Saturday, July 12, 2014

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania

Charmed. CHARMED.

It's rare that any film trying so hard to reference DDLJ and its twenty-year-old arm-flinging ilk actually succeeds as a romance that is both timeless and contemporary. What I love about Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania is that almost every aspect of it is collaborating in making a story that uses both its brain and its heart. Humpty denies that he has those virtues himself; he's all heart and no brains, he says, but we know that's not really true. And that's another great feature of the film: the characters may reference types and styles we've seen a zillion times but they are more complex than any collection of cardboard jokes. Feisty heroine from overprotective family; doofy hero with in-college swagger but a very everyday adult life ahead of him; stern patriarch, thuggish brother,* sympathetic mother. For all its DDLJ-ness, Humpty actually doesn't have an embrace in a mustard field, thank merciful Helen and all her seraphim. Writer-director Shashank Khaitan knows we've seen that before and don't need to see it again. 

Instead, he goes beyond what's familiar and tweaks these types, arcs, and expectations and lets them bump up against each other. The romantic lead is not always in synch with each other, probably because they're individuals and not just an instantly-formed couple. One of them is schmoopy while the other is distracted or scared; one of them wants big declarations but the other isn't comfortable in that particular moment. The bug-eyed father himself isn't perfect, he's willing to show that to his adversary and to his wife and mother, and they're willing to argue with him. The heroine is no goody-goody but she also very much cares about the people close to her, taking risks for them, and learns how to work the systems available to her. The hero only once and very briefly pretends to be someone he's not, and he immediately suffers for it and changes gears back to his open, unpretentious self. The fact that Humpty cries in romantic movies and in reaction to his own emotions is played neither for laughs nor as a ploy to snare girls. It's just who he is, and the film is confident enough in the characters and reality it creates to just let him be himself without motive or commentary. 

That last bit is so important: it's a very nonjudgmental film. At times this frustrates me: I wanted the heroine's brother to get comeuppance and her father to crumble under some kind of progressive smackdown, but they don't. But because this is a layered story, there is also change and growth. Characters have a lot more conversations than speeches, even in moments of drama and big stakes. They're also allowed to be naive and stupid without being diminished—or to critique other people for being so while still loving them and accepting them back into the fold. There's an honesty to the characters in this film that makes them dimensional and engaging. 

As for the players: if you'd told me after I watched Student of the Year that either Alia Bhatt or Varun Dhawan could do so well in such demanding roles, I wouldn't have believed you for a second. But here they are, vulnerable, sweet, interesting, and evoking the pros and cons of their self-confident early-twenties-something characters. Everyone else is also more than the one-note sort of performances (and roles too, to be fair) that side characters tend to get. Heroine's sister and hero's friends never fade out and parents have more to them than flatly blind protection/support. I do want more of a story for Humpty's dad—why does he let his son be such a yahoo? where is Humpty's mom?—but even he has more wisdom than you might assume based on his screen time. Other specific contributions worth mentioning are the makeup crew's passages of unrelenting smoky eyeshadow and baby pink lipstick for Kavya (I don't like this but it is noteworthy) and the many excellent schemes by the wardrobe department. I'm at Bunty aur Babli levels of covetousness for Kavya's and her sister's trousers...though demerits for most of what happens in "Saturday Saturday," which fortunately only plays under the final credits and thus does not too terribly poison the well of the very likable hero with its dudebro extraordinaire avatar for Varun or of the perfectly balanced maturity levels of Kavya with baby-faced Alia gyrating unconvincingly in a cage. This song makes no sense with anything that has happened before it (why is there a tank and a giant bat in lights on the wall?) and I almost wish I'd left the cinema instead of watching it on the big screen.

But those are such tiny quibbles. I'm delighted by Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and can't wait to talk about it more. It's been a long time, maybe since Band Baaja Baaraat, that I have felt so convinced of what a new, standard-ingredient romance was trying to depict. This is the kind of magic that can happen when characters are allowed to be actual people and given freedom to be interesting, to conflict, to work, to learn. On top of all of that, I get the feeling that the film is saying something about how families in certain segments of India handle the choices available to children, especially in the face of taking a chance on some freedoms that didn't work out well. Are the men in Kavya's family, and therefore the filmmaker who chose to create and include them, more regressive than in Geet's in Jab We Met? What does it mean to protect your children? Is control even possible (let alone desirable or useful)? Where do smiles and laughter fit in? Just as Kavya learns about her wedding clothes, sometimes in life the meticulously designed, blinged-out option really isn't what you need or love.

Update to post (August 2, 2014): This piece by Trisha Gupta wondering why Kavya does so very little (if anything) to get her groom is a very good question indeed. Why is this film all about the boy trying to convince the father, other than the DDLJ factor—and why is that still a choice a writer would make, two decades on?

* Early in the second half of the film, I got Love Sex aur Dhokha-type chills from these two. Eek! 

4 comments:

Kanan said...

I too loved the movie and so happy I went to watch it despite it only getting 6/10 stars (that was before I went to watch it). It's absolutely engaging story and the dialogues were so so so very entertaining. I can't wait to watch the movie again.

Halina Kaur Hayre said...

I loved it too. I thought the second half was way better than the first though.

www.halinaxx.blogspot.com

I reviewed it too

bogeyno2 said...

Love this write up, totally spot on. You are so right in how the phillum gives the characters breathing space!

The clothes and make up seem to have a narrative of their own which Saturday Saturday destroys (though I did like the gold canopies attached to Alia as she pouts at the camera - note to self, must recreate).

Yes, i would have liked the brother to get smacked down but I liked how the sister's arc was resolved in that song where the father showed his love - Babuji from DDLJ would never do that!

HilaryMI said...

Really lovely review, Beth. You caught all the things that I noticed and was going to comment on.

I was caught completely off-guard by Humpty's DDLJ reenactment, and found myself struggling with my disappointment right up until Kavya's reaction. I really enjoyed the way the movie kept surprising me.

I also loved how important the secondary characters were, and how they kept being woven back into the story. The exam grader uncle's return was just a great touch all around -- both for the humor and for the objective observation.