“Behen Hogi Teri”… A small-town romance with a few laughs, and that’s not enough

Posted on June 16, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

Ajay K Pannalal’s Behen Hogi Teri is a riff on that old joke about the school-assembly pledge: All Indians are my brothers and sisters. Say what? Then who is one supposed to marry? Here, it’s the ritual of tying a rakhi and reducing a possible beau to a brother. In an early scene, Gattu (Rajkummar Rao) and his friends are seen racing away from home, to avoid ending up with a “sister”. We get this funny line at the end: “You can get a divorce from marriage, but there’s none from a rakhi sister.” If you have to make yet another love story about the guy next door and a way-out-of-his-league woman (Binny, played by Shruti Haasan), this isn’t such a bad premise to base it on.

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Binny knows Gattu likes her. (He’s literally the guy next door. He lives in the house across the street.) But she also knows he doesn’t have the balls to face up to whatever life’s going to throw at them. Her condition, then, is simply this: Show me you have it in you. Rajkummar Rao nails this small-town man with small-town fears (though he still can’t do a drunken scene convincingly). At first, he can barely bring himself to talk to Binny. When her grandmother dies, he hangs around her, pretending to be of help but secretly delighted to be in the same room with her. It’s mildly creepy and I’m not sure which side of the stalking divide this falls on, but this gutless man doesn’t have too many options.

There are a few laughs from Darshan Jariwala as Gattu’s father, and from the scenes where Gattu ends up at a jagran mandali. (Mata’s songs are sung to the tune of Kala chashma.) The lines are sometimes funny. (“Hum bhi cultured laundey hain,” Gattu declares.) And there’s a great bit where a man who’s slapped bursts into tears because “he’s never been hit before.” But something’s off. Take the scene where Binny screams at Gattu for ruining her life. On paper, it’s a great combination of elements. She pretends to be possessed by Mata’s spirit. He thinks he’s getting a kiss, maybe more. She’s led him to believe that because she wants to accost him and she cannot do it in her room. But these things don’t fuse into a memorable showdown.

There are so many characters – fearsome local big shots (Ranjeet, Gulshan Grover); a Paris-based suitor for Binny; Gattu’s friend (Herry Tangri) whom Binny is supposed to be having an affair with (according to “people”) – that Binny and Gattu come close to feeling extraneous to their own story. This may well be the point, that in these small towns, you have no agency. You are at the mercy of everyone around you. But the complications, after a point, seem contrived. It’s like Tanu Weds Manu, where we had to pretend there’s actually the possibility that Kangana Ranaut would marry the gun-brandishing Jimmy Shergill when the sweet-natured Madhavan was hanging around. When that film was released, the small-town romance seemed fresh. Now it’s beginning to look like formula.

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