Is this retro season? If last week’s Lekar Hum Deewana Dil dragged the old elopement dramas into the modern day, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya updates a certain kind of romantic melodrama that was popular in the 1990s. When a lovelorn youth (Rakesh ‘Humpty’ Sharma, played by Varun Dhawan) is licking his wounds after being kicked out by his girlfriend’s father, we hear, on the soundtrack, Dil deewana bin sajna ke… The tune that’s heard, at the end, when the girl (Kavya, played by Alia Bhatt) propositions the guy is the title track from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and she steals the Shah Rukh Khan character’s lines from that film. But it’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge that’s invoked most repeatedly. Humpty and his friends laugh and cry while watching DDLJ for what must be the hundredth time. Both Humpty and Kavya, while surrendering to their emotions, are very mindful of their parents, their families. (She won’t go trousseau shopping in Ambala, where she’s from, because she doesn’t want to rub her happiness in the face of her divorced elder sister.) And like the Kajol character in DDLJ, she’s spunky (she has the word “pataka” tattooed on her nape), yet resigned to living life according to the dictates of her father (Ashutosh Rana, who, thankfully, doesn’t go all bug-eyed on us). With so many films having tipped a hat to Aditya Chopra’s era-defining romance, you may wonder if we really need another rehash.
But the director, Shashank Khaitan, does something unexpected. He doesn’t subvert DDLJ the way the delightful Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana did. (That film transformed an Udupi restaurant into a mutton-tikka joint – with the emphasis on “joint”.) But he stages similar scenes – the girl waking up after a drunken night thinking that she’s had sex; the railway-station climax – and tweaks them with affection. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya isn’t a cynical rip-off. It’s more the work of a young filmmaker who clearly adores an older filmmaker’s movie, but infuses it with his own new-gen vibe. And that vibe is infectious. In the 1990s, it was all the fad to set the story in a foreign location, but these days, India has become fashionable again – so the love triangle between two NRIs and one desi dude has been reworked into one with two desi dudes and one NRI. And Humpty and Kavya are dudes. Not for them the coyness that infected the DDLJ couple. They kiss. She out-drinks him. And they tumble into bed – rather, the floor of the modest bookstore his father owns. And when it comes to dealing with her recalcitrant father, she doesn’t sob in silence. She gets where he is coming from (it has to do with her sister) and she coaxes him to negotiate a deal. (There’s a Rajshri movie in here somewhere: Dulha Wohi Jo Papa Man Bhaaye.) The father, too, is no Amrish Puri, who silenced his family by thundering at them. He’s more malleable, more reasonable. If his modern daughter displays a conservative side in wanting to keep her family happy, this somewhat conservative man displays a modern side by at least hearing his daughter out.
This, really, is why this lightweight film is so winning. It downplays all potential sources of conflict, and thus transforms a heavy-duty romantic melodrama into a low-key romance. It’s like listening to an opera fashioned into a summery, guitar-backed ballad. When Kavya’s sister asks her – after she’s fallen for Humpty in Delhi; she’s back in Ambala now – if she’s left behind anything there, it appears to be the cue for a sad and “meaningful” look, and a line that tells us that she’s left her heart behind. We get that line alright: “Jo reh gaya so reh gaya. Ab America ki taiyari shuru.” (“It doesn’t matter what I’ve left behind. Now let’s look at what’s ahead.”) But there’s no melodrama in Kavya’s look or in the delivery of this line. Khaitan doesn’t manufacture a Big Scene. He’s content to let it remain a small moment. Later, when Humpty asks Kavya why she loves him, it’s again a potentially dramatic scene muted down. Even the contrivance of teaching a cad a lesson – something that could have been played at a high volume, resulting in slapsticky hijinks – is tossed off casually. Nothing is oversold – not even the interval point, which usually brings the first half to a clanging close. It’s a lovely… small moment.
The story gets going when Kavya comes to Delhi to shop for her wedding lehenga. She wants something designer, and one of the film’s funniest moments occurs at a clothing store where a salesman offers her a good price on a “100 per cent original fake” Manish Malhotra. She figures she isn’t going to have the guy of her choice, so she may as well have the lehenga she wants – and she’s willing to do anything to lay hands on the lakhs it will cost. There’s a mild unprincipled streak in her. She’s not a goody-two-shoes rule-player like the Kajol character. When Humpty asks her if she wants to go to a party, she coolly shoots back, “Behen banake le jaayega ya girlfriend banake?” (“As a sister, or as a girlfriend?”) There’s none of that hand-wringing about her being engaged to another man. But when they pull off a bit of a scam that involves someone’s wedding jewellery, she insists that they return it. She’s not that heartless. These aren’t characters with great depth, but these push-pull traits make them endearing.
The only problems with the first half are the utterly generic songs. There’s one at a disco, there’s another at someone’s wedding – these music videos have begun to blend and blur into one another. The steps, the costumes, the choreography – everything looks the same. And a couple of kinks aren’t ironed out very well. When we first see Humpty – who isn’t the brightest of bulbs – he’s making out with some girl in the men’s loo, and later, he celebrates his birthday with a Jessica Rabbit cake. (He playfully slices out a boob and stuffs it into his father’s face. It’s a nice touch that the latter isn’t one of those long-suffering movie dads, going on about his “duffer” of a son.) How does this flirt fall into such “pure” love with Kavya? I would have liked to know. And the scene where Humpty’s father and friends pool in money to buy Kavya her lehenga doesn’t ring true. But we go along because we’re coasting on the film’s vibe, and because the performances are lovely. These friends (Sahil Vaid, Gaurav Pandey) are allowed space to fill out their templated constructs, and one of them is a riot in a farcical stretch that involves a gay angle.
And then the second-half syndrome strikes. More specifically, the third-wheel syndrome strikes. How many more films are going to try to convince us that someone who’s not the hero actually stands a chance with the heroine? It’s such a foregone conclusion that Humpty will end up with Kavya that the scenes with the new character (Angad, played by Siddharth Shukla; with his broad frame and his equally broad smile, he looks like a toothpaste-ad billboard walking amidst mere mortals) end up a complete waste of time. Even the film seems to realise this – Angad doesn’t even get a closing scene. He just vanishes. And as much as I enjoyed the low-key nature of the proceedings, I wished Khaitan had amped things up towards the end. Humpty’s Big Speech to Kavya’s father just isn’t big enough.
But the leads keep us smiling. They are wonderful together. Their lines aren’t just cute but snappy too – there’s a ping-pong fleetness to the banter. After three films, it’s clear that Dhawan is an excellent light-comedy actor. Just watch him sell the scenes where he spouts doggerel – first in a comic flavour, and then in a romantic mode (that doesn’t get too romantic). The Shammi Kapoor slot has been vacant for too long, and Dhawan has some of that ability to light up the screen without doing much. This isn’t something that can be taught. You either have it or you don’t. And Bhatt continues to remind us that her wan Student of the Year outing was a rookie mistake. When Humpty re-enters her life, in a gurudwara, she doesn’t widen her eyes in shock. She doesn’t gasp. She just registers his presence, looks this way and that to make sure no one’s caught her staring, and then her eyes slowly pool with happy tears. The only problem with her (though this is probably more my problem) is that Lolitaesque air – she looks like a teenager, and you want to look away when her characters enter a sexual zone. Hopefully, she’ll be able to resist roles against our forty-plus superstars.
* Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania = Humpty Sharma’s bride
* Dil deewana bin sajna ke… = see here
* Kuch Kuch Hota Hai = see here
* Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge = see here
* pataka = firecracker
* Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana = see here
* mutton-tikka = see here
* Dulha Wohi Jo Papa Man Bhaaye = a reference to this film
* Manish Malhotra = see here
* lehenga = see here
* Student of the Year = see here
* Lolitaesque air = 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.