I already put up my No Spoilers review. You can read that if you are obsessed with avoiding spoilers, or you can read this. It’s a remake, so most of the plot is already is to find out, not like I am revealing big secrets here.
Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:
Anil Kapoor is a local trumpet player and band leader, after his daughter is born he gets a job in a steel factory and dreams of her success. His best friend in the factory is Rajkummar Rao. His daughter, Pihu Sand, grows up spoiled and self-centered, dismissive of her father (who still loves her and takes all her abuse), and determined to go her own way. She is also determined to sing the modern sexy songs instead of the old classics, complete with choreography, even though it doesn’t work with her body type. The factory shuts down and Rajkummar and Anil are out of work, and both keep it from their families, Anil from his wife Divya and Pihu and Rajkummar from his demanding aspiring actress girlfriend. In this dark low period, when Pihu has just been insulted and thrown off of a talent show and Anil decides the only way to showcase her talent is to produce her first album themselves, superstar singer Aishwarya Rai walks into Anil’s taxi after having fought with her manager. Anil impulsively drugs her with his sleeping pills and takes her to his old factory. He begs Rajkummar for help in hiding Aish, Rajkummar at first refuses, but then after being humiliated by his girlfriend agrees, in some sort of “bros over hos” attitude.
Anil leaves Rajkummar with Aish and starts working on the ransom demands. He contacts Aish’s manager Girish Kulkarni and plays him a song he wrote for Pihu asking him to record the music and then call up Pihu to sing for him. Girish pretty quickly starts playing him for his own advantage, leaking the news to the press of Aish’s kidnapping to boost views of her new video, and faking going along with Anil and believing in Pihu’s talent. Pihu is called in for a recording out of the blue and does it, but then is uncomfortable having dinner with Girish afterwards, worried he is going to come on to her. She babbles about her father and Girish puts two and two together and figures out Anil’s real identity. He then moves into a new phase of the plan, setting things up so that Pihu will be singing live on national TV when it is revealed that Anil is the kidnapper, splitting the screen between her singing and Anil’s arrest. But the plans go wrong because Rajkummar and Aish, in the meantime, have fallen in love and eloped. Anil agrees to keep pretending he has Aish so long as Pihu is allowed to sing, Pihu sings Anil’s song for her and is so brilliant that somehow she erases everything else that has happened, Girish agrees to manage her after all, the police give Anil a slow clap instead of arresting him, and Happy Ending.
There’s a lot of things that doesn’t work here. I am going to start with the one that bothers me the most, the creation of “bodyshaming” as an issue in Indian popular culture. Let me start with a quote from Modi explaining why Gujurat was malnurished under his leadership:
The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious.
This is the thinking this film promotes. The major issue for Indians is that they have too much food, too much money. That is the focus of their body issues. Shaandar made the same mistake, so did Dum Lage Ke Haisha. These films are not addressing a problem that exists, they are imagining it and forcing it onto a country where it is not yet a problem. Because ACTUAL malnourishment, the kind that comes about because you can’t afford to eat food, is still a far bigger issue for many many more Indians than some middle-class teenager refusing to drink milk because she doesn’t want to look fat.
(I hate this song. The issue that needs to be addressed isn’t “bodyshaming”, for 99.9% of Indians, Sanah Kapur looks gorgeous. The issue is forced marriages, if her groom-to-be isn’t attracted to her, he is allowed to say that before they are forced to be married and together forever. But nooooo, lets all watch this song on our apps and feel good about ourselves for thinking Sanah is un-hideous, and ignore the underlying message that a son has no right to express an opinion, ANY OPINION, on the woman his father has selected for him to marry)
Or, think of razors in Halloween candy. Do you remember this? It’s an American thing, suddenly everyone was talking about razors hidden in Halloween candy. You should only take pre-packaged candy, parents need to beware and test the candy, and back and forth and on and on. People had all kinds of opinions on the issue and possible solutions and so forth. But, IT WASN’T A THING!!!! It became a thing because the media lied to us and said it was happening, and then we all wasted a lot of energy coming up with a response to a thing that wasn’t happening. And then it started happening. The first major reports of tampered Halloween candy happened in 1967, the first actual major case of tampered Halloween candy happened in 2000. It was wished into being.
That’s what this film is directly, obviously, doing. It is based on the premise that A) In order to be a successful working singer in India, you most also dance and be beautiful and sexy. And B) A thin body type is universally unquestioningly accepted as the only possible body type in India. But, THAT’S NOT TRUE!!!! None of that is true! It only becomes true when media tells us it is over and over and over again. Media such as this film, saying that it is “going against the norm” by arguing a singer should be valued just for her voice and not her appearance, but actually inventing and reinforcing that norm by saying it is the norm. If you see what I mean? If I say “You all say the sky is grey, but I am going to take a bold stand and say it is blue” then the message isn’t “the sky is blue” the message is “most of the time and for most people, it is grey”.
I’ve actually seen stage shows of famous successful Indian singers. And they certainly don’t do sexy dances or wear sexy clothes. Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar outsell all the younger women, they aren’t going around dancing in skimpy outfits. Even in the newer younger group, I saw Neeti Mohan, and she wore a pretty dress and later a comfortable pair of leggings so she could move around and interact with the audience. She didn’t wear anything revealing, and she was there to sing, not dance. Yes, the younger generation of singer is more likely to wear pretty dresses, make-up, styled hair. And to bounce around the stage while they perform. But Sunidhi Chauhan performed pregnant, “sexy and thin” isn’t exactly a requirement. And they certainly aren’t doing the whole “Sheila” dance while they sing it.
(I mean, she looks great. But it’s all achievable, good make-up and good hair and a nice flattering dress)
Over and over this film shows Pihu struggling to dance and sing together. Which is the whole point, singers in India DON’T dance. Why should they? They are singers!!!!! Katrina Kaif danced to “Sheila Ki Jiwani”, not Sunidhi Chauhan. Which reminds me of something else, this film proposes that the only popular songs today are the raunchy sexy ones. But if you look at who sings those, it is usually just a few of the playback singers, the others specialize in the same kind of sweet lyrical songs that would not require sexy dance moves to sell them. That is, again, if we buy into the premise that it is the singers who will have to do the sexy dance moves and not anyone else.
Pihu’s “success” comes with the revolutionary thought of just standing still in a nice modest dress and good make-up and singing from the heart. So, you know, WHAT EVERYONE IS ALREADY DOING!!!!! Again, it’s my “sky is blue” example.
And that’s on top of the basic acceptance that “fat” women are constantly publicly shamed and laughed at. Giving the audience permission to act that way by saying it is “normal” and only our noble main characters can rise above it. Us regular humans shouldn’t expect so much of ourselves. Normalizing bad behavior. The film could have done something as simple as showing at least one character being sincerely attracted to Pihu’s body type. Or showing her bad performances being greeted with pity rather than laughter and shame.
I wish I thought the casting of Aish was on purpose to address these issues, because it was the rise of Aishwarya and the other models/beauty queens like her that started the shift in Indian popular culture towards the impossible western beauty ideal. But no, I am pretty sure this film just thinks Aishwarya is the accepted female ideal everywhere. No one like Anushka Shetty, Sonakshi Sharma, or Kajol could ever be accepted. I assume they live under a rock somewhere and are unaware that “Ooo La La” is one of the most successful sexy songs in recent Hindi films and it was performed by a woman who looked a heck of a lot more like Pihu than Aish.
So, that’s my big thing that is bugging me, the increasing slide of Indian/Hindi pop culture towards idealizing impossible thinness and pretending that has always been the ideal, instead of something they are trying to force on society, like, RIGHT NOW, as we watch it happen. But there is plenty of other stuff to bug.
Simple things, like they wanted to have a big reveal of the song at the end. But that meant they had to avoid playing it for the audience before. And it was super super awkward, the way it was done. I kept thinking about Secret Superstar, for a lot of reasons, but this part in particular. In that film they cleverly played the song over and over, but the speeded up version. So they managed for the pure logic of the narrative to have us hear the song when you would expect us to hear it, but still have a big reveal. Plus they built the reveal into the body of the film so that the narrative could move forward logically instead of bending over backwards to come up with a logical way to hold off on actually playing the song that is supposed to be So Important straight through. Oh, plus the most important part of the song is the lyrics, and we have no idea where they came from, Anil or someone else. That’s a massive plot hole.
And there’s also Aish’s character, and her relationship with Rajkummar. Which is terrible first because Aish is just not capable of selling any part of the characters emotional journey, and second because the editing is really weird. Aish goes from seemingly tricking and trying to seduce Rajkummar in order to get free, to actually being in love with him. Or maybe not? I honestly can’t tell, and that’s sort of the biggest part of her whole character journey. Is she a cynical smart woman slowly giving in to falling in love with this sweet simple man? Or is she a simple woman who fell in love with him shockingly fast? No idea! Especially because there are important scenes missing, like Rajkummar suddenly starts calling her by her real name instead of her stage name but we never have a scene where she reveals that name and asks him to call her that. Anil shows up at the hide out to find them both gone, but there is never a moment when they talk about thinking about maybe running off together, it just comes out of nowhere. To the point that it isn’t really clear to the audience that they have run off together. I at least was distracted for the rest of the film thinking “wait, so are they dead? Or what?”, whereas I think it was supposed to be a total surprise to Anil, but the audience could guess what had happened and focus on the rest of the story.
(They really put a lot of plot heavy lifting on one song sequence, because Aish can’t act the dialogue scenes)
There’s some other stuff similar to the body shaming that feels like 1st World problems shoved into a 3rd World package. Anil and Rajkummar are factory workers, but Rajkummar has enough extra money around to pamper his girlfriend and pay for her acting classes. And Anil can pay for his daughter to go to a good school. Which would probably be true of a factory worker in Belgium, but I don’t know if it is true in India. And there’s also the class part, I don’t know if a factory worker’s daughter (unless her father was secretly of a traditional performing family) would have access to the kind of vocal training necessary for the sort of performance she gives. Not because of money barriers, but class barriers. And again, this would not be relevant in Belgium where that kind of training would be available through the public school system (not true in America, because we suck, but in Belgium). And so all of Anil and Rajkummar’s struggles are simplified to “they need the money so Rajkummar can pay for an acting class for his girlfriend/Anil can pay for studio time for his daughter”. Not “they need the money to survive because India has no social safety net for them and factory work does not pay that well”. Which has a larger and dangerous message, similar to “we all hate fat people now”, of “poor people only complain because they want to cut studio records for their fat daughters”.
Oh, and then there’s the misogyny. I truly don’t think it is on purpose, I think it is something baked in maybe from the original film and somehow becoming more prominent in translation. But besides Divya Dutta, all the women are in control and selfish spoiled people, while the men are crawling scared hard working oppressed. Pihu Sand is, truly, horrible. Not in a usual “teen girls” kind of way, but abusive and disrespectful towards her father. And then the film pulls back and redeems her towards the end with a message about her just needing to feel beautiful and confident or something. It makes no sense at all, but it felt more sincere at the end, like that was the message the film wanted to give, her being a talented teenager lashing out because she felt overlooked. But everything before then (possibly lifted directly from the original?) had her crossing a line from “bratty” to down right mean. That’s what I mean by unintended misogyny.
(The way they edit this song video, it makes the character look like she has self-esteem issues and feels sad and small and that’s why Anil has to try to help her. Which would be a great movie! And if they edited the video this way, maybe that was the movie they wanted to make. But they didn’t make it, her character is a bratty horrible disaster for no real reason)
On the other hand, Aish’s character is probably meant to be a woman with a hard shell to hide her soft interior and we slowly realize she has had to create this illusion of being powerful and nasty in order to protect herself. But Aish can’t manage that, so instead we just have a kind of shallow and disconnected feeling woman who doesn’t seem to be aware of other people around her.
And Rajkummar’s girlfriend is just straight up misogynist fantasy. She makes him cook and care for her, and spend his hard earned money on her, and then goes off with another man. And Rajkummar “gets her back” by ending up with the hotter more famous woman. If that part had been all there was, I wouldn’t actually have minded, you can have an unpleasant woman in a film without making it misogynistic. But when you add her character on with Pihu’s and Aish’s, and even the cold and ungiving assistant in the music studio, it creates this world where all women (except blindly supportive cooking and cleaning wife and mother Divya) are terrible. Oh, and Aish is only redeemed when she gives everything up for the love of “her man”.
So, yeah, there’s a whole lot of bad! But you also have Rajkummar being funny, and Anil being sincere and wonderful, and half the songs are good, and Divya Dutta always deserves more time on our movie screens, and we should celebrate the pure effort of getting this movie made! Aish (supposedly) delayed filming because she insisted on Manish Malhotra doing/redoing all her costumes, they had to fly in an American choreographer, and filming was stopped after the KriArj scam was revealed and all the money evaporated, and they had to run around to find a new backer. Not to mention the last minute attempt to block the release because Vashu Bhagnani had scammed by KriArj into paying for the distribution rights. So, let’s celebrate the good, what there was of it, and look forward to Rajkummar and Anil’s next production, Ek Ladki Ko Dekho which does not have a weak spot anywhere.
(oh that review sounds so mean and grumpy! I’m a nice happy person, really! Look, my last post was puppies!)