I watched it! Because I love you all! And because I had a kind of sick curiosity for it. And because I knew there was a Chicago song.
This is the limp white noodles of a movie. It doesn’t taste bad, it doesn’t taste good, and it isn’t very filling. I just wish there was something, anything, interesting about it. Or memorable. I just finished watching it and for the life of me I can’t remember a single song, or much of the plot. Or a character or a storyline. Now, that’s not true, I can remember the beginning of several characters, but then they got dropped because they were too interesting and we went back to the limp noodle people.
Speaking of limp noodles, how about Harman Baweja? He has that distinctive screen presence which says “producer’s son”. Harman and Jackky Bhagnani and Uday Chopra should all hang out together and leave the rest of us alone. No, scratch that, Uday is too good for them. You know how parents will show you photos of their kids and you think “well, that’s a boring photo” but smile and nod along as though you are interested? Watching a movie starring the producer’s son feels like 3 hours of someone who has parental blindness forcing you to watch what they think is an incredibly unique and talented person, while all you see is some average guy fumbling through a film.
Priyanka tends to get most of the praise for this film, and it is a showy kind of part, playing 12 different roles. But she honestly isn’t that good. Although at the same time, she is appropriate for the film. It’s a very superficial film and she gives a very superficial performance. But, like, she’s working! She’s trying to entertain bouncing around and putting some effort into it, instead of just behaving like she is God’s gift to the world and all she needs to do is sit back and let people adore her. Since she and Harman are basically the whole cast, Priyanka looks extra extra good by comparison.
Actually, Priyanka looks extra extra good compared to the whole movie. Ashutosh is a brilliant filmmaker but not a brilliant director. That is, he tends to have very simple setups, a still camera, bright lighting, nothing really spectacular in the visuals at all. But he is a brilliant filmmaker because the stories he is telling, the characters he has, the actors he works with, are so strong that the simple filming is actually a strength. The stories shine, not the visuals, if that makes sense.
But this film is just really really bad. It looks like a TV serial. The costumes are cheap, the lighting is too bright, the sets are bland, and there are those moments of confusion when you can’t figure out who said that line of dialogue, or how people are positioned in space, which tells you the storyboarding is flawed. Plus, the plot is an unmitigated disaster. It’s serialized, there is no plot that ties it all together really. There is a theme that ties it together, or there could be, but that is lost too at the alter of Harman Bawaja.
This is based on a Gujurati language novel which I really want to read called Kimball Ravenswood. Ashutosh picked out the novel and adapted it, and came up with the idea of one actress for all the women. Watching the movie, I can see how the same basic outlines of the plot could be used to tell a really interesting deep story about gender, and NRI versus India, and lots of stuff. But this movie veered away from that depth. Our hero, instead of changing and learning over the course of the film as a stand in for the audience, starts out bland and judgey and better than everyone else, and ends the same way. BOR-ing!
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Not much of a plot here. Our hero Harman is getting his MBA at the University of Chicago. Back home in India, his older brother got caught up in a pyramid scheme and now is threatened with jail time and danger from his creditors. The family learns Harman’s grandfather is planning to settle a lot of money on him at his marriage. They get Harman back to India and explain the situation. Harman agrees to meet 12 women and marry one of them at the wedding date they already set for just 2 weeks out. He meets and likes (in different ways) each woman. And each woman has a chance to explain why she is interested in him and what she wants from a marriage. There is also a complication of his uncle having an affair and a private detective following Harman, and the uncle who is helping him meet woman, all over India. In the end, Harman marries the second woman he met, a cool mature woman who told him she was already in love with her boyfriend and asked her to turn down the proposal. But they meet a few more times by accident, and then she learns her boyfriend is cheating and agrees to marry him.
The best part of the film is the moments when we get to learn why these women are eager for the marriage. We know why he is, because of the need for money to save his brother. But why would the women he meets be willing to marry him in a few days, leave everything they know to go to America with a stranger?
The answer is that marriage in India is the only way a young woman can change her life. And marriage to an NRI means escaping India, which is the greatest desire for most young women. Our hero doesn’t represent himself, he represents freedom and choice and possibility.
A better movie would address that, would make this film a journey of humility for our hero, as he is confronted with the reality that none of these women want him for himself. And the reality that he had no idea, until he was given a chance to speak alone with multiple women during this process, exactly the problems facing Indian women. Really the framing device of first meetings with private conversations should be used to give us brief stories of 12 different women and the problems they face. Our hero should go from looking at the process only in terms of how it benefits him, flying into India and then flying out again without emotionally touching down, to being traumatized by his new awareness of what this process is for the women he is meeting.
But instead of that, each woman gets a cute song and a gimmick, and then no resolution. Our hero looks on blandly and unemotionally as they bare their souls, and then leaves them with useless advice and strolls off to meet the next woman. It’s not a story of these women, not with the way the film minimizes them to accents and wigs and songs, it’s a story of this guy going “boy, women are weird! Welp, now I’m married”. Even the explanation for why they are all played by the same actress supports that, when Harman mentions that the first two women looked the same to him, the answer he gets from a Wise Elder is “that’s because you are looking for your perfect partner in each of them.” So, they are played by the same actress because they all look the same to him, because each woman is an equally good prospective bride to him. These women literally only exist because of how he sees them.
The tragedy is that the women have really interesting stories. The first woman is an awkward strangely dressed and overly made up young seeming woman. She pretends that she drinks and smokes and speaks English. And then confesses that her mother is terribly strict and traditional, and she is desperate to escape their house. Her father wants to help her, he prompted her on how to act in this meeting so she can marry an NRI and get the heck out of India and away from her domineering mother. That’s a fascinating story, that even with her father’s support the only hope is to get all the way out of India. And that she is ready to pretend to be whatever an NRI might want in his wife just to get out.
The second woman is the most boring, cool and confident and friendly and explaining that she has a boyfriend and doesn’t need the arranged marriage. And then we meet a college student who likes Harman, but wants a year long engagement to get to know him before marriage. A village woman who confesses she gave her virginity to her boyfriend and caused a scandal. A young woman who dreams of being a model and wants to move to Chicago for a career. A dancer who wants to stay in India, and a doctor who does as well. An astrologer who rejects him because his planets are wrong. A rich girl who is crazy and spoiled. A businesswoman who wants a pre-nuptial agreement. A 15 year old whose family wants to marry her off young. And a jeweler’s only daughter who claims Harman is her reincarnated lover. After all of that, Harman can’t make up his mind, so let’s his uncle pick for him, and then CAN’T RECOGNIZE THE WOMAN AT THE WEDDING!!!!! Because once she is in bridal gear, they all look the same.
I don’t think the film realized that’s what it was saying, but that is literally what it is saying. All the women looked the same to Harman because he was looking for the woman he loved. When he met them, they had make-up and wigs and clothes and stuff to give them uniqueness. But once a woman is in bridal gear, there is no more uniqueness, they are all dressed the same. And then they all become the same, pre-marriage there are dreams and goals and personalities. After marriage, every woman is simply a bride.