Here’s a random review! Shahrukh’s birthday/Diwali is not a good time to also have a series of work disasters. So I am writing a review of an interesting movie that I watched ages ago and I know other people are really eager to discuss.
Such an interesting movie! A lot of things that were new about it, but I think the biggest “newest” part is that it is set in Delhi. Or, more accurately, “Dilli”. Not the Delhi of the big landmarks and location shooting, but the “Dilli” of the places that people actually live, the language they actually use, the dreams they actually have.
This is a movie no one particularly wanted to make. Maneesh Sharma wanted to make Fan, but Adi told him he wasn’t ready, so he came up with this idea instead. Ranveer was holding out for a big break movie, after studying drama in America (minor in theater from Indiana University, which means he has about 6 times as much acting training as Ranbir Kapoor by the way, despite all Ranbir’s talk about being a serious artist and Ranveer playing himself off as just in it for fun). Anushka had her big break movie and her big flop movie and was willing to take anything on offer, even if it didn’t look that great. So they all settled for this film and made the best of it. And somehow it ended up being a better film than anyone could have expected, somehow shooting low worked.
That’s the key that the industry is only now catching up on. Make a small film and a small story really really well, and you can end up with something better than a big film. Take all that energy you want to spend on the big film and pour it into a smaller container, and everyone will benefit.
It’s not just the energy, it’s the experimentation. Anushka was a flop actress at this point (one hit movie that everyone credited to the male lead instead of her, and one flop). Ranveer was a newcomer. Maneesh Sharma was a first time writer/director. Yash Raj took a chance on them because this was a small film and it didn’t really matter. And they really took a chance on this story. It had an odd interesting hook to it (wedding planning) but it was also a mixture of middle-class life and realism (small office, small houses, small dreams) and very forward thinking way of looking at relationships. The hook was safe, the middle-class life was a risk since at the time middle-class stories grounded in location (instead of being in the amorphous undefined Indian culture of the very rich) were not necessarily popular. And forward thinking modern relationships are almost never popular. YRF took a big risk in a lot of ways with this film, because they didn’t think it would really matter, who would notice a new actor, a flop actress, and a tiny story set in Delhi?
The answer is, everyone!!!!! BBB made a box office that, today, would hardly be noticed. But at the time was stunning, far far exceeded expectations, started Ranveer’s career off with a wave he is still riding, and relaunched Anushka at a higher level than her first big name big budget movie had done. Suddenly everyone was talking about this little rom-com with the fun plot and new actors. And everyone was trying (and failing) to imitate it.
The movies that came after, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and Daawat E Ishq and Break Ki Baad and others, they couldn’t quite capture that magic, the energy, the freshness of BBB. And the specificity. Maneesh Sharma and Ranveer spent weeks traveling in Delhi, getting the language and the accent and everything else just right, the other movies, they tried, but it just wasn’t that same level of dedication. It’s not until now, years later, that the formula seems to be finally cracked. The movies that are hitting now, Badhai Ho and Stree and Bareilly Ki Barfi, they don’t start with the romance. They start with the place, that’s what makes them special. Romance is good, romance is fine, but it is the little details of the place that make the films last in your head and your heart. That’s what Band Baaja Baarat already knew, all those years ago, you have to start with Delhi, and go from there. Everything else will fall into place.
And now you are thinking “this movie sounds great! I should watch it! Except, Margaret really hates it. Why is that?” Well, without getting into spoilers, I can tell you that Ranveer, our hero, does absolutely no emotional labor. Anushka has to do everything for herself by herself in the whole relationship, and this is supposed to be “charming”. Oh yes, I love little man-boys who avoid sticky emotional conversations and nurse their own petty hurts instead of trying to think of other people. Super sexy! I mean, it’s realistic and all that, lots of young men are like this, but it still makes me cringe at the “happy ending” because I think she would probably be better off without him.
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Anushka is a very organized very planned middle-class girl from Delhi. She finished college and now she wants to start her own wedding planning business. Ranveer is a middle-class boy from a farm, he also went to college in Delhi and knows Anushka from around campus. He is desperate to find a way to stay in Delhi instead of going back out to the family farm, and so begs to be allowed to share her wedding planning business. They start out working as assistants for a top wedding planner who flirts with Ranveer and abuses Anushka. Ranveer stands up for Anushka and they are both fired. With Ranveer’s enthusiasm and encouragement, Anushka decides to take the leap and they start their own business. Their first client has almost no money, but Anushka figures out ways to make it special with small local vendors working with them, and Ranveer brings in his band from college and helps lead the singing and dancing. The wedding is a hit and word spreads, Anushka and Ranveer slowly grow their business, still in the same little store front and still using their local venders, and still keeping the feel of the fun middle-class Delhi wedding that is their ISP. And then one night, after pulling off their biggest wedding yet, everyone gets drunk together, and then leaves until it is just Anushka and Ranveer alone together, and they kiss and then have sex. The next morning, Anushka rushes home and starts talking to her parents about maybe getting married. Ranveer is panicked that she will expect something of him. They misunderstand each other, she hides her heartbreak, but they start fighting all the time at work. Eventually they try dividing the business so they don’t have to interact, but they can’t create the same magic on their own. They agree to come together for one last big job, a “Farmhouse” wedding with a massive budget, and working with her and learning that she has moved on and is now engaged to someone else, Ranveer finally sees he is in love with Anushka. He pesters her and pleads with her, and she forgives him and comes around.
It’s a really wonderful movie in a lot of ways. It treats Anushka and Ranveer’s business as something important, not just a plot point. It really gets into the way that a decent wedding planner can change everything, can make your wedding a wonderful happy memory instead of a depressing debt filled mistake. And the way small enthusiastic honest businessman can make a difference for everybody, Anushka and Ranveer take the wedding money and pour it back into the neighborhood, they aren’t looking for the fancy caterers and all the rest, they are doing a desi wedding in a desi style with desi workers.
And it treats Anushka and Ranveer as business people seriously. Anushka planned this out for years, and her plans work, a young woman deciding on her career and caring about it is something important, not just a way of marking time until she falls in love. And Ranveer may have decided to join on impulse, but his sense that he wants to stay in the city and will work hard if he only gets a chance, that’s important too. He isn’t just marking time until he goes back to the ancestral home either.
From that, naturally, their business partnership with all its conflicts and eventually closeness rises up. They don’t like each other, not at first, but they both really care about the business. And eventually caring about the business makes them meet in the middle, Anushka gets some of the aggression and outgoingness from Ranveer as she sees the way he connects with people, he gets some of the detail oriented obsession from her as he sees what a difference it makes. Most of all caring about the business helps them appreciate the strengths of the other person, makes them know each other more and better than anyone else in their lives, the other people who haven’t been through all the same struggles they shared.
It’s a wonderful different and yet familiar kind of romance. This sort of “I hate you but I have to learn to work with you and eventually come to appreciate you and be changed by you” romance is one we see a lot in travel stories (DDLJ, JHMS, dozens of others) and in post-marriage romances (Roja, Bangalore Days, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Manmarziyaan, dozens of others). But to see that same storyline set in a business partnership, that is unusual. And is, in fact, a far better and more believable way to tell the story. Working together in a business will throw you together for far longer than any travel storyline. And it allows for the romance to develop naturally and without pressure unlike in a marriage story.
Also different is that the business keeps them together even when the romance falls apart. Because they still care about the business, really truly care about doing a good job and making their clients happy and being fair to the other small businesses who rely on them. It isn’t a simple matter of not being able to dissolve it, like Preity and Saif being trapped sharing a house in Salaam-Namaste, they both love the business equally and can’t bring themselves to cut it in half. And thus, they have to work through their feelings in a different way.
In other romances, after the big fight, the heroine is hustled off to get engaged and the hero gets drunk and dances with an item girl or whatever, and they finally reunite when he has discovered he is in love. That is a very unusual way for a relationship to work when you think about it, the biggest moments happening when they are apart, just based on memories. But in this film, they are forced to still be together, which is really much more realistic. They come together again after a series of snips and anger, learning to get along, and only then (finally) discovering that they love each other after all.
All of this is wonderful and unique and special. But, I can’t enjoy this movie. And I am willing to hear arguments as to why I should, but I just have a really hard time with one part.
Anushka and Ranveer have sex. And then Ranveer tries to pretend it didn’t mean anything, not just to him, but to her.
It’s the second part that bothers me. This is a movie that does such a good job of drawing its characters. Anushka doesn’t feel like someone who would have sex lightly. And Ranveer doesn’t feel like someone who wouldn’t care that he just slept with someone who would not have sex lightly. And both of them know that about each other, or should, after we see they have spent so much time in close quarters.
I like the overall idea, I like that they are two people who know each other so well and are so comfortable together and then sex enters the picture and they both flail around trying to adjust to this new reality. It’s just the specifics of the flailing that feel so incredibly out of character for these two people that it takes me right out of the movie.
If Anushka had already decided she was in love with Ranveer, had miss-read an earlier signal from him to mean he might feel the same way, then had sex with him, and then built up a dream castle only to be disappointed, that I could understand. She is someone who knows herself and plans carefully, she is not going to just fall into bed. And if she does, she is going to take time to think instead of deciding she is in love all of a sudden.
But it’s Ranveer who I find much harder to reconcile with what we already know of him. He isn’t a bad person, he truly cares about Anushka as a friend and a person he respects. Yes he is sexually experienced, that’s fine. And yes, he could have been very drunk and Anushka was certainly willing, so I could believe he somehow got past his own barriers and slept with her. But the next morning he should know her well enough to know that this is a very very big deal for her. And that to pretend it wasn’t is about the most hurtful thing he could do. Everything we know about him up to this point, and everything we know he knows about Anushka, should force him to propose. Or at the very least acknowledge that he should be proposing and he is sorry that he can’t. And then he should be careful and quiet and cautious around her. They do that for a little, and then as soon as she lets him off the hook, he grabs for it instead of still being cautious. And as soon as she snaps at him at all, he immediately resents it like she is in the wrong. Like he is the one who gave up his virginity, his future, his plans, instead of the other way around.
I just cannot forgive Ranveer for that! I can’t do it. He feels like a different person than I thought he was in that one moment. And then in all the other moments after that when he tries to pretend that he is equally hurt, that Anushka is equally at fault. It’s just not true. They are both equally at fault for having sex, no problem there. But afterwards, he knew perfectly well that was a much bigger thing for her than it was for him and he had to be the mature kind one. And he chose not to, he chose to put that right back on her shoulders, all the growth we had from his character over the course of the film, the whole message of the hero and heroine as equals working together, thrown away. Anushka was the one who slipped, Anushka is the one who has to find a way to get passed it, Anushka is the one who has to accept Ranveer’s abuse and blame, Anushka is the one who suffers because the woman always suffers and we forgive and understand the man who punishes her.
What’s so frustrating is that the ending is just as good as the first half. By the time all the sniping is over and they are forced to work together, their characters have returned to what I thought they were. Anushka has made a new plan, found a fiance, and decided that Ranveer was a mistake and a black mark on her life that she can erase. It’s immature, but it’s a familiar kind of immature, the same kind she has been since the beginning. And Ranveer is his same kind of immature too, impulsive but sincere. He only realizes he is in love at the last minute, when she is engaged to someone else and it all seems to be over. But once he makes his decision, he is in all the way, overwhelming and determined and sure of himself.
And most of all, it is a resolution that relies on the two characters knowing each other. Ranveer, by the end, is absolutely sure Anushka loves him and knows that she knows that he knows. They continue a little dance of getting there, but both of them know they will end up together in the end.
Which, retroactively, makes the post-interval part even WORSE!!! If they are people who know each other so well that they can have this unspoken mutual confidence, than what the heck was Ranveer doing being so hurtful to Anushka? Not having sex with her in the first place, but throwing it back in her face, laughing at the feelings he should have known she had. Acting as though she had no right to express any feeling at all that might make him uncomfortable, whether it was love or anger. Like his feelings were so much more important than hers just because they were his.
Like I said, I really just cannot get past the hamhandedness of how that one pivotal moment was dealt with. It doesn’t ruin the movie for me, but it moves it from a toplevel guilty pleasure rom-com, to a “well it was a fun one time watch” rom-com. And it would have been so easy to fix! Simply make it believably less of a big deal, a passionate make-out session would still have been monumental for Anushka and would have been believable for Ranveer to think he could blow past it. Heck, a monumental make-out session would be more believable just on the level of a girl who has never had any romantic encounters. Anushka going all the way from “saving myself for marriage and has not/will not be touched romantically even to the point of a kiss on the cheek” to “had sex” in the course of a couple hours is not impossible, but seems a bit more far fetched than simply going to “passionate over the clothes make-out session”. Especially since this is the most extreme and steamy sex scene I may have ever seen in an Indian film. They go from one sweet cautious kiss, to porno music and gold lighting and naked skin, in a single cut!
It feels like they got a little too excited about the freedom of making this small unnoticed film. Like they put in a sex plot point just because they could, without really thinking it through. Compared to, for instance, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania where it made total sense. A couple that had been dancing around the topic of sex for days, flirting and falling in love. And who both knew there was a built in deadline, if they were going to do it, it had to be now. And most of all, an narrative aftermath that required that kind of encounter, Varun had to be absolutely completely sure that Alia loved him even if she didn’t say it. And Alia had to be absolutely completely sure that Varun was serious about her, not just flirting and looking for one night. And sex did it, did it in a natural way that played out over the course of the film without ever needing to be mentioned again.
(It’s the same beginning, dancing with friends, staying up late, and then a hug that goes on a little too long. But it is the culmination of so many romantic moments, so many times they have tested each other and considered the idea of sex. And with a conversation acknowledging they may never see each other again after this one night, they both know what this will be going in. And then it is one sweet shot of them waking up together, no steamy explicitness, and then never mentioned again, because sex really isn’t that important)
Or Socha Na Tha. Where Abhay and Ayesha don’t even kiss, but instead stare into each others eyes, hold hands, embrace, and it is intimate enough that they both feel a line has been crossed. Or Jab Harry Met Sejal, where their escalating decisions NOT to have sex are what drive the intimacy. That might have been an interesting alternative route for this film, have Ranveer drunkenly reject Anushka in an effort to do the “right” thing, and that be what causes the embarrassment and anger and break between them. That’s what happens in I Hate Luv Storys, a similar plot but one in which the heroine is far more in control of herself, and so it is easier to forgive the hero for misunderstanding. Not to mention that his efforts to redeem himself and earn her forgiveness go on far longer. And he certainly never gets angry with her just for falling in love with him!
(See, this kind of physical intimacy, that can be something meaningful to one person that the other could pretend meant nothing)
I’m really not a prude, or obsessed with sex, or anything like that. It is that this film is so carefully made, and so well-made, except for that one moment which just feels like needless shock value in a way that is not true to the characters. And poisons the entire film in a way that never really goes away.