Well, this was a perfectly pleasant little love story! Nothing revolutionary, but sometimes you don’t need revolutionary. And Rajkumar Rao finally gets his big dance number!
Back in 1971, Ramesh Sippy made his first movie. An unconventional love story that wasn’t filmed like an unconventional love story. Hema Malini played a widow/unwed mother in the eyes of society. She tries to live her life in her memories, to punish herself for past transgressions, but then Shammi Kapoor shows up as a widower who tries to make her live again. The story of a widow finding love again isn’t necessarily new, but the way Ramesh presented it was, with bright colors and songs and light romance, no big speeches and melodrama, that was new. And now, in 2020, Ramesh Sippy has made what will probably be his last movie. Hema Malini plays an aging divorced woman who has a relationship with a man less than half her age. And again, it’s light! This could be a dark story of age prejudice and gender prejudice and divorce, but instead it’s a nice pleasant comedy.
Angie warned me that Hema isn’t quite up to this role, and she’s right, she isn’t. But it didn’t ruin the movie for me. The story was so good that she just had to do a halfway decent job to make it work. And the rest of the cast was really good! Rakul Preet Singh continues her streak of surprising me with her comic timing, Rajkummar Rao gets the swoony romantic lead part I wanted for him, and everyone else does a generally decent job in a generally decent film.
One thing that is consistent with every Ramesh Sippy film is the value of the script. He helped discover Salim-Javed, and everyone respects a Salim-Javed script, but Ramesh still respects the script even when it isn’t Salim-Javed. He gives the writers time to perfect it, to create a story with no gaps and with the perfect ending. This movie has a good solid script, which is especially remarkable since it is the sort of low budget romance that I have gotten used to enjoying and then being frustrated at how the story feels too short, like they ran out of time and money to say everything they want to say. Not this time! Low budget, short, but the script was crafted to tell a full story in that limited time.
It starts with the script, but the rest of it was good too! There’s one song in particular that is just delightfully imaginative and fun. The sets are bright, the costumes are great, all the actors look good, just the basics of making a decent movie are followed, and they haven’t really changed from 1971 to today.
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Rajkummar Rao is on a family vacation in Shimla when he sees Rakul Preet Singh walking down the street and falls in love at first sight. He decides to stay in Shimla after he finds her again. He lives with his local friend and gets a job helping Rakul get her coffee shop ready to open. Meanwhile, Rakul lives with her mother Hema Malini and is encouraging her to make her peace with the fact that Rakul’s father Kanwaljit Singh left her for a younger woman and is not coming back. Rakul and Rajkummar become closer but Rajkummar is too shy to confess his feelings. He writes an anonymous love not which Rakul throws away, but then decides to copy and send to Hema to convince her that she has a secret admirer. Hema immediately falls in love with the secret admirer. But then sees Rajkummar dropping off a letter and decides it is him. Rakul thinks it is a simple misunderstanding (doesn’t realize Rajkummar wrote the letters to begin with) and begs Rajkummar to pretend just a little bit. They go out to dinner with Kanwaljit Singh and Hema shows off her young boyfriend. But then Rajkummar’s family comes to town, and see him with Hema. He lies/tells the truth that he is in love with Rakul not Hema, Rakul goes along with the lie, his family brings a proposal which Hema thinks is for her, there is a big dance number, and then Rajkummar and Hema talk alone and Hema explains that she has known the truth for a while but went along with the lie in order to help Rakul realize her feelings. Rajkummar leaves town and gives Rakul one last letter which makes her realize he has been in love with her all along. And then mails an invitation to his wedding. Rakul comes to the wedding, believing his family has found Rajkummar a bride. He strings her along until she admits her feelings, and then reveals that the bride his family has found is HER! And Hema came up with this whole plot and is there to give her blessing. Wedding, and then Dharmendra shows up as Rajkummar’s powerful and important diplomat boss who totally has a thing for Hema. HAPPY ENDING.
So, this is a really great script! Everyone has reasonable motives behind their actions and what they do makes total sense within the moment. Rajkummar wants to get to know Rakul better, why not take a temporary job helping her open up her coffee shop? Rakul is worried about her Mom, what’s the harm in copying out some anonymous letter to send to her as a little fun distraction? Hema has spent her whole life being trained to be a good wife of course she will spin out when her husband leaves her and she gets a new romance, and why not go after her secret lover hard once she finds him? And of course Rakul will ask Rajkummar to play along to let Hema down easily, she trusts him and she is worried about Hema, what could go wrong?
The romance is built in lots of nice little moments, Rakul doesn’t even really notice Rajkummar until suddenly he is working all night to fix up her shop. And then they become friends, and he helps her when her shoes break, and she gives him her dumb little pink cardigan to wear, and it is all super cute. Going from that, to Rakul trusting him enough to admit her whole family drama and ask his help, to Rakul suddenly being jealous and not able to admit it, to Rakul finally understanding what she is feeling, all tracks. The same way that Rajkummar going from cutely shy and happy just to be with her, to confident enough to be a friend, to a little bit angry and acting out when she uses him for her mother without seeming to care how he feels, to finally sure of himself also tracks. It’s just a cute story, of a woman with so much going on (her parents’ divorce, trying to get her business going) that she can’t see the guy right in front of her, and the guy who is so shy he isn’t sure how to make her see him.
Hema’s character is the center of the plot and yes, it’s too bad that she isn’t fully on her game. She is supposed to be kind of wacky and overly in denial about her husband leaving her, and then over the top in her embracing of the romantic fantasy of her secret lover (getting a priest in to do a ceremony to bring him to her), and finally confident and sexy and awesome once she understands all that is happening and takes control. She should be someone a little unusual and different and not quite fitting with the rest of the “sane” people in the world, straight through. So we understand why Rakul is left to try a slightly insane solution to her denial, and we find it fun and funny to watch her with Rajkummar instead of slightly. If this had been Hema at her best, or Juhi Chawla, or Kajol, or any number of other great female commedianes of a certain age, this film could have been one of my all time favorites.
The rest of it is so good though! There’s a song where Rajkummar is shot with an arrow of love and then dances through the streets of Shimla surrounded by color coordinated dancers! And there’s a moment when Rajkummar offers to let Rakul step on his hand to save her feet from the dirty street! Really, I can sincerely recommend this film. If you are the kind of person who likes cute romance films with fun songs and Shimla street scenes.