NRI Week: Neal ‘N Nikki, Don’t Be Fooled By the Surface, NRIs still want Love and Romance

Such a bad/good movie! I forgot about it when I posted the schedule for the week, but that was kind of good. I don’t necessarily want to encourage people to watch this movie. But if you already watched it and liked it, here is a reminder of why you liked it. And I forgot, this review is also HILARIOUS. So if you like reading me lovingly taking down a bad movie, you should read this.

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)


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.

If only all this good stuff weren’t surrounded by truly TERRIBLE costumes, directing, and English dialogue! Oh well, I guess we just can’t have nice things.


8 thoughts on “NRI Week: Neal ‘N Nikki, Don’t Be Fooled By the Surface, NRIs still want Love and Romance

  1. I just rewatched this movie in my cov-isolation, in 5 years i haven’t watched it end to end till now. I thought your reviews would influence me to like it less, which is fine because I’m always up for having my eyes opened. But the opposite happened… I liked it so much more than ever!

    The one thing that for me was bad both then and now is Tanishtha’s hair. No, not the brassy highlights, those are per character and period. Like Joan Cusack’s eye shadow in Working Girl, or like the reality characters of Jersey Shore or The Only Way is Essex, it’s a slight exaggeration of a norm among a certain economic class of high school educated working class urban young adults. And it adds to the hilarity. No, my problem is the haircut. Those short and choppy layers haven’t made a comeback since they debuted and died in the 1980s. Longer integrated layers (if you have layers at all) have been the norm since at least 1990. So it makes no sense to incorporate them here.

    Wow, come to think of it, i wonder if the movie was supposed to be set in the 1980s, but the director didn’t make it clear enough? Because her wardrobe of blazer + bra-top + midlength mini-skirt was absolutely the rage in the Madonna “Like a Virgin” era. And the choppy-layered perm-curls plus brassy-blond highlights was all over the 80s. Finally Neal’s bold colors and bangs are 80s-appropriate.

    This movie is a throwback to the all-out unabashed rom-com, both western and Bollywood, of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Even though 90s is considered the ultimate romcom era, the truth is (imo) that the romcom was being reexamined and deconstructed in the 90s. In western film, classics like Sleepless in Seattle and Notting Hill are really more Dramedy than Romcom. When Harry Met Sally is definitely a self aware reexamination of the genre. Maybe My Best Friends Wedding is more a true romcom, but also a deconstruction insofar as you root for the girl to not get the guy.

    But NnN makes no bones about being a light funny romcom, with no apologies. It follows all the beats of a western rom com- plenty of repartee & banter, plenty of situational humor, the conflict is either due to misunderstandings or out-of-synch realizations of love. All that’s missing is the airport climax scene lol. And as an Indian rom-com, it still culminates with engagement/ marriage, it still involves extended family, best friends for comic relief and advice, & wedding functions as excuses for group choreo in unison. Also, as a Bollywood film, it’s perfectly balanced and paced wrt songs, dance, rom, and com. This is exactly the kind of film where you WANT the characters to lip synch and dance-in-character, and they deliver in spades, with solo dances, item song, duets, and group choreo, each at the right moments and in the right situations. You never feel like you are getting too little or too much song and dance, nor too little or too much plot. And like classic rom coms, it’s equal parts rom and com. I think I’m sorely missing that comedy backbone in today’s rom coms.

    One thing that doesn’t hold up, from my original viewing thru to today, is the dumb blonde jokes, the big boobs humor, or the career-girls-are-easy comedy. They were borderline acceptable in late 2000s; in 2020 they feel crass, inappropriate, and woefully outdated.

    But why it doesn’t bother me as much as it should in 2020 in this particular film is because of 2 things. First, i feel that this film loves all its characters, even the ones it makes fun of, so the fun feels more gentle than crass. Second and more importantly, both Neal’s interactions with other women and Nikki’s interactions with other men are hyperrealistic, if not surrealistic. That can’t-keep-a-job nikki would land a hot successful Male model as a serious boyfriend is simply not believable. Also not believable is Neal landing a hot successful model, a hot successful lawyer, and a hot bodacious dumb blonde, all literally throwing themselves at him. So i feel that the whole point of these sequences is that they are part of the humor of this film. All the people around them are tropes, all the situations around them are tropes, and these 2 are brought together because they are the two 3D people in the movie, even though they each are tropes as well. Or alternatively, since the movie alludes to them both being immature teens at heart, perhaps they are both unreliable narrators, exaggerating their experiences with the opposite sex to heightened levels, as Neal warns in his intro.

    Has this remained the only commercial Bollywood film with an entirely-English song in the movie?

    Finally, the version I watched last night is on Amazon Prime, and like Zero on Netflix, it seems to be a different edit than the original, and, dare I say, a slightly better and tighter movie? Maybe i need to watch my dvd version again to see if I’m imagining things… it’s in my house somewhere… 😉


    • Yes to your point about the other characters! I especially love the woman who leaves with Abhishek. She’s nice, she’s friendly, and the film doesn’t judge her for picking another guy when Neal has clearly lost interest. Heck, the film REWARDS her by giving her a nice viable alternative. All of these easy sex types aren’t judged or made “bad”, it’s kind of an Alice in Wonderland feeling, our two protagonists moving through this cheerful world of easy sex and adventures with everyone around them being slightly crazy, but also nice.

      On Sat, Mar 21, 2020 at 4:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  2. I know you said you wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone, but I would and do recommend this film to
    – anyone who wants to see a movie with a specific sense of Canada, west coast Sikh Canadians, or a loving tribute to British Columbia .
    – anyone who wants to watch an unabashed romcom with a healthy dose of comedy, song, and dance seemlessly built in.
    – Any ABCD, CBCD, or IBCD age 30+. Not NRI, but specifically raised from childhood in the West. Because this movie was made for us, is about us, and we are the only ones who will truly “get” this film. This movie is a tongue in cheek love letter to us.


    • Okay, I know who on this blog fits in that definition and I am really curious if any of the rest of them love this film!

      On Sat, Mar 21, 2020 at 5:04 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



  3. I was laughing out loud, on my couch alone, this afternoon watching the “I’m in Love” song. It made up for Uday’s terrible face makeup, and the idea that women in the (most likely chilly) mountains wear bras as tops regularly, at any point in time. This movie is the Canadian NRI version of French Kiss. Their chemistry was great, but Uday is ugly. All the muscles in the world won’t make him beautiful.


    • I love the I’m In Love song! The heroine introduction song is even sharper, but it’s in the lyrics. The one where she is drunk and singing in a bar? The lyrics make fun of the typical heroine introduction song with jingling bangles and things, very specific lines.

      Oh, I am SO GLAD more people are watching Neal n’ Nikki! IT’s such dumb fun.

      On Mon, Sep 20, 2021 at 6:05 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:



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