“De De Pyaar De”… Maddeningly inconsistent, but not without its moments

Posted on June 4, 2019

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Spoilers ahead…

In De De Pyaar De, 50-year-old Ajay Devgn plays a 50-year-old named Ashish, a super-successful businessman in London. Rakul Preet Singh plays the exuberant Ayesha, who’s half Ashish’s age. She sleeps over at his house after getting drunk at a party, wakes up the next morning and assumes they had sex. When he assures her they didn’t, this “hot ladki” (not my words; hers) is mildly impressed: “You could do me and you didn’t.” This, apparently, is how today’s kids are. When Ashish begins to fall for Ayesha, his friend tells him this is not an age gap but a generation gap. Ashish’s now-separated wife — Manju (Tabu), who’s in India — reminds him that he won’t be able to “do it” in a few years. In an older era of Hindi cinema, where older men routinely romanced younger women without explanation or reservation, the premise of De De Pyaar De would have been a revelation. The situation isn’t that bad today, but it’s still something to see this issue come up on screen. I don’t think the casting of Tabu is accidental. She was, after all, Ajay Devgn’s heroine in Vijaypath, which came out in 1994. Twenty-five years later, her leading man is with a 25-year-old, unable to say… Ruk Ruk Ruk!

The film — directed by Akiv Ali from a story by Luv Ranjan — is more miss than hit. We spend a lot of time watching the Ashish-Ayesha relationship come to a boil. The flirting on Whatsapp, the screwball banter in a bar, the bit with Ayesha’s cheating ex (who likes to rap!) — very little of this feels indispensable. It’s not the actors, though. Despite a tendency to mug, Rakul comes off way better than in her Telugu and Tamil films, and Ajay isn’t the dour presence he usually is — there’s a spring in his step. (It’s a 50-year-old’s step, sure, but with this actor, we’ll take the spring we get.) It’s the writing that’s meh! Despite the decision to keep things rooted and real, we still get an action sequence, set to Singham music. I thought I heard Ajay Devgn telling Luv Ranjan, “I’m playing my age, man! Give me at least this!”

But the serious stuff keeps us watching. Ashish separated from his wife as they wanted different things. They are not bad people, just ill-matched ones. He admits he is a bad father, but he would have been a worse father had he stayed back in India, in that marriage. Elsewhere, Ashish tells Ayesha that he lives in the present. “What about tomorrow?” she asks.  He replies that there’s a lot of difference between her tomorrows and his. For one, her tomorrows outnumber his. This is the thing about a Luv Ranjan script. Amidst the adolescent hijinks and the general sense of a teenager trying to outdo King Lear, he’ll show you a few moments so incisive and true, they leave you gobsmacked.

But he’s still more interested in the men in his movies. I wanted to know more about Ayesha. Is this just something casual for her? Does she have Daddy issues? Does she have a friend or a sibling that she can talk to about the wisdom of falling for such an older man? But any hope of answers vanishes around interval point, when the narrative tips over into Priyadarshan-style farce — with Ashish and Ayesha coming to India and being forced to deal with Manju, Ashish’s teenage children (the son, of course, begins to salivate around Ayesha), and a bunch of confused relatives. Here, too, the dramatic moments work much better, especially with Tabu around. Look at the utter lack of sanctimony with which she tells her family that they need to stop blaming Ashish. Better yet, look at her comeback when Ashish tells her she needs to support their daughter’s decision to live in with her boyfriend. She says, with a weary smile, “That’s what I do.” What’s unsaid, of course, is: “Unlike you, I don’t do long-distance. I stay with and support these kids every fucking day.”

As De De Pyaar De stumbles towards a maddening (and unworthy) “Which Woman Will Ashish Choose to Be With” contest, you’re left with the sense you have with every Luv Ranjan movie: This could have been so much more. Why do “modern” storytellers still rely on drawn-out songs about separated lovers? And why do they forget about the “modern” day their stories are set in? Do Ashish and Manju not even exchange the odd email about their children? After Ayesha storms out, again, does it have to mean the end of all communication? But I loved the ending, brought about by a superb scene where Manju goes to meet Ayesha. There’s hope yet that Luv Ranjan will grow up to write better stories about the emotion that sounds like his name.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi