Imran Khan made a charming debut in Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, but little did we know then that that was all he could do. (Watching him try to stretch in films like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola and Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobaara!, I’m reminded of what the critic Leonard Maltin said about Patrick Swayze’s performance in Ghost, that he “runs the gamut of expressions from A to B.”) But what he can do turns out to be enough in Punit Malhotra’s Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, where he plays a Tam-Brahm named Sriram. (Like a true-blue South Indian, he doesn’t shave his chest hair.) The crux of any rom-com is how “opposite” the leads are, and Malhotra lands on a fresh and interesting premise. Sriram is a hedonist, and Diya (Kareena Kapoor Khan) is a bleeding-heart social worker. The film doesn’t judge Sriram, neither does it extol Diya. He sands her edges. He realises (as does the film) that she can be a pill to be around, and only someone as laid back as him can manage this.
For a while, Gori Tere Pyaar Mein is innocuous entertainment. In the film’s best scene, Sriram wonders aloud about their future, as they are so different, and this isn’t just a line – it results in harsh exchanges, prickly truths, drastic consequences. Sriram may be a flake, but at least he’s honest about who he is, unlike Diya, who helps others and then retreats to a life of air-conditioned luxury. This wouldn’t be problem if she weren’t so filled with a sense of her own superiority. Stung by his words, Diya heads to a village in Gujarat to do good. (Even here, she finds that her principles aren’t enough; she needs his street smarts too.) He goes after her, and when he lands up in that village, he begins to sing O Mitwa, the song from Lagaan, which is presumably the closest he’s gotten to the non-shining India. And the film falls apart.
Part of the problem is the shift from rom-com to drama, with a villain (Anupam Kher) opposed to developmental work in the village. Suddenly, there’s a little too much real life for a film as silly as this one (and at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it is too much). Malhotra‘s stabs at symbolism are embarrassing. The bridge between Diya and Sriram is represented as a real bridge over troubled waters, a rickety one that needs to be made concrete. And don’t you know… Sriram happens to be an architect, never mind that he hasn’t spent a day putting his learning to practice. We don’t go to rom-coms expecting cold logic, but even as a heart-tugger Gori Tere Pyaar Mein doesn’t quite cut it. But there are two unexpected moments, one where Sriram looks at Diya (who’s older) and notices a strand of white in her hair, and the second during a song sequence, which features fleshy, makeup-free, ordinary-looking extras from the village. In the normal world, this counts for nothing, but in the Karan Johar universe (he’s the producer), it’s practically The Grapes of Wrath.
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