Inherent in all simple, moronic romances, the kind that can ease a hangover but not uplift you or break you, is the idea that your partner in everlasting love will find you. Most Hindi romances hinge on this idea—writers and directors often extending this premise to spin incredulous situations and scenes. Sometimes this finding can be absurdly fun, like in Aanand L. Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu.
Boy (Manu, played by R Madhavan) finds girl (Tanu, played by Kangna Ranaut) in the most absurd of situations. She is presented as prospective bride in front of him, covered by a nude-coloured chiffon sari from head to toe, motionless and speechless. The girl plops on the bed she is made to sit on, when prodded to speak. She is either drunk or drugged. But the painted face, dead, and contoured by hair coloured in cheap colour, charms the daylights out of this man. Manu is in love with Tanu this instant. Well, Manu makes pacemakers in London after a double degree in medicine and engineering and as he later tries to explain, he loved the drama of it, her drama.
Tanu Weds Manu
Tanu Weds Manu begins as a loony love story. But it isn’t so loony. Unconfrontational, shy and composed Manu is a perfect foil for rebellious, foul-mouthed and bull-headed Tanu—opposites attract, and their romance has to be consummated. The film began with much promise, and I hoped it would be an easy ride .
Himanshu Sharma, who has written the story, screenplay and dialogues of the film, builds up a crackling first hour. Dialogues are whip smart, differing in tone and flavour with characters. Each major character—including the boisterous and endearing Pappi, a friend and brother to Manu—and the milieu of the film have authenticity, built on minute details. Pappi, brilliantly performed by Deepak Dobriyal, is the story’s comic force. The two families, the Trivedis from Kanpur and Sharmas from Delhi, are archetypal UP-Brahmin households, yet with their unique quirks.
The story has an early twist when the wilful heroine threatens besotted hero to back off. She is in love with a railways contractor, her boyfriend, and this arranged marriage should not take place. The families call it off, with help from the traumatized Pappi, the broker of this engagement, in a hilarious sequence when the two families are on a trek to the Vaishno Devi shrine. The hunt for the bride continues, however, until Manu decides to give up and return to his boring life in London after attending the wedding of his childhood pal Jassi. The location transforms to small-town Punjab, Kapurthala. Bhangra takes centrestage, thankfully not in mustard-field glory. Jassi’s bride is Tanu’s best friend from her college days in Delhi. So much fun beckons.
But the second half is a plunge into cheap melodrama. The acting becomes indifferent and the story turns silly. Pappi, the film’s star, virtually disappears. Most characters becomes caricatures. There’s even a forced Ram-and-Raavan climactic duel—knee-slapping funny, unintentionally of course. A potentially well-crafted, sweet romance turns doltish.
Madhavan is a dependable actor, and there are no noticeable sparks in his lead performance. Besides being a foil to the well-written role of Tanu, he does not have to do a lot. His pitch is even throughout and the ‘good man’ image fits him. Ranaut, whose viability as a star more than an actor has been steadily rising ever since Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, is strikingly mismatched to the role. This has more to do with her unhoned acting skills. Her dialogue delivery has not improved ever since her first film; she appears painfully laboured. There are only a few scenes, in a film that largely centres revolves round her character, when she is bearable. She has a feisty presence on screen, but only in scenes where she does not talk—the worst thing I have ever had to say, sadly, about an actor.
Jimmy Shergill plays the accidental villain in a decent cameo.
Dobriyal, who had shown glimpses of greatness in his first major film, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara, has done many roles ever since—including a lead role in Bela Negi’s Daayen ya Baayen. He understands humour in scenes and comic characterization and is able to portray the role of Pappi with the perfect pitch and timing. Dobriyal’s performance reminded me of roles played by some superb actors such as Raghubir Yadav and Rajpal Yadav. After promising beginnings, these two actors, among many others, were pigeonholed for roles of the bumbling idiot who provides cheap comic relief in a story. It will be a pity if Dobriyal chooses that same safe path.
So there are patches of brilliance in Tanu Weds Manu. It is easy to compare the film to Band Baaja Baarat—both reimagine the song-and-dance Bollywood romance to appeal to audiences slowly getting used to realistic and intelligent cinema. But because of the uncontrolled and muddled second half and a shrill, dilettante lead performance by Ranaut, Tanu Weds Manu falls short of an enjoyable film.
Tanu Weds Manu released in theatres on Friday.
THE OTHER RELEASES OF THE WEEK
Ethal and Joel Coen remake the classic John Wayne Western of 1969 set to contemporary times. It is a quintessential ‘big screen’ delight although not the Coen Brothers’ most outstanding. Mattie, a 13-year-old (Hailee Steinfeld) is on a search for her father’s killer along with a retired American Marshall (Jeff Bridges) and a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon). The American Frontiers are in sprawling and lyrical widescreen view—as are its rogues, idiots and beauties. Like all Coen Brothers movies, True Grit works on multiple levels and demands multiple viewings.
David O. Russell’s The Fighter, based on the story of real-life welterweight champion Micky Ward and his wacko half-brother, erstwhile fighter Dicky Eklund, joins the rank of American boxer films. Mark Wahlberg is in the lead role, who ultimately does not arouse much sympathy or admiration. It is not going to be one of those really memorable boxer films and unless you’re a passionate boxer fan, it is likely not to move you.
True Grit and The Fighter released in theatres on Friday.