Well, this is a remarkable film! It’s actually a lot deeper than I expected, reminded me of Jab Harry Met Sejal more than anything. One of those movies that is less a love story and more a story of two lost souls helping each other be found.
This is a movie that feels torn between art and popular. There are many moments of the film that are as real as anything in the fancy new Netflix shows. And then there are other moments that are just old-fashioned Dharma romance. It’s an unusual fit, which, for me, adds to the power of the film. To have the gloss of fairy tale love over this difficult story, and to have this difficult reality under the fairy tale love.
And an equally unusual fit is Parineeti and Sidharth as co-stars. Pari’s weakness as an actor is that she tends to try too hard, to go too big. While Sid’s is that he doesn’t try enough, comes off as blank more than anything. But put them together, and they balance and enhance each other. Sid’s blankness feels like hidden depths, Pari’s mannerisms become charming and real instead of studied. I would never have thought to cast them together, just as I would never have thought to take these characters and put them in a rom-com, and yet it works.
In a lot of ways, this is your standard formula Dharma romance. Two newish stars playing the leads, a bunch of cheap but familiar character actors surrounding them, a good sound track with at least one super catchy hit song (“Punjabi Wedding Song”), a first time director and long-time Karan mentee, and lots of trailer-friendly visuals mixed in, longing looks and loving moments and so on. It’s the same movie Karan made with Ek Main Aur Ek Tu, Gori Tere Pyar Main, I Hate Luv Storys, and plenty others.
But this is also a Phantom film, part of the set of Dharma-Phantom co-productions, and Vikramaditya Motwane took a pass at the script. So it has the standard Phantom touches too. A disfunctional family, damaged and miserable leads, and a winding journey towards enlightenment. It’s all there, just hidden under the bright colors and pretty faces of Dharma.
I vaguely remember, at the time this film came out, reading criticisms of it for “Dharma-fying” the plot. Specifically that “Punjabi Wedding Song” which was so obviously put in just to be a catchy hit and a marketing hook. But watching the movie, I discovered that “Punjabi Wedding Song” was in fact vitally important to the plot, and a major part of the characters’ journey. All of the “Dharma” touches were, even the look of the leads, the hero HAD to be someone who looked like Sidharth Malhotra, and Parineeti’s girl-next-door-secretly-pretty look was necessary for the heroine.
This isn’t to say it is a perfect movie. There’s about 20% too much plot, for one thing. Sid and Pari’s life conflicts are needlessly complex, you could have gotten them to the same emotional place going in a straight line instead of a zig zag to China and back. And the structure could have been tighter, when I was trying to remember the order in which events occur some of it felt clear and perfect, and some of it was a little more mixed up. But this is a romance, and the most important part of a romance is the central couple and the relationship between them. And this film has an astonishingly strong central relationship.
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When Sid is in college and supposed to be studying for the IPS exams, he sneaks off to a wedding instead. And meets Pari, who is running away from home on the day of her sister’s wedding with a bag of money stolen from her father. They immediately hit it off and she asks invites him to come to Goa with her. He turns her down and goes back inside and sees her sister Adah Sharma, the prettiest girl there, and immediately decides he must win her over. 7 years later, Sid and Adah are engaged, Sid has become an event planner in order to measure up to his movie starlet girlfriend Adah who he is terrified of losing. She asks him to find last minute housing for one last wedding guest, Sid immediately recognizes the guest as the girl he helped 7 years earlier. There is nowhere available at hotels so he dumps her at a guest house than learns she is Adah’s estranged sister and goes to check on her and finds her in a leaking bug infested room. He takes her back to his apartment where his whole family is staying for the wedding and introduces her as a “friend”. No one seems interested in taking care of Parineeti (even Adah is more worried about her causing a scene at the wedding than anything else), and she is in the middle of a nervous breakdown and needs a keeper, so Sid finds himself taking her around with him as he rushes about trying to raise money for his company in order to impress Adah and her family. Pari alternates manic energy when she is on the homemade medication she concocts, and sweet vulnerability when she is off it. Eventually Sid learns that Pari was a brilliant chemist who ran away from home with her father’s money in order to fund her research.
She moved to China for a PhD, and then stayed on running a research lab, but she couldn’t pay back the money from her investors and fled to India. She is desperate for money. Sid helps her hack into her father’s computer to steal it from him, but also insists that she has to talk to her family. Pari’s family is mostly unhappy to see her, but her father stands up for her and says it was his fault for driving her away. The night before Sid’s wedding, he admits that he wishes he had run off with her to Goa 7 years earlier, but it is too late now, and she should just go back to China and leave him alone. On the wedding day, Pari leaves to go back to and Adah finds her phone and sees the messages from Sid and calls off the wedding because it isn’t what he wants. Sid rushes off to find her and they unite outside the wall, at the same place they first met 7 years ago.
Do you see what I mean about too much plot? Really this movie is getting at something very simple. It opens with a flashback of Pari and Sid as children. Pari locks the bathroom door from outside in her crowded apartment building, locking everyone out. Sid unlocks his bedroom door from inside, so he can sneak out and follow the rest of his family to a movie. Pari is always locking people out because they don’t understand her. Sid is always trying to undo locks so he can be with other people. Pari grows up to be a difficult young woman who doesn’t know how to ask for help or express her emotions. And Sid grows up to be a young man who is always asking for help, apologizing, following people around because he is afraid they will leave him behind.
The 7 years structure is fascinating because we can see how both their lives pivoted on that moment. Sid was already sneaking out of locked rooms to go be at a wedding with his friends, and was judging the women at the wedding based on superficial appearance, and wanting to “win” them in order to prove himself. He needed that external validation he never got from his judgmental father. And Pari was already misunderstood by those who should have loved her, her uncle convinces her father not to support her because she has short hair, wears jeans, is “odd”. But in that moment when they met, Sid automatically offered help and Pari, after hesitating a moment, took it. And then responded by asking him to come somewhere with her, wanting him. If Sid had gone with her, he would have gotten the solid unyielding support he needed in order to conquer his desire to please everyone. And she would have gotten the love that would have allowed her to feel safe asking for help, opening up. But, it didn’t happen. Instead Sid went back inside and started a destructive relationship, one where he never felt worthy or “right” with the other person, but was also terrified of losing her because his whole self-worth was wrapped up in their relationship. And Pari went off to China, to a place where she was only valued for her intelligence and not for her person, making her even more cut off from any emotional growth.
There’s also whatever is happening with Pari. It could be Aspergers, a very mild form, that’s what it feels like sometimes. But the movie also covers itself by having her make her own unidentified medications. From her behavior and the reasons she takes them, it seems like the “drugs” she is on are not supposed to be addictive exactly, more behavior modifications that she wants. Like Adderall or other drugs that give more focus and energy to the brain. So she is an extremely intelligent person whose brain doesn’t work in the typical fashion, and who can sometimes be overly hyper and confident when self-medicating. It almost falls into the category of “movie disease”, but then how often are mental disorders perfect? It is entirely possible for someone to have a touch of Aspergers, plus a smidge of OCD, plus be so intelligent that they tend to live in their minds, plus be suffering from the effects of constant rejection which taught them to be shy, plus plus plus. The script just barely stays on the right side of the line for me, Pari expresses emotions and has motivations that make logical sense, and even in her most charming and free moments, still isn’t quite “perfect”. Pari’s unnamed condition is ultimately treated the same way an unpleasant facial scar, or a link, would be. It is not who she is, it is something that is part of her and which makes most people back off before they truly learn who she is.
Perhaps it should have simply been a facial scar or a limp. That would have taken out one level of complication to the script, we could have had her medicate with steroids that allowed her to overcome a physical ailment, and her relationship with her family and interactions with Sid could have stayed focused on simple shyness and fear of rejection. Or maybe the whole China plot should have been removed. Keep Pari as the odd girl who lives in her head and acts strange, but make that the only problem she has to overcome. Keep it simple, she lost her job in America because she offended the wrong person and now she is back in India with no job and no money and no idea what to do next.
In the same way, Sid’s story could have been A LOT simpler. He is an event planner, that’s fine, fits with the charming fun guy persona that he puts on, and makes sense as a career that aspiring actress Adah would want him to have. But instead of just making him an event planner, they make him an event planner who is trying to launch a whole new concept of Cricket, dealing in amounts of 50 crore rupees (7 million dollars). He is constantly fast talking people, asking for money, spinning plans. It’s a way of building his character, but at a certain point even the audience loses track of what he is doing. If he was simply trying to book a wedding, or a conference, and was looking to please the agent accepting bids (instead of borrowing money to make a bid to some third party we never meet), I would have had a much firmer grasp on what he was doing. And it isn’t until the very end of the movie when he finally gains the confidence to talk directly to Pari and Adah’s father about money that the audience gets a sense of just how successful he is already. Adah is always nagging him because he isn’t doing well enough for her, so the audience has the impression of a stupid failure. Instead of having plot and backstory on top of backstory for him, I would have appreciated just a quick moment earlier to show that he is intelligent and successful and Adah is pushing him because he always succeeds, not because otherwise he would fail. Something as simple as one of his friends or employees reminding him of a previous success so the audience knows about it, instead of just seeing him fail over and over again.
So, that’s what I DON’T like. The needless complications. But what I do like is the end result of all of this. The goal is to bring Pari and Sid to a place that is the darkest they have ever been in, and show that nothing is really dark when you have the right person with you. Pari is terrified of what she has left behind in China, and terrified of being hurt again by her family in India. Sid is at the finish line and feels it all slipping away, everything that makes him feel like he belongs, his event planning business and his perfect girlfriend. And then they find each other again.
There are so many intelligent elements to how their relationship is built, how all their relationships are built. Adah, Sid’s fiancee, could so easily have been a stereotype, the “evil” fiancee. But instead the film makes sure we see that it is a trap they have both built. She keeps pulling away and setting higher challenges because deep down she doesn’t want to be with him. And he keeps making promises he can’t keep and lying to her because deep down he doesn’t think he is worthy. They are both miserable in this relationship, and both stuck. But Parineeti will never ever leave him. And so, he never has to lie to her. They help each other become better truer versions of themselves, instead of worse.
Parineeti and Adah, that is a barely dealt with relationship, but again handled very well. Adah cared enough to invite her to the wedding and give her a phone. But not enough to try to help her get back with the rest of the family, or do more than pass her off to Sid. She feels a bond with Parineeti because they are sisters, but she doesn’t like her as a person. She doesn’t hate her, but she doesn’t like her. And slowly, over the course of the film, it becomes clear that she doesn’t really like Sid either, not the “real” Sid under all the glamour and charm. Sid can put on a good show, but at heart he is just as odd and damaged and intelligent as Parineeti. He is just better at hiding it.
The heart of it is Sid and Pari. It’s a very odd relationship, and yet it works. Pari is grateful to Sid right at the start, aware that he is caring for her in a way no one else has in a long time. And then very suddenly, she falls in love. They are trapped together on a swing, a sheet flies into Sid’s face, Pari at first laughs at him and then sees that he is legitimately scared and helps him. And then tells him she feels very strange, like there is cool water underneath and fireworks above. It’s an odd moment for her to fall in love with him, maybe it is because it is the moment that he reveals the vulnerability at the heart of him that is the same as hers. He needs help, he is suffocating. And that is what reaches through her own barriers and forces a human connection back to her awareness, makes her see that she loves him.
The rest of the film isn’t exactly the two of them falling in love, or even falling more deeply in love, but more about the bond that has been there since the moment they met 7 years ago coming to the surface to where they have to talk about it. Pari is honest with herself and him, declares her love boldly over and over again, tells him they have a connection like hydrogen and oxygen, that he should leave Adah and choose her because she will never leave him. But she never asks for anything in return, she doesn’t seem to expect that he will return her feelings. Moment by moment, as she says and proves her love, a change occurs within Sid. He comes to love himself, through her eyes. He decides he doesn’t want event management, even though he is doing well and getting all the validation he could need, he wants to join the IPS and be a police officer like his father. He stops putting up with Adah’s demands, and her father’s insults. Discovering he loves Pari is almost beside the point at the end, of course he loves her, the question is if he will do anything about it?
That’s the question for Pari too. Her whole life she has accepted people not understanding her, learned to work around it. She stole from her father because she knew he wouldn’t give the money freely. When Sid tells her to leave, to go back to China, she goes, because it makes sense to her that he wouldn’t want her. Until her moment in the airport bathroom when she considers taking the rest of her pills and killing herself, and instead decides to stop and go back and fight for what she wants. For both of them, the other is the prize at the end of their journey of self-realization, and also the guide on that journey.
And sex is a big part of that. Pari runs away from home after her uncle declares her so hideous that they should marry her off quickly. With short hair and unfeminine clothing, no one wants her. Sid turns away from her in preference for her pale, thin, long-haired and sari-wearing sister. But is that what really attracts him? Or is it just what he thinks should attract him? We see Sid and Adah together a lot, and they never touch, they never smile at each other, they hardly make eye contact. With Pari, they are constantly talking, smiling, even standing in a way that feels matched together. She still isn’t “pretty”, not like her sister, her haircut is rough and she tends to wear jeans and t-shirts not “pretty” clothes. She isn’t the woman Sid is supposed to want in any way. But this movie doesn’t shy away from the way physical attraction can drive romance. Their physical comfort together, and true intimacy (she tells him when she is hungry, when she has to use the bathroom, and so on), is a sign of how they are meant to be together. And it culminates in that derided “Punjabi Wedding Song”.
Adah and Parineeti are Gujurati. Sid’s character is Punjabi. Adah is constantly trying to change him, including the style of their wedding. But Pari, she embraces it. She arranges a special surprise for his family party before the wedding, a Punjabi song which says that “Bhangra” is better than “Garba”. The lyrics talk of her love for him and also show her love for him through what she has just done for him. And right before the song is the moment when he helps tie her sari blouse and just that slight brushing of his hands across her back is enough to make them both breathless. This is a glorious outburst of love and desire shown through explosive dancing.
If you right out the basics of the plot, it sounds really horrible. A man falls in love with his fiancee’s sister during the wedding celebration, and while he is locking her in rooms and forgetting to feed her and generally treating her terribly, and then even though he knows she is in love, he keeps spending time with her, and then yells at her and sends her away right before his wedding, driving her into a depression deep enough to lead to suicide. But it’s not about the basics, it’s about the steps along the way, the little moments of kindness and understanding and happiness between them, the way these two people are broken but put each other together.