, he talks about how his parents are always fighting, but also so in love they can’t be away from each other.  Second, he talks about how he doesn’t trust himself to pick a wife because all his girlfriends have been terrible, so he wants an arranged marriage.  So when he and Tanisha keep fighting but also keep following each other around like they are attached, it is the same as his parents.  And while he keeps picking out the wrong women for himself, fate keeps pushing Tanisha towards him because he is too blind to make the right choice.

The romance plays out really well too.  Uday is supposed to be on a date with a swimsuit model when he first meets Tanisha, and yet once she starts to sing and dance he can’t take his eyes off of her, even though it ruins his date.  He leaves with her and takes her to a scuzzy hotel, but carefully sets her on the bed and doesn’t touch her.  She gets drunk again next time he meets her, and again he takes her home and puts her to bed and reads the email open on her computer to learn more about her.  They bond and have the honest conversation about sex.  They go on a car trip and tell each other stories from their childhood.

She trusts him to help make her ex jealous and cheerfully reveals more of her romantic fantasies revolving around Hindi films.  She makes him her partner in crime and is happy and non-judgmental about his own desire for a last fling before marriage.  Not with her of course, because they have moved past that stage, but with anyone else.

And finally, in classic romantic film fashion, there is that moment when they both realize what they are feeling.  Tanisha cheerfully tries to join a strip poker game, Uday is disturbed by her getting into something she isn’t ready for and takes her away, and then when she asks him to pick any girl at the party he wants and she will help him get her, of course he says “you.  You are the one I want”.  And that’s when they kiss, and then sleep together.  Uday turns his back on shallow strip poker fun, wanting something serious with Tanisha instead.  And Tanisha accepts that she is finally ready to stop dancing around the idea of sex and do it, with the right guy at the right time.  It’s a perfect culmination of everything they have been through, and the morning after doesn’t spoil that, Tanisha being so happy, Uday being ready to propose, but both of them being out of synch with each other

And then my favorite part of the film, the meta commentary on everything.  There’s that opening, with Uday being all “yeah, women don’t really fall over me”.  Followed quickly by his friends complaining about how since they got married, their wives always make them wear tight shirts.  And then, through out the film, the weaving in of remixed Hindi film songs, with English lyrics added, often with white people dancing to them, the Canadian and desi identities merged.  But best of all, Tanisha is introduced with a drunk song the lyrics of which are (roughly) “I don’t have bangles, I’m not wearing kajol, but I am still waiting for my love”.  That’s the thesis statement for the film, don’t be thrown by the Canadian setting and all the sex talk, this is still the story of a girl who just wants/needs love and a boy who will love her.

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14 thoughts on “Friday Not-So-Classic: Neal ‘n Nikki! Surprisingly Good, and Also Bad

  1. You almost make me want to watch this now. Almost. 🙂 But I am deterred by the fact that, at the time it released, every Canadian I knew (of Indian origin or not) hated it for its huge distortion of Canada and Canadian culture. So. I probably won’t watch this.

    For instance, when you say Uday is a football player, was he playing Canadian football?

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    • He was wearing what I think of as a “football” uniform, so American football I guess. Is that the same as Canadian?

      And it’s really not a movie worth watching! The dialogue, directing, and performances are soooooooooooooo bad that you kind of have to avoid looking at it directly to be able to see the good parts. I think that is probably why I (and other people here) ended up enjoying the movie, if you watch while vacuuming or something so you are slightly distracted and just get the overall feel of it, it’s fun. But watching it again knowing I would be writing a review, it was just really really bad.

      On Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 6:23 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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    • I am off the opposite opinion. I lived in the Seattle area at the time and heavily frequented Vancouver and eastern BC. To me this movie both accurately represented the people and the area *and* poked fun at it. And that’s exactly what a silly-spoofy B-grade rom-com is supposed to do.

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  2. This is the second blog post in a row that you’ve written because of something in comments on another post. Even before reading this I thought of a blog post challenge for you, but since we’re already at the end of the week, I will wait to ask it on Monday. 🙂

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    • I find it soooooooooooo much easier to write when I can picture an audience for what I am writing, when I feel like I am talking to someone in particular. Anyway, that’s why I tend to do posts inspired from comments, it kind of jumpstarts me. And I am always looking for more ideas!

      On Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 6:25 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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    • I think the key is to not rewatch it with close attention. Maybe watch it again while folding laundry or something so you can catch the good bits and not be distracted by the bad.

      On Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 3:31 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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  3. Wonderful post! Here are some thoughts on your thoughts, as well as some thoughts of my own.

    Tanisha accent worked for me. She supposed to have grown up in Vancouver. She’s supposed to have an accent. She might even be the type that understands Hindi but might not speak it so well, or might think in English while speaking in Hindi.

    (If anything, DDLJ accents don’t work for me. If both kids are born and raised in metropolitan London, then why do they both sound like your visiting relatives from punjab? )

    And it makes sense that Udai being from the farmlands of eastern BC would retain his accent. These particular Sikhs were brought over by the British to help build Canada’s transcontinental railroad in the late 1800s. They live a parallel existence within Canada, and a standard saying is that they are more Indian than Indians back in India are.

    Her hair and her outfits are a little “try too hard”, and that fits in perfectly for a drunk party girl fish out of water trying to fit in. Also, in Vancouver of a decade ago, the bra plus jacket plus miniskirt was actually a thing. And yes they all underdress in the summer, trying to be more Hollywood than Holywood, especially now that so many Hollywood movies are shot there. The overly highlighted hair was standard issue for Indian firstgen girls circa late 2000s, but the overly layered cut was vintage 1980s. OTOH tanisha petite face and frame is completely overshadowed by standard issue full and long Indian hair, so a fun shorter haircut that “moved when she moved” felt right.

    From a cinematography and location shooting standpoint, this movie is a literal love letter to Van City and southern BC. A feast for the eyes.

    I like that both actors and both characters are not aspirational. It made me relate to them more. We sometimes see this in American rom coms but almost never in Hindi rom coms. Though i might argue that kajol and srk in ddlj are not dreamboats, either, and that’s part of why that movie works.

    I like that the plot is really about the conflicting desires and objectives of the two characters, and not yet again about conflict with parents, or the parents desires driving the narrative. Having said that, the plot meanders a bit, so that’s the biggest reason that i don’t sit glued to the set to watch this. The other is I’ve watched it too many times to really need to watch it end to end. It’s a gully pleasure, like American Pie or the Scary Movies series or Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

    In reference to a recent post (or its comments section), this is the rare Hindi film where the white people are on point. Nothing Oscar worthy, but the French Canadian guy and the blonde and brunette women are just as silly-charming and semi-talented as the leads.

    Udai is charming on screen and his career is a missed opportunity for BW. I feel like Ritesh Deshmukh stole his career out from under him. He looks like every KID (Kool Indian Dude) in my college Indian club. I honestly think his quite-dark skin works against him for most Indians.

    For anyone on the fence about watching or rewatching this movie, you just have to go into it knowing that it is a guilty pleasure silly little rom com, and not expect anything more from it. Then you can be pleasantly surprised by its charm, its meta commentary on the Indian rom com, and all the other plus punts that Margaret wrote about.

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    • And the white people are also kind of nice! Well, mostly slutty and disposable, but in a nice way. No over the top racism or anything like that, cool with Hindi music and so on.

      Did I forget to mention in the post another thing that the film seemed to get wrong while the initial concept was there? I feel like Uday and Tanisha’s characters aren’t presented quite right with how the original idea was developed. From the dialogue and stuff it sometimes feels like they were supposed to be even less aspirational. Uday was supposed to be the kind of dopey guy who was lost in the big city, Tanisha was supposed to be the insecure girl who had only had one serious boyfriend. It’s still there in the dialogue and stuff but I feel like it wasn’t hit quite as hard that Tanisha was struggling with loneliness and low self esteem, and Uday had terrible judgement with woman and wasn’t used to being in control of his own life.

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      • Reflects on Life, you’ve sold me on this movie! So despite Margaret’s best efforts to keep me away, I’m going to watch it (when is a different question 🙂 ) because I’m interested in how they treat the Canadian aspect. If they actually got it semi right, and also recognized that Canadians aren’t “just like Americans”, that is a huge feat in itself.

        @Margaret, Canadian football is pretty much like American football, but some rules are different.

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        • Yay! If you know BC well, you’ll really enjoy all the location shooting. As for Canadian vs American people (whites and Indians), I’d say if you know the difference, then you’ll recognize those differences in the film, but if you don’t know the difference, you might not be able to tell the difference in the film.

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  4. I watched the movie too long ago to remember. However the title song continues to be an earworm, every now and then you’ll catch me singing I’m Neal I’m the man Rockstar Superstar. Nikki bakshi sweet n sexy, full on rocking, hot n happening. I swear I haven’t heard the song in 10 plus years at the very least.
    I don’t even remember if I liked/semi-liked/disliked the movie? However I can buy your point about a good story idea being ruined.
    Wasn’t Arjun Sablok the other guy along with Kjo and SRK in DDLJ. I suppose being friends with Adi is how he got the movie?

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    • The whole soundtrack is an earworm! Especially the title song, but Halla Re and the love song too.

      And I just looked it up, and he was the other guy in DDLJ! Good catch! And also had a bit role in Vijay 7 years earlier. So I am assuming he was one of Yash Raj’s assistant director types, a bit of a jack of all trades.

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    • I love singing those lines randomly too (Neal rockstar, etc).

      The other lines that pop into my head randomly now and then are “you’re my dream my love my life, i just wanna spend my life with you, you’re the one that makes me smile” 😀

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