“Born wild. Born to fly.” announces the poster with two pretty people in workout gear. No, it’s not an ad for underwear or deodorant. It’s the new YRF movie Lafangey Parindey.
Pradeep Sarkar is evidently working his way through time. First came the 1960s in Parineeta, his feature-length debut as a director. Next came Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, a movie set in the present with a heart that beat out a 1970s-style social message about… female empowerment, I think, is what they were shooting for. And now we have Lafangey Parindey, a modern day fairytale that feels weirdly 1980s.
In a Mumbai chawl is a little boy who worships the brawler he calls his older brother. The brawler’s name is Nandu (Neil Nitin Mukesh) and he fights illegal “boxing” matches for the local kingpin Usman (Piyush Mishra). Having opened the movie with his face making sweet, painful, bloody love to another man’s fist, Nandu staves off brain damage long enough to half-heartedly hint to the little guy that he might do better.
Continuing the circle of life in the chawl, Nandu and his bleeding nose want to be like Anna (K K Menon – growf!), the kingpin’s left hand man whom he worships as a role model. Anna, in his turn, advises Nandu to stick to the straight and narrow – advice Nandu disregards to his cost, and that of Pinky’s.
“What am I doing here with these people?” Pinky (Deepika Padukone) wonders in the actress’ stilted Mumbai patois, wind in her hair and dreams in her eyes. Pinky has ambition and a talent for roller skating, both of which are going to take her far away from the hopeless hole into which she was born. Her destiny, she says, was written in English – so she can’t really understand all of it but she knows it’s gonna to be something else.
Unfortunately for Pinky and her grand plans, she meets the consequences of Nandu’s hero worship head on – and apparently her destiny in English read “Thwarted Ambition.” The silver lining is that the newly sightless Pinky is every bit a brawler like the guilt-stricken Nandu, coincidentally a man whose talent is for knock-down, dirty, bare-knuckle fights… while blindfolded. Artistic bruising optional.
Lafangey Parindey is the kind of story that chugs along by itself. You know the moves to this dance: grubby boy hurts princess girl, boy fixes girl, girl fixes boy right back.
Somewhere in the background is a real movie about petty crime and stunted ambition – the ancient waiter of the local teahouse drops a hint when pretty girls are on the horizon; the self-righteous Pinky who rails against the neighborhood trying to drag her down doesn’t think twice about mocking the scholarly ambitions of her kid sister; the police can’t be bothered to differentiate between one poor Muslim boy and another; Nandu’s decision to get a steady job instead of getting his skull bashed in gets incredulous stares from his friends. Nandu’s illegal fights earn him (and by reflection, them) respect, after all, a currency more valuable than mere money just as his partnership with Pinky is making national headlines. “It’s great!” one of them enthuses. “You can dance and you can fight!”
Throttled by the leads’ unrelenting prettiness, however, the movie soon settles down into a never-ending courtship daze. It’s true that the two of them try. In his short career, NNM has thus far displayed a genius for choosing roles that allow him to play a tense, jittery, one-wrong-look-and-I-bolt kid floating out of his depth and he seems to be settling deeper and doing better with it every time. Deepika’s gratingly awkward delivery of patois and the saccharine ending aside, there is a scene in which she quietly tears up as her goal comes within sight – and it’s really nice work. If only there were more moments of “try” rather than “trying”.
To Sarkar’s credit, he takes every opportunity to make sure the two of them are seen rather than heard. But there’s only so far that the power of pretty can take you. “One, two, three!” says Nandu, and abracadabra! Pinky gets the jedi powers necessary to navigate Mumbai’s slums on her own. “One, two, three!” says Pinky in her turn and Nandu transforms into a master skater, momentary stage fright notwithstanding, beating out Pinky’s former partner, the guy who put in so many years of practice, he was actually working with her at a skating rink.
But these aren’t things you really focus on – not if you want to get to the amazing climax when Shiamak Davar, Juhi Chawla and Javed Jaffrey show up as judges on India’s Got Talent and proceed to turn into giant oinking pieces of freshest ham. It is utterly fabulous! Totally worth my money.
Lafangey Parindey isn’t what I’d call a worthy follow-up to the charms of Parineeta, but at least Sarkar isn’t swinging for your head with the hammer of preachiness like last time. Props for that.