… is restful slumber.
Okay, I exaggerate. Except, not really.
From the moment I first read about Ajay Devgan’s directorial project, the oh-so-cutesy sounding U Me Aur Hum, I began believing in alien abduction and programming chips because nothing else could explain why someone like Devgan would tackle the syrupy mess that the synopsis promised. There was something about eternal love finding its way and blah blah blah and let’s face it, if I have to sit through roughly three hours of eternal love, Devgan wouldn’t be my first choice for company. Sorry cupcake, but Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was the exception that proved the rule.
But, guess what? U Me Aur Hum isn’t a giant glass of sugar syrup – it’s a giant glass of sugar syrup hiding a bitter little pill. I guess that’s something?
Meet Ajay (Devgan). He’s what passes for charming in an (mercifully) outdated Bollywood context: he talks in an affected drawl that signals his overwhelming charm (?), smirks at everything in sight, hangs out with a ship’s band (you know, the way people do), reads people’s personal journals, doesn’t understand that the best way to get underpaid waitstaff to do your bidding is to offer them a little extra money (unless they have serious psychiatric problems in which case I guess the free therapy would come in useful but wow, do you want to be on a cruise with someone who has serious psychiatric problems?) and hits on his waitress. In other words, I can’t stand him on sight.
Meet Piya (Kajol). She’s… well, she’s Kajol. Smart, sassy, with a bit of a mouth on her. She’s a romantic dreamer of the conventional “declare your love for me at the Eiffel Tower as if Tom Cruise hasn’t ruined it for all humanity, darling” type but I’ll cut her some slack coz she’s Kajol. The art of makeup is a closed book to her (memo to Kajol: the 90s are over), she has the supreme bad judgment to sign on as part of the staff on what appears to be the All Skank Cruise (stripper poles? stripper poles?!) and has a spotty memory which can’t be good news for her future tip-earning potential.
Ajay and Piya go on to have a tiresome shipboard romance that is low on romantic tension and high on Ajay’s annoying drawl and then other things happen and such and just when you think the happy ending will refreshingly come at the interval point, she gets lost in the rain.
Say hello to bitter pill: Piya has early onset Alzheimer’s. Like, freakishly early coz she’s supposed to be only 28 which means she just broke a record of sorts but she’s Kajol and Kajol would totally break a record in anything and yes, she does too look 28 and anyone who says different is a lying liarmouth nyah-nyah-nyah so we’ll let that pass. Hmph.
Anyway, Ajay, Piya, their little baby and her disease go on to have some horrible adventures and some lovely times together but bit by bit, Piya begins to fade: from their life together, from her relationships and from her very eyes.
And there finally comes a point where she has forgotten what is happening to her mind and her family, and now Ajay must make the decision that so many families must: should he leave her to her dementia or fight it every day by himself?
This is the point at which you look at yourself in the mirror and ask: “So am I a cold hearted, unfeeling bitch that was really that unaffected by a family’s tragedy or was that movie just crap?”
While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that I am, in fact, a cold hearted, unfeeling bitch, I have to say that I think in this instance, the movie was crap.
For one thing, Kajol and Devgan continue to exhibit a complete lack of chemistry save at points of extreme stress. I’m completely mystified as to why this should be: the two of them can certainly act and are no strangers to portraying romance or sexual tension on film. But put the two of them together and it’s immediate romantic kryptonite. I’ve heard people hold to it with all their might that this is all rubbish and everytime Kajol looks at Devgan, violins break out in heaven – which might be true in real life but I’ve yet to see a movie of theirs where this is true. And I’ve seen one too many of their movies, mind you.
In this instance, the blame partly rests on Devgan’s direction. It’s like he’s impatient with the wooing part of the relationship coz the two of them are made for each other so why waste time on it when something formulaic would work just as well before he gets to the good stuff?
Thus, first half becomes engaging everytime he shifts his attention to something other than his lead pair – be it Divya Dutta, his AB-wannabe memories or this randomly inserted creepy fat kid who’s hilarious. He might even have a flair for comedy if he decides to go that route next time. He even manages to make Isha Sharvani do something that resembles acting before her sheer inability to do anything other than dance and look pretty weigh her down. When you can’t even portray a ditz properly is when you know this acting gig isn’t for you.
But the romance? Has absolutely no conviction. Take, for example, Jee Le, the salsa number. It should have been all about sex and seduction – instead, it’s two people having a bit of a laugh, watching other people seduce each other. For Pete’s sake! It’s a fucking salsa! How about a little action on the dance floor, bozo?
Then, later on in the movie, he makes an interesting choice to shoot what the world looks like from Piya’s POV: it resembles the way your run-of-the-mill medical dramas shoot emergency traumas complete with distorted frames, silent panic, temporary deafness et al. It’s a bit jarring coming from a man who turned Piya’s escalating dementia into such a terrifying experience through a simple series of shots involving a wall, a couple of insects, a baby in his bathwater, and horrid blanking of the wonderfully expressive face of Kajol.
More troubling than his artistic choices is the broad sweep of his writers’ pen when it comes to mental illness and its care. While I give him major points for not treating Piya the way Bollywood has treated its mentally ill characters in the past (autism can be cured through marriage! psychosis can be beaten out of you! depression loves alcohol! sociopaths rape their way to betterment! etc), the three example he puts in front of the audience wouldn’t be treated the same by any psychiatrist with half a brain.
The woman who puts his former holier-than-thou self to shame is married to a schizophrenic – which is light years removed from Alzheimer’s, early onset or no. And the third person, to whom Ajay now repeats his hard learned mantra of “Hie thee to a mental asylum”, is the grown son of some man who presumably has some kind of age related dementia – but again, that’s a very different situation from that of Piya, who is a young mother with a rare illness for which there is no cure.
But in the last twenty minutes, Devgan redeems himself (to an extent) as a director with a scene in a restaurant where he talks about the innate selfishness of living. It had a ring of sincerity to it that the rest of the movie only strives to attain.
If only I’d cared about any of them by that point. Oh wait, I did care – whatever do you think happens to Divya Dutta and Sachin Khedekar?