NRI Week: Dostana, Friendship is Fun and Fabulous

This is a movie that is endlessly enjoyable, if you don’t expect it to be realistic. Or logical. Or smart. It’s just Fun.

Not only is this movie fun, you can feel that everyone involved in it is having fun while making it. It’s free and joyful and fearless. It is the Pride Parade float of movies, over the top and loud but also impossible to ignore.

Image result for dostana poster

Setting aside the details, part of what makes the film so wonderful is that everyone involved is on the same page. The performances, the costumes, the songs, the whole look of the film is perfectly in keeping with the story it is telling. There is none of that awkward “wait, this scene is kind of dark for how bright the lighting is” or “this performance is kind of serious for how silly this dialogue is” disconnect. It is all perfect. Especially our three leads, Abhishek and John and Kirron Kher.

No, that isn’t a typo. Priyanka is fine in this movie, but she has not that much to do in terms of the fun parts of the plot. She is the straight man (pun intended) to all the wackiness around her. And then Bobby Deol shows up in the second half and is the even straighter man. It’s John and Abhishek, and then Kirron later, who really carry the film. John has that delightful “I’m sexy and I know it” kind of John attitude which somehow feels fun and funny instead of serious. Abhishek has that delightful “I am Abhishek and I am here to entertain you” attitude to his performance, plus his funny stretchy monkey face. And Kirron, who takes “overbearing Punjabi mother” and then doubles it in her classic Kirron way. The three of them, with Boman Irani on top, that’s where the movie wins. You can feel the film slow down when it forces itself back to the “straight” story that it doesn’t really care about for the end. But it has to have that “straight” story, because this isn’t niche film for the queer market, or even the overseas market, it was trying to be a big funny popular film and therefore make visible things which previously had been invisible.

In India when this movie came out, it wasn’t that Queer people had limited rights or something, it was that they were largely invisible. I’m not talking about Hijras, and I’m not talking about the underground gay scene in large cities, I’m talking about nice middle class boys saying the words “I’m Gay”. Or even knowing the word, “Gay”. And then there’s this film. It shows two men kissing, it talks about gay marriage, it even has a long speech from a minor desi Queer character talking about his journey towards accepting his identity. And yes, it does all of this in a plot that is coated in farce and fantasy, but does that matter? Or is it more important that it is saying those words, showing those things, and not judging?

And not making it tragic either! Living in a place where sexual identity slips and slides delightfully, where the line between friendship and lover is invisible, it’s fun! This is the good life, the best life, not a sad way-station on the route to good Indian family life but the best possible life. That’s what the title is saying, “Friendship”. These three unrelated young people living together have a bond that matters and can’t be broken by marriage or love affairs or all the rest of it. It’s not just a movie about being gay, it’s a movie about the whole young urban identity where there are so many more relationships than we have labels for.

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Pretty simple plot actually, would work really well as a two act slamming door farce. Abhishek and John show up to rent an apartment with Priyanka Chopra. She doesn’t want to live with two men until they tell her they are a gay couple. The three of them quickly become best friends. But then Abhishek’s mother Kirron Kher arrives at the same time Abhishek and John are pretending to be a couple so John can get a green card (totally ridiculous plot point, I know international couples that actually struggled with this because they COULDN’T get a green card as a same sex couple). Lot’s of misunderstandings that end with Kirron understanding the relationship between John and Abhishek and giving her blessing. And then in the second half, both John and Abhishek realize they are in love with Priyanka and start courting her without quite crossing the line to revealing they are straight. But they each figure out what the other is doing and start fighting, finally making up and the threesome is tighter than ever. Until Bobby Deol appears, Priyanka’s boss who she starts dating. He has an adorable small son and is a good decent Indian boy and he and Priyanka fall in love, John and Abhishek work to break them up and finally Priyanka learns the truth that they are not gay and have been lying to her. She is furious and challenges them to kiss each other in public in order to prove how sorry they are. They kiss, she forgives them, the movie ends with the happy threesome of friends reunited.

The most obvious influence on this film is Design for Living. The Noel Coward play cheekily nods to both homosexuality and bisexuality and polyamory (yes, polyamory is not just a thing millennials invented). And then the film version carefully camouflaged the whole thing as two men who are “best friends” and a woman who is alternatively a friend and lover to each of them. Only, with a nice buffer of months and miles between the relationships with the two men. But you barely have to squint to see the meaning that was intended. Two men who are roommates meet a lovely interesting young woman and are both attracted to her. The three of them form a happy household together. Then the woman (after alternately having single relationships with each of the men that do not work out) decides to marry a third man. Only to realize her true love and happiness is as part of the threesome. She leaves her husband and moves back in with the three men.

Image result for design for living poster

That’s the story Dostana wants to tell, only without the polyamory exactly. Which makes it both more and less revolutionary. In the Dostana version, it is friendship, messy non-romantic friendship, which keeps them all together. And that’s kind of a radical statement, that a woman can be in love with a man and still miss her two male friends. And that the two male friends can give up any hope of being with the woman but still want to spend time with her. In other words, a man and woman CAN be friends, in the end.

That’s the big obvious and interesting message, that this threesome is special even if it doesn’t fit in a typical romantic relationship box. And the general plot points support that, there is the period that John and Abhishek are pretending not to be viable romantic options and with love off of the table, they end up forming this new sort of bond. And then the period when the film faints towards “she has to choose one or the other and then they can’t be friends any more”. And finally the surprise resolution of “nope, they all decide it is better to save the friendship and dump the romance.” But under this big obvious interesting message, there is the funny little secret message that John and Abhishek might maybe be falling in love after all.

Polyamory wasn’t something millenials invented and neither is bisexuality or pansexuality. And it’s not something that only exists if you label yourself and identify it. Most people can be attracted to, well, most people! At least on some level. Abhishek and John are definitely attracted to women, they first meet the morning after separate one night stands with separate women. But while they are living with Priyanka they aren’t able to date/have sex with anyone. And so it ends up being the three of them in enforced intimacy. For their cover, John and Abhishek have to hold hands, hug, all this stuff. And because they have a shared secret, within the household of three it is still John and Abhishek who are slightly closer. Over the course of the film they work as a team almost all the time (except for the brief period when they are both romancing Priyanka). And so it just feels right that the movie ends with their kiss. And then with them looking into each other’s eyes and flashing back to that kiss.

There is nothing explicit to say that John and Abhishek surprised themselves by falling in love over the course of the film, the explicit meaning is that they remained attracted to Priyanka through out and just came to value friendship over romance. But the un-explicit meaning is so close to the surface you can almost see it’s little head breaking through the top of the water! And I don’t care that they were both attracted to Priyanka and that they slept with loads of women in the past. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t fall in love (romantically and sexually) with each other. And so far as I am concerned, that is the story of Dostana. Romantic rivals who become friends who become lovers. In a happy world of sunshine and bright colors and freedom.

2 thoughts on “NRI Week: Dostana, Friendship is Fun and Fabulous

  1. Loved your review! I especially like how the three of them remain friends at the end!
    One question tho, what do you think of the end with John & Abhishek (or rather Sam and Kunal) dancing to Maa Da Laadla ? And there is that scene right before the music with someone with a long white wig saying “your son is gay”, what did you think of that?

    Like

    • Oh, I think the film definitely wants to be open to the interpretation I suggest, that John and Abhishek fell in love while pretending to be in love.

      Like

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