Band Baaja Baaraat

After a busy week I wanted something undemanding but still entertaining to watch, and what better than revisiting Ranveer Singh’s debut movie Band Baaja Baaraat. This fun romance was a sleeper hit back in 2010 and its aged reasonably well, mainly due to the great chemistry between the two leads. Add in all the glitz and glamour of several weddings with Salim-Sulaiman’s great soundtrack to make the perfect weekend watch on a cold wintry Melbourne day.

The film is essentially a standard filmi romance: boy meets girl, girl can’t stand boy, various incidents later girl falls for boy but he’s moved on and after tears, drama and outside interference, eventually everything works out fine. The difference comes in the setting, which here is the world of weddings and wedding planners, and in the convincingly human reactions Anushka Sharma’s Shruti displays when her romantic ideals fall short. The situations themselves are highly contrived and unlikely, especially the finale, but the emotions themselves are realistic and that’s what I enjoy about Band Baaja Baaraat.

When we meet Bittoo Sharma (Ranveer Singh), he’s a college kid, gate-crashing weddings with his friends for free food. But at Minki and Binny’s celebration, he’s spotted by Shruti Kakkar (Anushka Sharma) who calls him out as not being an invited guest. She’s helping with the organisation of the party as her ambition is to run her own wedding planner business and knows the key to success is not running out of food. Bittoo claims he is there with his friend to video the event and is immediately attracted to Shruti when he sees her dance. But after tracking her down, she rejects him firmly saying she doesn’t have time for romance as she is chasing her dream of her own business.

After being disillusioned by the shortcuts and cons run by famous wedding planner Chandra Narang (Shena Gamat), Bittoo and Shruti set up their own business partnership called Shaadi Mubarak. Shruti has a strict rule that love and business do not mix and this allows a genuine friendship to develop between Shruti and Bittoo. They each take care of their own part of the business and as Shaadi Mubarak become more and more successful, this translates into even bigger ideas. Bittoo is the one with more business savvy who pushes Shruti to work outside her comfort zone, while Shruti helps to keep Bittoo grounded with some of his more unachievable ideas. 

Anusha Sharma is charming as Shruti and is excellent in her portrayal of a college student who has great ideas and is able to capitalise on her dreams. She’s smart with quick come-backs but still has an innocence that allows her to be outraged when she finds out about Chandra’s short-cuts and scams. I also love that she thoroughly enjoys the weddings she plans and throws herself into the celebrations while still making sure everyone else is having a great time. It’s also interesting to watch Ranveer Singh in his first role and see the beginnings of the persona he now presents so confidently. He is clearly talented and his energy fits perfectly into the role of Bittoo. His all exuberance and joy is here, with hints of the traits we’ve come to see in many of his films. That irrepressible smile and barely contained energy reverberate off the screen in what is now classic Ranveer style. This was surely the perfect debut for him, and it helps that he has amazing chemistry with Anusha (which we see again in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Dil Dhadkane Do).

When Shruti and Bittoo end up spending a night together, the dynamic completely changes. Shruti sees it as a new chapter and the start of a romance, while Bittoo seems confused and unsure of what to do next. Bittoo has strictly followed Shruti’s rules and when she makes a move on him, it seems as if he doesn’t want to say no in case she is offended, but at heart doesn’t really want to go any further. But he’s a guy, so of course he’s not going to say no! But Bittoo is worried about the effect any romance may have on their working relationship and he’s also not looking for love and a permanent partner at this stage of his life. So, in his emotional confusion, when Bittoo tells Shruti it was a mistake, her first reaction is to save face and agree with him. But the pain and hurt build up and she lashes out, dissolving the partnership and breaking all ties with Bittoo. This seems a very honest and realistic response to me, and I totally understand Shruti’s motivations here. It was her idea in the first place and if Bittoo doesn’t want her, then she wants none of him either. I also think writer Habib Faisal gets Bittoo’s reactions just right as well. He’s also hurt by Shruti’s reaction and responds with anger and a desire to beat Shruti to show her she was wrong to reject his friendship. It all works well in terms of the emotional impact even if the resolution is rather less probable.

The supporting cast here are mostly peripheral to the story, but they serve as sounding boards for Bittoo and Shruti and call out the worst of their behaviour. Neeraj Sood as the florist Maqsood and Manmeet Singh as the caterer Rajinder are both very good and have the most impact to the story, but Puru Chibber and Revant Shergill as Bittoo’s friends are also good. There are so many excellent references to real life in the dialogue as well, which always make me smile. For instance, I love how Bittoo steps up to deliver the final big song and dance routine when Shahrukh is unable to attend the big society wedding at the end. So good on so many levels!

Salim-Sulaiman’s soundtrack is excellent and provides an upbeat background for the story. The hook from Ainvayi Ainvayi plays throughout the background music which helps anchor the story firmly in celebration mode while bringing the focus back to Bittoo and Shruti as it’s ‘their song’. Habib Faisal’s screenplay suits the upbeat approach taken by writer/director Maneesh Sharma and the whole film explodes with colour thanks to Aseem Mishra’s excellent cinematography. Even 12 years on, this is still a fun film and a great start to Ranveer’s career. Well worth revisiting! 4 stars.

Pari (2018)

Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee) and his parents are returning from meeting a prospective bride. Distracted and in heavy rain, nobody sees the old lady on the road until it is too late. They discover a girl chained up in the old lady’s house. Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma) is her granddaughter but there is no explanation for why she is chained up. She is certainly odd but seems able to live independently to some extent. A tattoo on the corpse freaks out one of the morgue attendants who was checking her for valuables. He calls Professor Qasim Ali (Rajat Kapoor), a man obsessed with eradicating all traces of a cult dedicated to spreading an ifrit’s bloodline. He has been looking for Rukhsana, the last of the ifrit’s children, for years. Meanwhile Arnab has taken pity on Rukhsana and has grudgingly allowed her to stay in his home. They fall into a cosy domesticity but there are signs that something bad is coming. Who is she? What is she?

Pari was suspenseful in that I wanted to see what happened, especially to Rukhsana. And there are some good jump scares. But Prosit Roy positions too many things as a fact within this film world rather than building the suspense of “is it real or ?”. Rukhsana shows some signs of mental illness, but Roy makes it clear something supernatural is at work. Having said that I liked a lot about the film, particularly Anushka’s performance.

Rukhsana isn’t a child but some childish things like cartoons take her fancy. Arnab brings home little gifts like clothes and art supplies and teaches her how fridges work, how to dunk a biscuit, and things like that. She’s not interested in learning to cook but she is obsessive about clipping her very fast growing toenails. Anushka does great expressions as Rukhsana starts to open up to the possibility of enjoying her life. Rukhsana realises she can eat fresh white rice and food that is abundant and just for her. She enjoys her new clothes and makes paper jewellery, delighting in how it feels to do something pretty and frivolous. She bonds emotionally with Arnab, and after seeing a cheesy romantic scene on TV one day her feelings for him suddenly go beyond friendship.

Anushka has to switch sharply between the mild, girlish, Rukku and her more damaged and aggressive side. Rukhsana has excruciating stomach cramps, and hides away from Arnab – he assumes it is her period and leaves her alone. But she climbs the wall outsider her room and walks down the street, still in pain. She sees a little dog she had befriended. And kills it suddenly and silently after kissing it affectionately. Face smeared with blood and tears, she is clearly distressed but the pain is gone. She is jealous of Piyali and loses control in front of Arnab. How long can she hold on?

Parambrata Chatterjee is a good fit for the emotionally repressed Arnab. He doesn’t say a lot but is still quite expressive. He doesn’t know what to do about Rukhsana but he feels responsible for the accident. Once they grow closer, he finds excuses not to send her away, and hides the truth from Piyali. He is ambivalent about that engagement but Arnab is the type to try and keep the peace. Rukhsana becomes possessive of Arnab and wants him to break off his engagement with Piyali. But he betrays both women and goes into hiding. Arnab is a bit of a weasel, at best he lacks conviction. But he is the least malignant man in the film so there is that.

Rajat Kapoor is unsettling as the fanatical professor. He genuinely believes he is doing the right thing, and he may be right about Rukhsana, but he is a sadist. He lingers over her demise and wants her to suffer. It’s not a complex character, but the performance is fairly restrained, and creepy.

Ritabhari Chakraborty does what she can with her character. Piyali is generally ignored or forgotten by Arnab but some of their conversations have an impact and she prompts him to think about things from a different perspective. She is open in discussing, and the emotional burden of past relationships. They are chalk and cheese. Piyali doesn’t exist just to make Arnab a better man, although she does seem to have that effect, and she would be perfectly fine without him.

The film is beautifully atmospheric, and lighting and sound are used well. I liked the small world of Arnab’s apartment and the contrast with noisy, bustling, Kolkata.

While not completely successful as a horror movie, Pari also works as a kind of parable. For me Rukhsana also spoke to how women generally have to pay the price for male pleasure. She is the result of a rape, and a man insists she must die because she is an abomination. She never chose to be born but she has a life. Without Arnab’s protection, despite her inherent power, she has no voice in society. He castigates her as if it was all her fault they had sex. The professor and his band of weirdoes don’t just want her to die a clean death, they want her to suffer to pay for existing. There’s also a glimpse of just how quickly people can start to see someone as different and justify inhumane behaviour to them. While the climax of the film is violent and messy, that’s more or less what I expect from this genre. I’d be more perplexed if the evil creatures or the doomsday cult decided they’d had enough and quietly moved on without telling anyone. In the end though, it is a very human gesture that dissipates the threat.

See this for Anushka’s performance in a competent and not so clichéd genre film. Not the scariest thing I’ve ever seen but probably not one for just before bedtime either. 3 ½ stars!

Phillauri

Anshai Lal’s Phillauri is set in two different timelines, and is a movie of two very different halves. Usually things take a turn for the worse after Intermission, but in the case of Phillauri it is the first half that I found a chore.

Kanan (Suraj Sharma) goes home to India to get married to his longtime girlfriend Anu (Mehreen Pirzada). Just before his engagement he is told he has a problem in his horoscope, and the only way to avoid future calamity is to marry a tree. He is sceptical but does what the families want. Soon after the tree wedding, he is woken by a sparkly spirit hovering above his bed. Shashi (Anushka Sharma) found herself transported to the house, but had no idea how or why. Only Kanan can see or hear Shashi, just adding to his already troubling behaviour. He is ambivalent about marrying Anu, Shashi is unhappy at her lot, and Anu is miserable that the guy she loves is turning out to be a wuss. So it was a huge relief to skip back in time and learn more about Shashi and the love of her life, Roop Lal Phillauri (Diljit Dosanjh). Shashi and Anu between them force Kanan to examine his decisions and motivations. Will Kanan and Anu get married? And what happened that Shashi spent 98 years alone, her spirit connected to the tree?

The modern story line is the least interesting by far. It feels glib, done by numbers, and is not helped by some weak performances. Suraj Sharma is particularly flat as Kanan, and terribly unconvincing in scenes where he is supposed to be overcome by fear. Speaking in a weedy falsetto is not enough. Mehreen Pirzada gets almost nothing to work with. Anu has been in love with Kanan since school, she has never had any other plan than to marry him, and I have no idea if she has a job or finished college or anything else. Anu is a weepy, sullen girl which is a bit tiresome although understandable. I did like that she confronted him and demanded he articulate his feelings and make a decision, not just try and passively weasel out as she deserved better than that. There is the usual array of parents and relatives, and a pickled grandmother who starts drinking at breakfast. And there’s a rather nasty “joke” about Kanan being gay and maybe a paedophile. It’s mostly a jumble of clichés, and where the dialogue is a bit more realistic the acting falls over.

The earlier timeline seems to be given so much more love, the writing is more solid, and the performances are stronger. Shashi helps her brother the village doctor, who has raised her since she was young. She is educated but conservative, knowing how a girl from a good family is expected to behave.  Shashi’s one weakness is poetry, and she waits every week to see the poems of Phillauri in the journal. Roop Lal Phillauri (Diljit Dosanjh) uses the same name but his songs are bawdy drinking fare, not the more heartfelt and literary work that Shashi loves. He is a flirt, and she shuts him down when he pretends to have written lines that she knows the real Phillauri wrote. But their mutual love of poetry and music, and of love, brings them together. Anushka and Diljit have a beautiful low key chemistry that makes their scenes together shine. She is expressive even without speaking and he inhabits the role of country layabout turned honest man so comfortably. It was a pleasure to get back into their timeline, and not just for the nostalgic beauty. Shashi’s story served to show how the status of women hasn’t improved significantly in almost 100 years, and was also a sterling example of a relationship built on equality, consent, and honesty.

One of the most understated but surprising scenes was a conversation after Shashi’s affair had been discovered. Her brother (played beautifully by Manav Vij) was furious, and laid into both Shashi and Roop Lal. All typical filmi villain thwarting True Love stuff. But later he took her a drink and spoke to her about how he had raised her like his own child and always wanted her to have everything she deserved, and that he loved her. Not what I was expecting at all, although I may have muttered something about the patriarchy. When Shashi and her best friend Amrit (Nidhi Bisht) were talking discreetly about her virginity situation, the scene was nicely gossipy but also quite sweet and not salacious. I liked seeing Shashi being herself, and having people love her for it, without Anushka taking so much as a step towards the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl line. And I don’t want to spoil the story but there are scenes where Anushka and Diljit show a whole arc of story just through the emotions playing across their faces.

The film’s mythology is a bit patchy. Is technicolour glitter cannon heaven a thing for Sikhs? Does every ghost have tinkerbell sound effects and shed a trail of sparkles? Why did Shashi usually float on an awkward horizontal rather than gliding vertically? Why could she wear Anu’s dupatta but not be seen or felt by anyone other than Kanan? Who knows.

But for all the cheesy effects, there are songs like Dum Dum and Sahiba that take us into the story and reveal more of the rich inner lives of Shashi and her bloke. Anvita Dutt wrote the screenplay and some lyrics, and her dialogues were a highlight in the olden days timeline.

Phillauri is not a masterpiece but it does show flashes of excellence. If Lal had been more disciplined in that draggy first half, and maybe pushed Suraj Sharma to try more nuance in his squeaking, it would have helped. But I liked seeing a full blown romance centred on two people who were genuine, honest, and respected each other. Tolerate the first half and enjoy the second half!