JUNE 3, 2004 – YOU WALK INTO THE THEATRE wondering just how bad Hum Tum will be, because: (1) Every other love story in every other Hindi film traverses a similar arc –- from can’t-get-along-with-each-other to can’t-live-without-each-other. (2) The last time Yash Chopra’s production house got together with director Kunal Kohli, we got Mujhse Dosti Karoge. (3) Jatin-Lalit’s music proves, yet again, that they’ve never met a previous tune of theirs they will not recycle.
You walk out, thanks to Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukerji, surprised at just how good it is. They play -– no, they embody Karan and Rhea, as mismatched a couple as a mismatched couple can be. In nursery rhyme terms, he’s made of frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails –- his idea of chit-chat is asking a woman if she’s done the “ding-dong,” “shaadi se pehle” –- while she’s sugar and spice and all that’s nice. In movie terms, he’s all Dil Chahta Hai western hipness, she’s all Chalte Chalte Indian wholesomeness. Together, they make this When Harry Met Sally-type story work much better than it has any right to.
Karan meets Rhea on a flight to New York. He tries to impress her with cool talk like, “modern girls are… modern.” She’s not impressed. He kisses her. She slaps him. They part. They meet again when she’s all set to marry Mystery Guest Star. They part again.
Soon, the entire first half has gone by without their ever being transported to a beachside/mountaintop/desert filled with two-dozen dancing extras. Even so –- and despite the engaging Saif-Rani chemistry -– there’s definitely a feeling of then-what. Yes, they keep running into each other, they keep trading entertaining barbs, but then what?
Then, what happens is the charming second half, with its near-perfect mix of sentiment and smiles, taking you from how-could-these-two-end-up-together to how-come-these-two-didn’t-get-together-earlier.
You root for them because he doesn’t say, “Main tumse pyaar karta hoon,” and she doesn’t exclaim, “I hate you Karan, I hate you, I hate you,” even when there’s ample opportunity for both love and hate. You root for them even more because they don’t drown in sentiment even during a mock arranged-marriage conversation, a set-up ripe for drowning in sentiment if there ever was one. You root for them most of all because they –- courtesy Kunal Kohli’s writing –- spare you the Sobbing Airport Reunion Climax even when the climax features a sobbing Rhea and an airport.
Hum Tum has one inspired idea – Karan is the creator of a comic strip (named ‘Hum Tum’), and its boy-girl doodles appear as animated counterpoints to Karan and Rhea – and several inspired bits of casting. Jimmy Shergill shines in yet another supporting role and Kirron Kher works wonders with the mandatory loud-Punjabi character, making her a source of fun and feeling all at once. Best of all is Rishi Kapoor, who brings with him a flood of movie memories as he makes an entry crooning main shayar to nahin – a bouquet of red roses to whoever cast this yesteryear lover boy as the father of the lover boy played here by Saif.
Not everything works at the same level. Some psychological analysis linking the playboy father and the playboy son is simplistic and needlessly sentimental -– but then Hum Tum isn’t meant to be got into very deeply. It’s simply good fluff, and a great example of how the right boy and the right girl can make you care about even the oldest boy-girl love story.
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