‘Meri Pyaari Bindu’: An ode to mixed tapes, love, Calcutta, and badly written cinema
Oh Bollywood, why do you take a perfectly good concept and idea and then proceed to ruin it in execution? I must admit, I did have relatively high hopes for the latest hatke film to hit theatres—Meri Pyaari Bindu. Firstly, it starred Ayushman Khurana in what was touted as an out of the ordinary romance and who till now has managed to deliver sleeper hits in Vicky Donor and Dum Laga Ke Haisha. Also. Meri Pyaari Bindu is set primarily in my hometown, Calcutta (I and all other true blue Calcuttans, other than Mamata Banerjee, refuse to call it Kolkata) and it’s about a love story played out through a mixed tape.
To give credit where due, thanks to Meri Pyaari Bindu, cassette tapes have taken on less scary proportions than they recently had following suicide teen-drama 13 Reasons Why, where cassette tapes were used as a revenge tool. Meri Pyaari Bindu brings back more innocent days, where romances were marked by the songs they were set to, played on cassette tapes, almost like background music to our naïve love lives. Now we mark our romances by the WhatsApp messages and DMs sent to us. Romance has effectively been killed by the blue double tick.
You always remember the song that played during the school socials, when the boy you secretly fancied but publicly ignored, asked you for a slow dance. I remember the boyfriend who used to have Lobo playing in the background, when we used to chat surreptitiously on the phone till the wee hours of the morning. And the one who introduced me to the wonder of Eartha Kitt. Or the shame of crying to Air Supply or “sometimes when we touch” or Michael Learns To Rock or Roy Orbison’s “I Drove All Night”. Or that Leonard Cohen’s “Did I Ever Love You” has a certain relevance which only you and that significant other will know. Decades later you can remember a romance when a certain song plays on the radio.
Now we have someone called Badshah pretending he’s in Harlem and Nicki Minaj shrieking, “I’m a Monster”. It’s fair to say things are not the same.
The premise of Meri Pyaari Bindu has much to laud and romanticize over. It’s about a couple who start off as friends and move on to falling in love and getting involved and then stop being friends—and the songs that define the journey of their relationship. But what you realise when you watch the film is that sometimes, like many relationships, some films sound far better on paper or in your head than when they’re playing out in real time for you. There’s another aspect of Meri Pyaari Bindu which warmed the cockles of my parochial heart. The film is primarily set in Calcutta and does a fabulous job of getting the nitty-gritties right. (Other than one scene where Ayushman and Parineeti Chopra a.k.a. Bindu are shown dancing at some underground party which takes place in Calcutta’s tram depot. This has never and will never happen. Mainly because the tram depot is dark, unkempt and kept under lock and key and you will die of dehydration if you were to gyrate like that in the Calcutta humidity.)
What the film does get right are the nuances of a Calcutta locality. The shop with the same shopkeeper who’s seen you grow up and still sells the same wares. The easy camaraderie between the parents. The love for sandesh and playing carrom and the utter lack of concern for personal space on the part of neighbours and family alike. After Piku, this is the first time that I’ve seen a set of character actors be so well cast. And of course the romances that blossom at various college and school fests. Ayushman a.k.a. Abhimanyu Roy does seem surprisingly assertive for a Bengali boy, but his attitude to love and running after the object of his affection even if she doesn’t reciprocate does seem to fit the Bengali chhele bill.
What doesn’t make sense is how he—a Bengali—suddenly becomes a best-selling Hindi pulp fiction author who then gets invited to defend his own books on news panels a la Chetan Bhagat. Or Parineeti/Bindu’s character, which seems to have no real arc or motivation.
But where the film comes truly crashing down—like many schooltime romances—is that nothing ever seems to happen. There is no evolution. There is nothing new. What are these people doing? Why are they with each other? Why are they not with each other? What defines them? Will they say anything interesting? Will they seize the day or simply let life and the film pass them by? These are questions which remain unanswered two hours down the line. All you are left with is an ode to cassettes and Calcutta. Mamata-di would be proud because Calcutta and Bengalis have rarely seemed so endearing.
But the utter vapidity of the film almost makes you long for those horrific cassette tapes in 13 Reasons Why, in which people died, got molested, fell in love, were betrayed and essentially lived their lives. And which, whatever else they may be, were utterly entertaining. Sadly, I cannot say the same for Meri Pyaari Bindu. The plus point is that the maudlin and pointless romance will make you reminisce more fondly about your own childhood romances. While you hope that Bollywood realises that some stories should only remain as that—ideas. Now go dig out that old mixed tape and find yourself a functioning cassette player or Walkman and be thankful that you didn’t have a Bindu or an Abhimanyu in your life.