“Meri Pyaari Bindu”… An interesting premise that merely scratches the surface

Posted on May 14, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

In Akshay Roy’s Meri Pyaari Bindu, Parineeti Chopra plays Bindu Shankaranarayanan, the least convincing Tamilian in the history of Hindi cinema. It isn’t that she cannot speak convincing Tamil. The story is set in Kolkata, so maybe she’s one of those kids who never got a chance to learn the language. But she’s a dubbing artist (she dreams of becoming a singer), and at one point, we see her in a studio, uttering this just-wrong line: “Nee rakshas.” Maybe the director of the film she’s dubbing for is one of those kids who never got a chance to learn the language as well.

But maybe it’s just laziness. For at one point, Bindu says she’s in love with a south Indian Christian named Anil Mathew. What is this mysterious creature, this “south Indian” Christian, as opposed to, say, a Malayali Christian (going by the name)? After all, Bindu does seem to have a thing for Mallu men. (The next time we hear about one of her relationships, it’s with someone named Nair.) Why not be specific, do a bit of research before committing a character to screen? It just makes things that much more believable.

If I seem to be making much of this minor issue, it’s because Meri Pyaari Bindu isn’t a dumb rom-com that you easily dismiss. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s not exactly a rom-com, and it’s certainly not dumb. The film opens with an homage to Fellini’s Christ-in-the-air image from La Dolce Vita. It’s that… un-dumb. But this Fellini quote is as vague as Bindu’s Tamil-ness. It’s just a thing, a sketchy surface detail. We later see a poster of the film in Abhi’s (Ayushmann Khurrana) room – he’s in love with Bindu – but it doesn’t seem like his thing. It’s more like the director’s thing.

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Meri Pyaari Bindu, in other words, is another of those films where we’re asked to bask in someone else’s nostalgia. Translation: a procession of SD/RD Burman and Bappi Lahiri songs. The more Bollywood distances itself from older Hindi cinema, the more nostalgic it gets for the latter. The Rishi Kapoor romances of the 1970s did not have endless nods to, say, the Dev Anand era, but today’s films positively revel in these references, which range from song remixes to plot points (the Dev Anand segment in Tamasha) to what we have here, songs that link to specific moments. For instance: Do naina ek kahani to depict Bindu’s state of mind after a tragedy.

But this, too, is just a thing, like Abhi’s smoking. He doesn’t even inhale. But it’s a bit of colour for the character. We’re meant to accept it without question. Just like his ending up a pulp-fiction writer, churning out titles like Chudail Ki Choli. How did this Fellini and Sergio Leone-loving man (he also has a giant poster of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) discover his inner Roger Corman? Never mind. It’s just meant to make Abhi more interesting than he is. It’s just a… thing. It’s like Bindu wanting to become a singer. Why? Just because.

Take Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, a film that’s impossible not to think about while watching Meri Pyaari Bindu. Both are named after popular Hindi-film songs of a certain era. Both feature a character who wants to become a singer. Both films insist that the leads are movie-mad. (Abhi’s email handle is muqaddarkasikandar77.) Both stories prowl cautiously around what Abhi calls the LOC between friendship and love.

But when Ranbir Kapoor switches on the Tohfa song and begins to shake his booty, or when Anushka Sharma declares herself a “filmi bachchi,” we believe them. Their madness seems deep-rooted, something in the DNA. Here, when an Aradhana moment is recreated, we get the sense of the writer and director high-fiving in a room about how fun it would be to have Abhi pass by Bindu (who’s in a bus) to the strains of Mere sapnon ki rani. It’s cool. It’s a thing. We are supposed to think Abhi and Bindu are into these songs because the screenplay says so, not because the film convinces us so.

Meri Pyaari Bindu simply plays lip service to this music. There’s a point we think there’s something more, when the Padosan song that gives this film its title is recreated, with some charming, off-the-cuff choreography. But the song isn’t allowed to play out in its entirety. The ultra-plasticky Ye jawaani teri, however, we get in full. This is one of the original songs in the film, and its choreography is in that full-blown shimmy-shake style that plays well in promos and makes people think they’re in for a rocking time.

There’s certainly no rule that an Ae Dil Hai Mushkil-like premise cannot be played at a rom-com pitch – but Meri Pyaari Bindu is more like a sit-com. It keeps trying to shoehorn a serious story into a feather-light style.

This style works for scenes like the one where Bindu’s father (Prakash Belawadi) points to the bicycle she rode as a kid, and Abhi points to a specific dent caused when a lamppost came in the way. We see how Bindu’s father can never hope to know her the way Abhi does.

This style works in the scenes with Abhi’s parents (the terrific Aparajita Auddy, Rajatava Dutta). He realises he cannot stay at home and write (too noisy!), so he checks into a hotel, and then he realises he’d rather be at home, so he returns, dragging his suitcase and mumbling an excuse. His father doesn’t even let him finish. Smiling broadly, he says, “We were also missing you.”

But these are generic moments, generic parent-child situations. They don’t need much detailing. Abhi and Bindu, however, need more specificity – especially Bindu. Parineeti Chopra is wonderful when she confesses she’s confused about marrying Abhi – but elsewhere, she comes across like a generic Bollywood heroine, which is the last thing she was. We are all aware of the pressures that make a perfectly pretty girl feel like an ugly duckling that needs to hit the gym and transform into a swan, but one can only hope that this decision to “conform” does not erase this actor’s endearing individuality.

The core of Meri Pyaari Bindu is about the One That Got Away. The film wants to subvert the great Indian romance, but this remains just a conceit because the director wants to keep everything light and breezy. Major developments like Bindu’s reconciliation with her father are wrapped up in one throwaway scene. What’s needed is therapy. What we get is a band-aid.

The ending is especially odd. I loved the idea. But it’s way too much of a stretch given this film’s tone and the glibness with which it treats its characters. I didn’t even see why Abhi thinks he’s meant to be with Bindu. The film presents her almost exclusively as his creation, seen from his point of view, but this would have worked had he seen a goddess where we see a self-absorbed, demanding woman. But she’s the same through his eyes as well, and it’s hard to fathom the attraction. Abhi is such a puppy dog that he comes off as spineless. But I suppose veering off into his ego issues, for instance, would have made the movie more “serious.”

This isn’t a plea for more drama (or melodrama).  I’m just saying that keeping things light is one thing, and merely scratching the surface is something else entirely. You cannot just present a bunch of bullet points about Abhi and Bindu – smoker, singer, pulp-fiction writer, Bengali, Tamilian. You have to make us buy these points.

It’s left to Ayushmann Khurrana to keep the film going. He may be the most underrated, underutilised comic actor working today. Just watch him sell his proposal to Bindu, quailing at the prospect of rejection, and yet determined to present a blasé face. Just watch him in the dumb charades scene, where he makes horniness the most charming thing on the planet. Abhi’s yearning for Bindu isn’t half as moving as the fact that this actor just can’t catch a break.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi