Finally watched it! After having heard about it for years and years and years and years (the soundtrack is everywhere). And I’m kind of glad I waited, because this way I got to come at it having already seen a bunch more Gautham Menon movies and having a bit more of an idea of what he does.
I was trying to go into this movie fresh, as though it had just come out and I didn’t know anything about it, or the stars, or anything. And then I gave up on that and decided it was impossible, and it was more interesting to watch it with what I already knew about Maddy and Saif and Dia and (most of all) Gautham Menon. Kind of like watching Mouna Ragam knowing what Mani Ratnam would turn into.
There’s some things that are true in all Gautham Menon movies. The hero will have a good relationship with his father. The hero will fall in love at first sight with someone who is somehow inappropriate. Harris Jayaraj will do the music. And, most importantly for this film, the heroine will fall in love not because the hero does some big amazing thing for her, but simply because they get to know each other.
I love that about Gautham Menon. While other filmmakers suggest love at first sight, or childhood romance, or love following some big dramatic gesture, Gautham suggests that if you are really really in love with the girl, the way to win her over is to just go talk to her and see if she feels the same way. Radical! His falling in love sequences are long and slow and steady, talking to her, fighting with her, making up, talking some more, getting to know her just as she is getting to know you. But never taking her for granted either, always his heroes are able to be surprised by what the heroine does or says, there is never a moment of “okay, now we are in love and it is all settled and she will turn into just another proper wife like anyone else”. And there is never a goal beyond talking, not an honorable goal like marriage or a dishonorable goal like a kiss. The talking is an end in itself, spending time with her is what makes him happy.
This movie is pretty simple (in the grand scheme of Gautham Menon movies) and what makes it special is the romance alone and the long slow sweet way it unfolds. In terms of plot, Gautham could have accomplished it all in five minutes and moved on. But there was nothing he wanted to move on too, this was the culmination of the film, the most important part. That’s making a statement in itself, that the romance isn’t about fighting with the girl’s father, or your father, or saving her from kidnappers, or doing anything else with a third party. It’s about what happens between the two of you.
There is a third party of course, this is a two hero film. At least, that’s how the posters make it look. In reality, Saif’s role is no more than a cameo appearance. And his part in the relationship is no more than a cameo either. It’s Maddy’s movie mostly, and then Dia. In this case the heroine is also the second hero, and even a little bit the villain.
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Our hero is Maddy (of course), but he isn’t really a “hero” so much as a protagonist. That’s the fun twist of the film, we start in college days and see how by all the usual logic of movies, Saif is the “hero”. He is handsome, he is smart, he is charming, all the girls love him but he never misbehaves with them, his whole class respects him. And then there is Maddy, he is from a younger batch, a rowdy, sells test answers and teases girls (not harasses them, just rags them). Saif protects the school from Maddy’s misbehavior, the two boys fight, they are automatic enemies, light and dark. Not coincidentally, in both the Hindi remake and the Tamil original, Maddy is cast opposite an actor who is considerably fairer than he is. After college, Saif goes straight into a good American job, while Maddy struggles along in Bombay, living with his Dad and goofing off, working at a local company.
And then there is Dia. The perfect “heroine” type. She is beautiful and impossible, Maddy sees her at a wedding in Delhi and asks about her, from a good family and already engaged and not interested in flirting. Dia does an okay job with the role, but it is also very smart casting, a former beauty queen who brings with her a little message to the audience that this character is “queenly”, beyond the reach of humble Maddy.
And thus, Maddy plays a trick on her. He learns that her fiance, who she hasn’t seen since childhood, is coming back to town early to get to know her before the formal engagement. All he has to is show up at her door and claim to be the fiance. In another movie, he would do it, we would get one song, and they would be in love. Probably they would kiss and then she would be really conflicted. But this movie is different.
Maddy shows up at her door, and it doesn’t go perfectly at all. She takes him out for his “favorite” food, and it makes him sick because he isn’t used to non-veg. He tries to surprise her for her birthday with a big night, the car breaks down, the restaurant is closed, and it turns out to not have been her birthday after all but rather her friend’s birthday. But with all these problems and embarrassing moments and mistakes, they get to really know each other. She sees that he is a nice guy who will keep trying and honestly cares about making her happy. And he sees that she is more than the perfect pretty girl, she likes street food, and is kind, and is worried about moving to America, and doesn’t like to share herself easily with others. Their big romantic moment isn’t a kiss, it is when the power goes out at her house so he stays for hours until it comes on again, talking and reading to her, and getting to know each other.
This is what happens when you give a chance to someone who isn’t the “hero”. Maddy doesn’t think of himself as the cool good nice boy, he thinks of himself as just himself, Maddy, who doesn’t necessarily deserve or expect a girl like Dia to fall for him, but he will try as hard as he can to make her happy. And because of his little trick, Dia gives this boy she would never have otherwise considered a chance, and he does make her happy.
That’s something else really special and different about this film. Maddy may never feel completely sure of Dia’s feelings, but the audience is. The heroine gets to be a person with desires of her own, who goes from feeling obligated but willing to spend time with Maddy, to enjoying his company and honestly liking him, to realizing she is in love. It’s not at first sight, it’s not because he saved her life, it is because she is a human person who can be attracted to one particular person just because of who he is, as much as he can be attracted to her.
At which point Saif appears and the truth comes out. If Maddy hadn’t pulled his trick, if he and Dia hadn’t had 5 days together, she would never have known anything was missing with Saif. Saif is kind and successful and excited to marry her and start their life together. He doesn’t make mistakes, he doesn’t invite her to open up and get to know him better, but that’s not supposed to be what this is. He is her fiance, she is the blushing bride, she shouldn’t complain and he shouldn’t give her reason for complaint. Everything should just be perfect, because they are the perfect couple.
In a different movie, Saif and Maddy would fight and one of them would “win” Dia. Maddy heads in that direction, he and his friends threaten Saif, but at the last minute he stops himself. It’s not about that, it’s about what Dia wants, about what they have between each other without Saif involved. Saif, the “perfect” guy, is slower to come around to that way of thinking. Even in college, he protected the girls while Maddy addressed them directly. Saif is still thinking that way, on paper he is the better choice, he loves Dia (in his own way), Maddy should stay away. Dia even says that she wants Maddy to stay away. And Dia, as the “perfect” girl, should want him to stay away, he lied to her and all that, it is only logical that she doesn’t want him.
There is one confrontation between Dia and Maddy after the truth that faints towards the way they are “supposed” to be. Maddy argues that he could have kissed her, could have done anything with her, she was in love with him and thought they were engaged, he almost threatens her with it. He is a “bad man” who just wants to seduce women. And Dia responds by saying of course she doesn’t love him because he lied and he is low and wrong and she is engaged. She is a “good woman” who could never fall in love outside of an engagement. It’s an ugly ugly fight, and an realistic fight, because that’s what happens in real life, couples say the ugly hurtful things that they are almost ashamed of thinking. It’s realistic, but not honest. No, Maddy wouldn’t really have kissed her or done anything to her, even now, he didn’t want that, he just wanted to be with her and get to know her. Men aren’t simply “bad”. And no, Dia can’t go from being in love with him to hating him just because he is wrong for her, women aren’t simply “good” either.
All of this is wonderful, and the ending is wonderful too, Saif being the one who makes the decision and takes Dia to Maddy because he comes to understand that the simple pure easy emotions they have for each other are not as powerful as the messy things Dia feels for Maddy. I just wish the film had been a wee bit better put together.
I watched a little bit of the Tamil version, Minnale, and it was about 10% better. Maddy’s performance flowed more naturally in Tamil, the editing was a bit more exciting in Tamil (little things like more jump cuts), and the heroine in Tamil being Christian adds a whole additional layer to why they don’t fit together. And I also suspect the last third of the movie makes way way more sense. In this one, I couldn’t even figure out where people were! There was this whole thing about everyone going to Delhi for the wedding, but then Maddy kept bumping in to Saif in Bombay, so maybe just Dia went to Delhi? But then Dia was back for one last dramatic conversation, so did Maddy go to Delhi too? Or was she in Bombay all the time, in which case why was there only the one conversation? It’s not a big deal, it’s just the kind of messiness that comes up when a film isn’t well thought out, and the rest of this film was very well thought out (for example, a whole clear explanation for why Saif was coming early and no one else knew it, why Maddy got this information, and so on and so forth). It made me wonder if something was lost in the translation from Tamil to Hindi.
But even with those little flaws, I can see why this was a popular film in Hindi. The love story with the struggling human average guy trying his best to please the beautiful woman is something new. And the songs are amazing start to finish.