Nothing’s going right for the eponymous 14-year-old heroine (Riya Vij) of Sonam Nair’s Gippi. She’s a klutz. She’s not as thin as the girls around her, and her dresses just won’t fit. (“Thoda full full” is how her classmate Ashish sweetly appraises her.) She doesn’t fit in either, which may be why she escapes – through old Hindi film songs – to a more idyllic era. (We always look at the past as kinder than the present. Those were the days… and all that. The film is dedicated to Shammi Kapoor.) The new boy, Kabir (Mrinal Chawla), seems to have teamed up with Shamira (Jayati Modi), the meanest girl in Class IX, to make fun of her. Worse, he becomes her partner in Chemistry lab. And her father (Pankaj Dheer) is getting remarried, to a foreigner. Her mother Pappi (Divya Dutta) is, naturally, devastated, and in addition to her own problems, Gippi finds herself having to comfort the older woman with a sturdy shoulder and a tub of chocolate ice cream.
She could have become a tragic figure, but Nair, thankfully, will have none of it. Gippi is often cruel to the friends who come to her aid, and especially to her younger brother (Arbaz Kadwani), who’s overweight and probably gay. (This being a Karan Johar production, the boy isn’t turned into an object of ridicule.) Gippi is seemingly about the triumph of the underdog – she competes with Shamira for the post of Head Girl – but it’s really just a slice of teen life, where we’re all alternately innocent and insufferable. Gippi is teased about her looks and her social awkwardness, but when the equally gauche Ashish (Aditya Deshpande) expresses interest in her, she brushes him aside for a hunk named Arjun (Taaha Shah), who’s the very embodiment of rebel stereotypes: leather jacket, a stubble, and non-stop smoking. (Ashish’s face falls when he learns that Gippi has a boyfriend, but he composes himself and sends her a congratulatory note. It’s one of the film’s loveliest scenes.) “Main apni age se kaafi mature hoon,” she tells Arjun, but she really isn’t. Like all teens, she just thinks she is.
Like Mere Dad ki Maruti – and this week’s other release Go Goa Gone – Gippi follows a tried-and-tested Hollywood template, and it doesn’t try to do too much. Its triumphs are minor (though not insignificant). The Punjabi-ness of the characters isn’t shoved down our throats through boisterous clichés, but established quietly, through a character’s attire or a last name, and they lead convincingly low-key middle-class lives. When Gippi goes shopping for a dress, the store isn’t a repository of designer wear but an unremarkable hole in the wall. The film doesn’t make a big deal about physical changes – a conversation about breasts getting bigger is treated as casually as one about zits. And the characters gradually reveal surprising layers. We are shown why Gippi’s father is marrying that foreigner – it isn’t just the kids who aren’t happy with what they have and aspire for (what they think are) better things, but grown-ups too. And when we see what’s behind Shamira’s mean-girl façade, our sympathies lie with her, not Gippi, who has to realise that things have to be earned.
The strong charcterisations – along with the strong performances (the kids are all terrific) – help tide Gippi over the predictable course of events. We’re not surprised when Pappi slaps Gippi for being mean to her brother, but the scene that follows is staged gently, without yelling and tantrums, and with the gentlest of reproaches. The mother-daughter bond is established beautifully, and they frequently switch places, one providing comfort when the other needs it, always with chocolate – if not ice cream, then cake. (And like Gippi, Pappi must learn to feel comfortable in her skin.) The film’s most delightful subplot involves Ashish and Aanchal (Doorva Tripathi), Gippi’s best friend, who are most practical-minded when it comes to picking up the pieces and moving on. There’s a moral in these actions, but modestly scaled films like Gippi exist not so much to shape life as reflect it. And sometimes, in these reflections, we catch glimpses of our former selves.
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