The battle of the sexes makes for a winning romantic comedy that’s surprisingly real.
SEPT. 11, 2005 – ONCE UPON A TIME, movie stars were fairy-tale people, gods and goddesses – and one of the reasons we knew this was because they never had bodily functions; burps and farts and trips to the loo were for mere mortals like us. (Can you imagine a plot point where, say, Dev Anand was caught belching or Madhubala had the runs?) Today, though, our heroes and heroines are – for better or worse – right out of real life. Salman Khan broke wind in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Vivek Oberoi nearly missed a train in Kyun! Ho Gaya Na thanks to a bowel movement. Tanushree Dutta, in Aashiq Banaya Aapne, declared, “I need to take a leak.” Manisha Koirala, in Abhay, did take that leak – with the bathroom door ajar, no less. And in Salaam Namaste, we see how Nick (a terrific Saif Ali Khan) builds pressure every morning – he drinks milk while on the pot, and he gets a big laugh out of the audience.
Topics that were once taboo are totally acceptable today; they are on T-shirts and stickers – the one outside Nick’s bedroom reads “No Fart Zone” – and Salaam Namaste, perhaps recognising this, makes no fuss about addressing another once-taboo topic (at least for Bollywood): live-in relationships. Nick falls for Ambar (Preity Zinta, a bit screechy but very good, and very gorgeous, otherwise), and they decide – very practically – that merely being in love isn’t enough; they’d find out if they’re really made for each other if they moved in together. What follows is a sunny-yet-serious examination of the man-woman relationship, in the mould of Saathiya, Hum Tum, Chalte Chalte, Nine Months and When Harry Met Sally (with the radio-station call-in angle from Sleepless in Seattle thrown in for good measure).
Salaam Namaste, being a romantic comedy (set in Australia), shares a lot with these other movies. There’s the expected clowning (courtesy Arshad Warsi and especially Javed Jaffrey, as a Bihari-gone-Crocodile-Dundee), the inevitable red herring (ooh, is there another guy in Ambar’s life?), some all-too-convenient plotting (Nick’s naughty-to-nice transition is rather sudden and unconvincing) and some utterly shameless manipulation. (When Nick and Ambar, squabbling about whether or not to have a baby, enter the toy-filled nursery in a friend’s house, a tinkly version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star plays in the background. This isn’t the kind of scene that merely induces a lump in your throat; it’s the kind of scene that jumps off the screen, lands by your seat, asks you to say “aah”, shoves a lump down your throat, and then hands you a handkerchief.)
But director Siddharth Raj Anand does here what Nikhil Advani did with Kal Ho Naa Ho. He makes formula seem fresh again, with rhythms that are ever-so-slightly different. The characters’ back stories aren’t explained through subplots or flashbacks; they’re dispensed with in zippy montages. It isn’t a sentimental number that showcases the couple’s reunion after a rift; it’s the wackily choreographed What’s goin’ on. (Vishal-Shekhar’s hip score is perfectly in sync with the hip mood of the movie.) The climax isn’t a mushy sequence; it’s some sustained slapstick. (This is a romantic comedy, after all.) The expected heartbreak doesn’t happen dramatically at interval point (which is so muted, it could be something of a first); it occurs a little into the second half. It isn’t the guy who’s the slob; it’s Ambar. It isn’t just sobs and a sad song when she realises they want different things in life; she reasons that she made some choices that hurt her parents, so maybe it’s just karma that his choices are now hurting her.
Salaam Namaste is so entertaining because it keeps throwing you these loops – just as you’ve figured where a scene is going, it takes a sharp left and goes elsewhere – and the biggest loop it throws you is in how real it feels. (Well, it’s not exactly your life or my life, but if we looked like Saif or Preity, and if we lived in a fabulous, sea-facing house in Melbourne, it just could be your life or mine.) Just watch the commitment-phobic Nick prance about in his Superman boxers, or relax with a beer in front of his big-screen TV – and you’ll see why boys want to always remain boys; why they never want to get married. But watch him left alone with a drink when his buddy has to hurry back to his wife – and you’ll see why they do.
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