With Ek Duuje Ke Liye or Vicky Donor, we sense the effort to make something that’s more than just a cross-culture romance, the effort to make a movie. Why not have some fun with the fact that the only Hindi the hero knows comes from the cinema, and thus have a song – in an elevator that’s stuck – made entirely of concatenated Hindi-film names? Or, why not have the hero and heroine take a gentle dig at the stereotyping that surrounds them by calling each other “Fish” and “Butter Chicken”? Abhishek Varman’s 2 States, on the other hand, is content to be a sitcom, and not even a good one at that. Remember how wonderful Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi is when it plays inside your head? And know the feeling when, spurred by this nostalgia, you try to watch an episode on YouTube, and you cringe at the laugh track and the overemphatic performances? Sitting through 2 States is something like that. Worse, in fact. The Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi episodes lasted 20-odd minutes. This goes on for two-and-a-half hours.
That’s two-and-a-half hours of Tamilians eating from banana leaves and learning Carnatic music and rearranging their facial expressions as if trapped in an elevator where someone just let it rip. Two-and-a-half hours of Punjabis being crude and overbearing and suspicious of non-Punjabis, especially those dark-skinned Tamilians who just can’t wait to snare fair Punjabi boys for their daughters. Two-and-a-half hours of the most clichéd song situations – the shaadi song, the we-broke-up-and-I’m-moping song, the falling-in-love song.
The ones falling in love are IIM-A classmates Krish (Arjun Kapoor) and Ananya (Alia Bhatt). He’s Punjabi, but he’s all buttoned-up – in other words, he’s like a Tamilian. And he behaves like a typical tech-savvy Tamilian when he impresses her father by helping him with a PowerPoint presentation. She’s a Tam-Brahm, but she eats chicken and plants a kiss on his lips – in other words, she’s like a Punjabi. And she behaves like a typically brash Punjabi when she impresses his mother by getting aggressive with a groom who threatens to break up with his cousin sister. This is the only interesting thing about the movie. What if this angle had been pursued? What if, instead of just one-off episodes, the characters had been shaped like this consistently, where they aren’t just opposites who are attracted to each other, but also opposites of who we think they’d be?
We never find out, because the contrivances, otherwise, are the most obvious ones. His parents (Ronit Roy, Amrita Singh) don’t want her. Her parents (Shiv Kumar Subramaniam, Revathy) don’t want him. It’s like watching a never-ending game of tennis where the opponents hate each other and are slugging it out on either side of the Vindhyas: 2 states, one love. The rest of the film plays like the latter parts of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge squared, with Krish and Ananya both doing things to make an impression on people who don’t want them. The only difference is that they’re casual about sex, something that would have seemed more subversive had we not seen these scenarios play out between a far less “sophisticated” couple in Shuddh Desi Romance.
This material, based on Chetan Bhagat’s novel 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, might have worked if treated with slapstick energy. Instead, Varman tries to class it up. He wants to transcend the writing, the way Abhishek Kapoor did with Kai Po Che (which was based on Bhagat’s The 3 Mistakes of My Life). And so we’re made to endure a lot of slow staging, with meaningful pauses. It’s hard not to laugh at this silly story being treated as if a matter of grave national importance is being raised for the very first time. Adding to the pomposity is a framing device, with a downcast Krish baring his heart to a psychotherapist. These scenes are the cinematic equivalent of lead. But the lighter scenes are no better. The moment where Krish barges into the room where Ananya is being interviewed and proposes to her should have been crazy-magical. We should be smiling. The more susceptible among us should be wiping away a tear. But what ensues is as bland as bread – okay, a day-old Danish, given that it comes to us from Dharma Productions.
Well, not quite. The scene is somewhat redeemed by Bhatt’s I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening smile. After Highway and 2 States, she’s beginning to look like the real deal. She has a coltish vitality, and she almost compensates for her co-star’s lack of inner life. (With his hangdog expressions and lugubrious line readings, Kapoor comes across as someone who was hit by a tranquiliser dart just as the director yelled “action.”) The other almost interesting performance comes from Ronit Roy, whose character is essentially a genteel variation of the monster he played in Udaan. But he’s let down by the writing. He’s absent through most of the movie, and when he suddenly wakes up and decides to help his son, it’s like witnessing the birth of a brand-new technique to resolve problems in the plot: the dad ex machina. Could this mean that Chetan Bhagat may have been boning up on Greek drama while writing his bestsellers? I feel like I’ve just been hit by a tranquiliser dart.
* song made entirely of concatenated Hindi-film names = see here
* Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi = see here
* learning Carnatic music = see here
* let it rip = see here
* shaadi = wedding
* a PowerPoint presentation = see here
* Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge = see here
* Shuddh Desi Romance = see here
* Kai Po Che = see here
* the monster he played in Udaan = see here
Copyright ©2014 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.