If you are going to watch Ashutosh Gowariker’s new film, What’s Your Raashee?, this weekend, be cautioned. No amount of buttery popcorn will protect you from the dull, tedious farce that it is.
A few days ago, when I met the director for an interview he told me he decides what length his movies will be the moment he chooses his stories—long before he has a bound script ready. It’s an intuitive thing, he said. Specifically about What’s Your Raashee? he said, “There’s too much material here, it’s a film with a big canvas and it can’t be told in two hours.”
He’s not the only Indian director unable to part with material on the editing table. What are Hindi movies, after all, if not long, rambling sweet nothings? Mughal-e-Azam was about 3 hours long; Sholay, 3 hours, 20 minutes; Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, 3 hours, 9 minutes; Lagaan, 3 hours, 44 minutes.
The Westerners will never get it. We love long movies—their inconsequential fantasy songs set in exotic islands and deserts, comic interludes between the hero’s grandmother and the astrologer or the don’s sidekick and the heroine’s girlfriend, thrust in for no apparent reason. It’s all part of the big, brazen Hindi film megacosm. Our film-makers have made long movies ever since we became a movie-making nation, and we have watched them, loved them, and made so many of them big hits at the box office.
Why our producers and directors ought to be laconic, say more in less, show not tell, is an argument in itself that I can’t dwell on here. But a long movie isn’t necessarily a bad movie, just as a 3000-word magazine article or a 600-page book isn’t insufferable just because of their length. The precision canon is overrated.
So I am not growling at Gowariker for making a movie that runs for 3 hours and 30 minutes. My grouse is against what the film contains in that three-and-a-half hours: some really pointless, unhumorous trifles. Gowariker can’t make good comedy.
At the heart of it is Priyanka Chopra playing 12 characters of different astrological signs. It is a big film for Chopra; after all the two other Indian actors who have attempted this multiple-role feat are Kamal Haasan (Dashavataram, 2008) and Sanjeev Kumar (Naya Din Nayi Raat, 1974). She is adept in some of the roles, but most of the characters are such absurd caricatures that the acting cannot redeem them.
We meet the 12 girls with Yogesh Patel (Harman Baweja), a Chicagoan, who has landed in Mumbai after receiving a text message from his brother saying their father is seriously ill. The family is in a financial mess and Yogesh has to bail them out by getting married in 20 days. His grandfather, who owns an estate, has said that as soon as Yogesh, his favourite grandson, gets married, he is going to will his estate to Yogesh.
So the hunt for the bride begins. We meet Anjali, the Aries girl whose hairstyle is like that of a geisha, who speaks with an accent (“Mon-dates, Toos-dates”), snorts while she laughs and tries to impress the America-returned prospective groom by trying to smoke. Sanjana, the Aquarian, who speaks with a faux-American accent, is the most elegant of them all, but is in love with an African man. Kajal, the Gemini girl, is a bubble-blowing college girl who needs time to connect with Yogesh. Hansa, the Cancer girl, is a teary-eyed virgin who has suffered a heartbreak and is yet to recover from it. Chandrika, the Pisces girl, is a seriously scary psychotic, obsessed with reincarnation. There are eight more of them, all of them Gujarati from various parts of Mumbai—from Bhuleshwar to Vashi. I won’t reveal the characterstics of each because the only little good thing in this film is you want to know, as the hours inch along, who the next girl is and how quirky she is (although there are no real surprises here). But that too is painful towards the end, what with a song picturized on each of them. When, in the end, Yogesh has met them all, his mother urges him to think about all the girls he has met before he takes the big step, and, guess what, there’s another song with all 12 of them in a song-and-dance tableau.
Based on the Gujarati novel Kimball Ravenswood by Madhu Rye, which was adapted by Ketan Mehta for television as Mr Yogi in the 1980s, the screenplay has some shockingly trite dialogues: Yogesh does not want to return to India because “Waha zyaada scope hai”. An outraged Yogesh fumes at his uncle when he sees him swiging a martini, “Aap sharaab pee rahe hai!”. The Saggitarian woman, attempting to explain that she has never had sex: “Woh sab sampurn nahin hua ab tak”.
As the confused man, Yogesh’s character has little warmth and no layers. Having gone through this mad hunt, he is neither a changed man, nor a bitter one, or necessarily a happy one. He is what he was right at the beginning of the film: a man without a mind of his own, a puppet of his family.
The premise of the film, of casting exactly 12 girls according to their astrological signs, is thin. Yogesh reads a book on astrology and is so intrigued, or impressed, it’s not clear, that he thinks he should meet a girl of every sign. The writers take this flimsy premise to dictate what the 12 girls will be. One trait of each sign—picked from Linda Goodman—is magnified, making the characters unconvincing and awkwardly quirky. The sub-plot of a detective following a womanizing marriage broker is flat and entirely unnecessary.
It is solely Priyanka Chopra who carries off this bizarre hodgepodge of a film. She brings in some sort of uniqueness to some of the characters, including some physical traits. But after six of them, she too gets really tiresome.
The only challenging part about filming this story would have been casting 12 different girls. But Gowariker took the easy way out and cast a star—and got UTV to produce this pointless exercise.
What’s Your Raashee? released in theatres today