THE BORED AND THE BEAUTIFUL
A rich brat finds love in a coming-of-age story that’s pleasant but tiresomely predictable. Plus, a mind-bogglingly unfunny “comedy.”
OCT 4, 2009 – IT APPEARS, SOMETIMES, THAT FARHAN AKHTAR’S legacy consists solely of the characters and contrivances in his zeitgeist-defining Dil Chahta Hai – the privileged single children harangued by parents about their lack of lakshya, the casually improvised friendships that preclude drama but not depth, the lackadaisical attitudes towards (and the last-minute embrace of) love, the pompous stud who comes between the hero and heroine (and who fools no one), the older woman-neighbour who threatens to evolve into a romantic (or sexual) dalliance, and above all, the fetishistic worship of Mumbai as some sort of oriental Manhattan. Each of these (including the name of Akshaye Khanna’s character) is replicated in Ayan Mukerji’s Wake Up Sid, whose title is surely one the most self-explanatory of all time. (The eponymous slacker, played by Ranbir Kapoor, is asleep; he needs to open his eyes to life and love.)
But there’s one other aspect that’s come to instantly identify Akhtar’s cinema (and which also defines the films of his acolytes) – and that’s the vibe. He didn’t just do away with the generic tropes and props of Hindi cinema – he supplanted them with extraordinarily specific equivalents that were almost anthropological in detail. You simply had to tune your antennae towards the general direction of the screen, and you’d find yourself submerged in the universe the film was set in. And Wake Up Sid is nothing if not a celebration of vibe – from the artfully placed exclamation point in the title-lettering to the tasteful-to-a-fault production design, from the ultra-casual wardrobe of Sid (consisting almost entirely of T-shirts emblazoned with artifacts of American pop culture) to the carefully calibrated Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy soundtrack (which delineates the mood of this film the way the haunting ballads of Nico underline a Wes Anderson movie).
On the surface, therefore, this is as close to a Farhan Akhtar film as another director could make – and that’s a huge problem. Mukerji appears so focused on channelling Akhtar that he forgets to make his own movie. Wake Up Sid is perfectly shot, perfectly put together and perfectly enacted – it’s perfectly enjoyable in a general, generic sense – but it’s also perfectly anonymous. It has all the weight of a television commercial showing sad people transforming into happy people in the course of thirty seconds, which is to say that nothing ever seems to be at stake. (Everything is frustratingly preordained.) When Sid chooses to leave his opulent home – he lives with his parents (the disapproving Anupam Kher and the doting Supriya Pathak) – he instantly moves into Aisha’s (Konkona Sen Sharma) digs. (She’s new to the city, and they’ve just met-cute at a party.) Where’s the struggle in this?
At least, if she’d been a struggler herself – as she was in the unfortunately unsuccessful Luck By Chance – we would have had the drama of two youngsters pulling themselves up by the bootstraps in big, bad Mumbai. But she’s the kind of extremely resourceful person who can afford to redecorate her house before she lands a job (and let’s not forget that the job is that of a personal assistant to the editor of a small-time magazine, which, after living expenses, would barely pay enough for a can of paint). So when Sid moves in, the existential crises are on the level of his learning to fry an egg all by himself. (Do they give out self-improvement medals for this sort of thing?) And when it comes to finding employment, a few clicks with his digital camera are all it takes for him to discover he’s a terrific photographer.
He’s instantly appointed an intern in the same magazine Aisha works at, and he’s soon offered a regular job. I repeat: Where’s the slap-in-the-face, “wake up” struggle in this? Is it any wonder, then, that compared to the supposed travails of Sid, the predicaments of his friends offer more opportunity for empathy? When the amply upholstered Laxmi (a completely endearing Shikha Talsania) accuses Sid of being a self-absorbed jerk because he cannot see that others have problems that are equally important – her ever-ballooning weight, for example – you feel like cheering. And when Rishi (Namit Das), who completes the trio, gets estranged from Sid and when he rues that he misses his friend, you feel for his loss in a way you never feel for Sid. (This is a small moment that could have carried a big emotional charge, but the director inexplicably cuts away to Sid and Aisha fooling around in one of their many lovey-dovey money shots.)
There just aren’t enough small moments in Wake Up Sid, the sort of enchanting writing excursions that elevated similarly predictable rom-coms like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. (There too, we saw the ending as soon as the film began, but did anyone foresee how this end would come about, and how the shiver-inducing airport-climax would be so delightfully subverted?) The predictability factor, here, clouds the cheerful proceedings. It’s only in the occasional romantic stretch that we sense a spark – when Aisha screams at Sid for being such a perfect housemate (the way this scene comes to a close is wonderful; it evokes the casual reference to monsoon in the early stages of their relationship as well as the rain-soaked epiphany that marks the culmination), or when she returns to find her home a mess but her anger melts when she realises he hasn’t had a bite to eat all day.
To make matters worse, we are force-fed the illusion that Kabir, Aisha’s boss, could become serious competition for Sid. The very fact that this character is played by Rahul Khanna, Bollywood’s eternal romantic loser, tips us off that this is just a bluff. But when he essayed a similar role in Love Aaj Kal, he at least had the decency to mess up our expectations by actually getting married to the heroine. (Imtiaz Ali, unlike Ayan Mukerji, doesn’t mind muddying his perfect scenarios with complicated, life-sized emotion.) Here, Khanna plays a jazz lover (the serious kind, whose office has a Kind of Blue poster), who claims that that’s “real music,” not the silly, old Hindi film songs Aisha keeps listening to. Is anyone really surprised when, a little later, Aisha walks home to the comforting sight of Sid with his headphones on, listening to Yeh raat yeh chandni phir kahaan?
There’s one terrific instance of character development, the fact that Sid constantly sees himself through the (often-deprecating) eyes of others. During an examination, he imagines his classmates turning to him and telling exactly what they think of him. Even his relationship with Aisha is defined by the truth that she sees him as a child, like almost everyone else. (His mother walks into his room to fold his shirts; he gets his cheek pinched by family friends at parties.) So when Sid takes to reading Murakami (from Aisha’s bookshelf, naturally), it’s a huge step forward from the comic books that populated his library. But these bits of growing up are tucked away into inconsequential corners of the film, in song montages and the like, so we’re mainly left with the incessantly happy-cheery story of a boy and a girl getting together after a series of extremely minor hiccups. That’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, sure, but how you wish a few dashes of reality had been allowed to temper this unrelentingly feel-good fantasy.
A RICH WIFE (SUSHMITA SEN) SUSPECTS that her husband (Govinda) is doing it with another woman (Lara Dutta). To divert the wife’s attention, the husband (who really is doing it with the other woman) hires an amiable loser (Ritesh Deshmukh) to pretend to be doing it with his mistress. The latter’s angry ex (Sohail Khan), meanwhile, thinks that the loser and his former girlfriend are really doing it, and his suspicions are shared by the detective (Ranvir Shorey, who thinks that by getting the husband out of the picture, he can begin to do it with the wife) hired by the wife to spy on her husband, who himself begins to think that his mistress is doing it with the loser. Somewhere through all this, Manoj Pahwa shows up as the only one who cannot do it – he sits on a porcelain throne and pleads with his constipated bowels, “Aaja!” And you wonder if this visual isn’t the perfect metaphor for the comic ideas in David Dhawan’s Do Knot Disturb, which never quite find satisfying release.
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