Aditya Chopra’s Shahrukh Khan-starrer Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a towering achievement… in lazy writing.
For his third outing in the director’s chair, Chopra helms a movie positively teeming with interesting possibilities: a marriage of convenience; a bromance between two aging men; an older man’s love for his younger bride, who’s not just his polar opposite but clearly way out of his league; coping with the many shades of love, loneliness and crippling grief; the self-loathing of a man so colorless, his own wife can’t recognize him once he shaves off moustache and puts on a different outfit; the burden of obligation and the importance of kindness; and the little misunderstandings of life that could well turn a dolt into a douchebag.
The movie opens promisingly enough with a couple alighting in front of an old house in Amritsar. The man who owns it is called Surinder Sahni, a small man with a nine-to-five job and little to say to anyone. The lane that runs outside his house and the office in which he works is full of busy, noisy strangers – inside, where he lives, is an echoing emptiness and a quiet loneliness.
Moving in with him is his brand-new wife Taani, a virtual stranger to Surinder and his city, still struggling to find her balance after a recent tragedy left her orphaned and all alone in the world. As Taani sets out the framework for their marriage of convenience, telling him upfront that she doesn’t see herself falling in love with him, Surinder realizes he’s fallen for this young woman – the very first “ladies” he’s ever actually known, he tells her shyly.
The only person Surinder-the-emotional-virgin can share this newfound secret with is his best friend Bobby, a salon-owner who’s much more ‘with it’ (in their minds anyway) than Surinder can ever hope to be. Bobby wears clothes that are a couple of sizes too tight for his tubby frame, he uses an abundance of product on his colored hair, his jeans are skinny, and he walks with his chest puffed out as befits a proper Punjabi ‘macho’ man.
Between the two of them, they hatch a plot to win Taani over by transforming unoffending little Surinder into an ultra-douchebag version of Bobby. Not that that’s what they set out to achieve, mind you. But when Surinder is called upon to justify his pointy-toed snakeskin boots and his neon-blue lycra t-shirt, he apparently decides to emulate those boys he probably saw cutting class when he himself was studiously attending lectures in college – you know, the ones girls would rather cross the road than have to deal with?
Taani is, not unnaturally, less than impressed by Surinder 2.0, hereby dubbed Raj. Raj Kapoor, to be exact. Somehow she manages to keep her hands by her side rather than swiping it across his louche face… and then is taken aback when she catches a glimpse of Surinder’s irrepressible niceness peeping out of Raj’s smug face. She is even more bewildered to find herself responding to this man who just screams “cheap” with his every move – and she ain’t talking money.
You’d think I was giving away the entire plot of the movie, but you’re wrong. You see, halfway through, out of nowhere, we’re told that this is a movie about something entirely different – we’re now watching a love story scripted by God (proof = one coincidence + heroine is a nice person). What follows is either enough to turn you atheist or standard Bollywood fare, depending on how you see it.
Surinder suddenly exhibits a stubborn streak, starts speechifying about how his wife should “love me for who I am on the inside” (even though, Bobby points out sensibly, the only time he ever shows her who he is on the inside is when he’s pretending to be a completely different person. WTF?!) in a manner that reminded me forcefully of the boys from my hometown who used to sneak copies of women’s magazines so they’d have something to talk about with the girls they wanted to impress, while Taani and Raj have zany little conversations about how it’s ok to emotionally cheat on your significant others (Dear Surinder, please read my interviews, XOXO, Jennifer Aniston).
The problem with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is not that it’s regressive or that it’s badly made. It’s a tolerably well-made middle-of-the-road movie that isn’t terribly exciting or particularly coherent towards the end, but is leagues better than 90% of the trash YRF has been putting out for the past couple of years and is a definite improvement on the execrable saccharine-fest that was Mohabbatein. The problem with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is that it shows us a glimpse of the movie it could have been and then stomps all over our fondest hopes.
For Aditya Chopra to have these complex characters at his fingertips, their stories ready to be told in the most commercial manner possible (complete with a bonafide king of the boxoffice, India’s foremost production house, a debutant heroine who can actually speak Hindi without the cringe-inducing self-conscious accent that afflicts most of the younger crop and a supporting actor who’s made his name playing eccentric small-timers) and then choose the least-interesting and most-underwritten story of the lot as his main focus halfway through the movie – well, that’s some kind of genius right there.
We get one little bit of exposition in which we can appreciate Taani’s decision – she took a moment to think it over and came to the conclusion that she couldn’t disrespect the one person who’d shown her nothing but kindness at the lowest point in her life and she’d arrived at a point in her life where being kind to the person who’d shown her kindness was more important than the realization of her callow dreams.
Chopra then takes this adult but unromantic decision, which doesn’t seem to afford her any particular joy, and cleverly cloaks it in some of the mawkish sentiment that rendered Mohabbatein next-to-unwatchable (complete with whispered, throat-clogged declarations of love but thankfully minus a ghost).
But really, all I wanted out of the movies right now was what I got – an old-fashioned Bollywood romance that chugged along till the second half when all the threads were somehow thrown together so things end more or less happily ever after. And you know you’ve got that when Shahrukh Khan wins a dance competition, even if it is in Amritsar.
I’d say I’m perfectly content… but I’d be lying. I keep imagining Taani and Surinder in bed together and I have to say it’s kinda freaking me out. There’s a reason movie stars are pretty – it saves us from the trauma of imagining what our neighbors are upto.
Enjoy the pictures I just put into your mind.