Happy Ending, which is directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K., begins with a scene in a cinema hall where a surprise guest star declares her love for Yudi (Saif Ali Khan). A startled Yudi’s response is to spill Coke on his shirt and stuff his face with popcorn, so he doesn’t have to say anything back – but when she insists, he cannot lie. She’s outraged. She accuses him of having no depth, but he’s content to coast in shallow waters. “Jitna dikh raha hai utna hi hai,” he shrugs. And I thought to myself: “Isn’t Saif too old to be playing these roles, and hasn’t he played them a hundred times before?” What was charming in Salaam Namaste has curdled into self-parody – he seems stuck in the same place, the actor’s equivalent of Rishi Kapoor jogging on a giant LP. The Salaam Namaste déjà vu is exacerbated by the presence of Preity Zinta, who’s rather winning as Divya, one of Yudi’s exes, now married and a mother of three. We are reminded of her pregnancy in Salaam Namaste and it looks right that she’s with children now, while he’s still brandishing his bachelor status like a sword against Time.
As it turns out, the film is in on this… joke, if you want to call it that. In fact, Yudi’s friend Montoo (Ranvir Shorey, salvaging a thankless role with a few zingy one-liners) says as much. “Main yahaan baap banne wala hoon aur tum abhi tak break-up patch-up khel rahe ho.” Yudi himself knows he’s not getting any younger. When his alter ego Yogi (also Saif, this time as a slob with a beard and a paunch and some kind of junk food always at hand) reminds him that he is indeed old, Yudi mutters that he is at least young at heart. What we appear to be watching, then, is some kind of meta-comedy about the Saif Ali Khan persona, and the suspicion is confirmed when a film star named Armaan (an underutilised Govinda, who’s fun to watch nevertheless) makes an appearance. The meta-ness is doubled because Armaan is a former single-screen star who now wants to court the multiplex audience (much like Govinda did in last week’s Kill/Dil), while Saif is playing safe again, courting the multiplex audience after a couple of disastrous attempts (Bullett Raja, Humshakals) to cross over to the single screens. And like Saif, Yudi (who’s a writer) is at the crossroads of his career. His last success was a few years ago, and now his fame is on the ebb.
You think this is great terrain to be explored by these directors who aren’t exactly known for playing it safe, but, bafflingly, they choose to make a rom-com. The Armaan angle is sidelined – he wants Yudi to write a movie for him, and he hands him a bunch of DVDs. (I suppose this counts as an indictment of Bollywood… or something.) Instead, we settle on Aanchal Reddy (Ileana D’Cruz; interesting surname that, in a Bollywood movie), who will become Yudi’s latest object of interest. To the directors’ credit, they at least try to fool around with the rules of a rom-com, which is presented not as the main story but as the story within the story that frames the movie. Yudi’s transformation to screenwriter means that the various episodes between Yudi and Aanchal become “scenes” in the screenplay, archly advertised as “Boy Meets Girl,” “Dhinchak Song,” “Airportwala Scene,” and so on.
There’s also an attempt to debunk the opposites-attract cliché that is the very oxygen of rom-coms. Vishakha (Kalki Koechlin, playing yet another of Yudi’s girlfriends) tells him, “Apne aap se bahut pyar karte ho.” (This film has the habit of putting its thesis points into the mouths of its characters.) She’s right, of course, and it only follows that someone this solipsistic would fall for someone exactly like him, which is what Aanchal turns out to be. She’s a writer too. She’s content to coast in shallow waters as well, mocking “true love” and all its accoutrements (though she certainly doesn’t mind making a living by exploiting those who believe in these things; she’s a romance novelist). And she gives Yudi the lines he gave the girls he brushed off, lines like “We can still be friends.”
The rom-com that results, however, is hardly as edgy as all of this suggests. (It might have been, had it ended at the point where Aanchal walks away, after giving Yudi that line about being friends.) Happy Ending is too long, and too content to settle for easy gags, which aren’t even all that funny. (One of them involves the classic hitchhiking scenario, on a Pacific Coast highway. Aanchal takes her shirt off and no one stops. Yudi takes his shirt off and a hillbilly-like man stops. I suppose this counts as “subversion”… or something.) And the film makes it too easy for Yudi to get away from his other relationships. The women around him are either shrews (like Montoo’s wife) or stalkerish nutcases (like Vishakha), and both of them are used to peddle a “joke” about pregnancy being the most horrifying thing that a man can face. Strangely, for a film that revels in its hipness, it’s the traditional rom-com scenes that work best – like the long drive with Hindi songs playing on the radio, or the proposal at the end. Surely directors this smart should know that you can’t mock a genre and embrace it at the same time.
* Main yahaan baap banne wala hoon aur tum abhi tak break-up patch-up khel rahe ho = Here I am, becoming a dad, and you’re still breaking up and patching up…
* Jitna dikh raha hai utna hi hai = What you see is what you get.
* Apne aap se bahut pyar karte ho. = You love yourself a whole lot.
* classic hitchhiking scenario = 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.