Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi requires some determined suspension of disbelief. A prematurely middle aged man marries a bright, lovely young girl immediately after she experiences a family tragedy. He loves her on sight, she doesn’t see him at all. He changes himself to become a man she could love. But he does it in an extreme way. He masquerades as another man, utterly different from his everyday self, and starts to woo her. What happens if she recognises him? What if she prefers the ‘other man’? How can he get himself out of this situation? And who will win the big dance competition?

I’m not telling.

I really like this film. It has excellent acting by Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma, and characters I could empathise with or understand, even when I didn’t agree. I know some people object to the premise that she doesn’t recognise her husband immediately. Personally, I think that if you suspect every man who looks vaguely like your husband or boyfriend is him in disguise, you probably have bigger issues than the film does. Aditya Chopra hits some false notes including a ridiculous sumo wrestling interlude, but it’s really a story about people not gimmicks so I can turn a blind eye. There is ample entertainment in the romance, humour (please note I am not using the C word), dancing and music.

Surinder Sahni works at Punjab Power (motto: Lighting Up Your Life) and lives all alone in his family home, a huge ornate house. He is an unassuming man who has fallen into a rut. Until he falls for Taani. Seeing her disappointment on top of her grief he wants to do something to make her happy, or at least stop her from giving up on happiness. Surinder is considerate as well as shy and doesn’t presume on his new wife. He sleeps in the attic room and calls her Taani-ji, so painfully polite. Suri doesn’t do macho or overbearing – he is atypical for a romantic lead. In his own beige way he tries to show his feelings, hoping his actions will speak for him. He sees her laugh watching movies and tries to understand the appeal of filmi heroes but he is worlds away from that flashy style. This is one of my favourite Shah Rukh performances. He plays Suri as mostly subdued, with a shy romantic streak blooming as he dares to dream.

The expression on his face when he sees the tiffin Taani has prepared for him is priceless. Shah Rukh strikes the right blend of physical comedy and heartstring tugging pathos as Suri.

 

 

Suri’s flamboyant hairdresser friend Bobby (Vinay Pathak in excellent form) helps with a makeover. The idea is Suri will go watch Taani at her new dance class, and then surprise her with the new look. But he can’t stop himself from trying to get closer to her. And so Raj is born; vulgar, extrovert, inappropriate Raj Kapoor who can say and do things that Suri won’t.

Shah Rukh doesn’t play Raj as cool – he is a nerd’s idea of a cool dude and always that bit off key. I’m not surprised Taani didn’t recognise him. He has terrible fashion sense and constantly over-accessorises (thanks to Aki Narula). There are some delightful moments of Raj getting cocky, only to have Suri’s panic leak through when he doesn’t know what to do next. Raj becomes Taani’s dance partner for a competition – another touch of fate or divine intervention. The relationship has a rocky start but Taani can’t help eventually responding to Raj’s simple warmth.

He helps her reconnect with life in a way that Suri’s patient hands-off approach doesn’t. Shah Rukh portrays two quite distinct characters, and I could see Raj growing and becoming more of a second skin over time.

Raj is a drug that Suri cannot kick. When Bobby challenges him, Suri admits he can’t stop. The deception escalates and as Raj he taunts himself over his failure. This dark tone of self awareness and self delusion made Suri’s deception seem more real.

He created a mask and resented being trapped behind it. As Suri he wants Taani to see the real Suri, and fall in love with him as he is. As Raj, he is spontaneous and affectionate. But what happens to Suri if Raj succeeds in winning Taani’s love? And if Suri kills off Raj, what will that mean to Taani?

Taani is the apple of her father’s eye, and about to marry the man she loves. A few tragic minutes later she is married to Suri and relocated to Amritsar. At that time she may not have cared much for her future as she was traumatised and grieving. Anushka has a natural and happy quality, but she can turn that off in an instant, and she portrayed the conflicting emotions and loyalties very well.  Taani rarely looks at her husband, and certainly doesn’t see him so I could believe she didn’t recognise him in disguise. The more Suri tries to engage her, the more she blocks him out. She’s not a crying whinging wet dishrag though – Taani is a spirited woman and even does a Dhoom style motorbike stunt. She really comes to life when she forgets herself in things that had been her pleasures in her old life, especially dancing.

She resents feeling indebted to Suri even as she appreciates his generosity, but is making the best of things. Taani doesn’t have friends in Amritsar apart from Raj, who refuses to not be allowed to be her friend, so he is her only confidant. She comes to a crisis point, and I think it was as much about wanting to actively live again as her attraction to Raj.

Taani finally allows herself to love and to reconnect with life. While Anushka is very pretty she seems real, not a plastic beauty, and I found her convincing and appealing. I also had severe wardrobe envy when I saw Taani’s clothes, especially her lovely embroidered dupattas.

The theme of a couple brought together by God is always present. The presence of religious observance and ritual in their lives helps give that more resonance as it seems like a genuine belief not just a dramatic conceit. The gold of the temple at Amritsar is picked out in  Taani’s dress, the yellow tiffin, Suri’s car, the new bedsheets and flowers Taani leaves in his room. For him, Taani is divine love and she is lighting up his life.  The corny picturisation of Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai can’t detract from the message of seeing an aspect of divinity in the one you love, or who loves you.

I really like that it shows Suri seeing himself as Suri, but Taani sees only Raj. The tension in the bizarre love triangle is well maintained even in lighter moments. I think that the inherent acknowledgement that some characters were not always behaving well made it more palatable and less WTF, so the resolution is oddly satisfying. My eye-rolling muscles barely got warmed up, I just went with it and enjoyed the unravelling.

Whether it is the bustle of Amritsar, Suri’s majestic old house, Taani’s clothes, the framing or the use of colour, Ravi K Chandran makes it look stunning and it’s a total pleasure to watch. This traditional sounding song is over the opening titles but not on the soundtrack, and it is a beautiful start to the film.

The Salim-Sulaiman soundtrack is mostly excellent and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics seem to match the story very well. Haule Haule is beautiful, and the choreography is perfect uncle-in-love style. Retro tributes are now old hat, but the clever lyrics made up of film songs and titles and the vocal by Sonu Nigam lift Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Shah Rukh really gets the style of the Hindi film greats he mimics, particularly in the Rishi Kapoor segment. Lara Dutta is miscast as Helen, but Rani as Neetu more than makes up for that. I much prefer the songs Vaibhavi Merchant choreographed. Shiamak’s style is too reminiscent of 80s TV variety shows and I’ve seen enough of that to last me. Dance Pe Chance and the dance competition numbers are not memorable, although I appreciated Anushka and Shah Rukh maintaining their characters in the dances so they worked as drama rather than as songs. But so much colour and movement can’t be a bad thing.

See this for an unusual romance, good songs, beautiful visual design and of course the lovely performances by Shah Rukh and Anushka. Just remember to suspend that disbelief! 4 stars!

Heather says: I am quite ambivalent about this film. On one hand I do really like Shahrukh’s ebullient Raj and most of the time I like his characterisation of the more reserved and introverted Suri. But on the other hand there is much of the story that I don’t like, and I’m not very impressed with the character of Taani despite Anushka Sharma’s best efforts.  Taani seems a very superficial character and the few personality traits she is allowed to display switch on and off depending on how much comedy Aditya Chopra wants to include in the scene. When she is allowed to be cheery and feisty I quite like her, but most of the time she is too one dimensional and is only there as a reason for Shahrukh to play dress-up.

As far as the story goes, I don’t like the way that Taani is pressured into marriage with Suri at such a difficult time in her life. However even worse is the direction the story moves in later on, when Suri decides to make his wife choose between Raj and himself. It’s manipulative, very unfair and just plain wrong. I don’t see how such a plan can possibly demonstrate true love and I think Taani would be much better to leave Suri and Raj altogether!

What I do like though is the character of Bobby Khosla and I think that Vinay Pathak did a great job with his role as Suri’s friend. There are a few scenes near the beginning where the character of Suri is initially developed that are also quite sweet and hold a lot of promise but unfortunately I don’t think the film ever delivers on these. While both Shahrukh and Anushka bring everything they can to their roles, ultimately it’s the story that lets it all down in the end. The songs are great and I love Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte, but for the rest, it’s not a film I particularly enjoy. I think it’s worth watching for Shahrukh, who does have some excellent comedy moments and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. The rest is disappointing. 3 stars.

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Tere Bin Laden

I have to admit the title of this film put me off for a while. I mean, Bin Laden and comedy? And I frequently find comedy in Indian films to be not very funny at all. But I’m glad I ignored the DVD shop guy’s bad review (‘too shouty’) and my initial reservations as this is one of the smartest and funniest films I’ve seen in ages.  I was so pleased to see it in the line up of this year’s Indian Film Festival and with the added attraction of a Q&A with the star, Ali Zafar.

Ali Zafar is a Pakistani pop star, and this is such an interesting choice of role for someone associated with romance and melody. What possessed a successful singer to tackle a comedy that might have fallen horribly flat? Sadly I didn’t get the chance to ask as the promised Q&A was dominated by a boy who wanted Ali to sign his guitar, sing for his girlfriend and probably pop around to his house after the film and wash the dishes. I admired Ali’s polite and respectful manner, his humour and his shimmery silver jacket –  and he did indeed sing for the lady in question.

Ali Hassan (Ali Zafar) desperately wants to go to America. His plans are thwarted by the heightened sense of fear post the World Trade Centre attacks and he resorts to working for a dodgy news channel in Karachi. Apart from making fun of the whole search for Bin Laden, the film also has some interesting things to say about the post September 11 world and, in Ali Zafar’s words, the explosion of Islamophobia. This could have been a tasteless exercise in other, less skillful, hands but I think this is some of the best comedy writing to make it onto a screen.

The premise is simple enough – ambitious Ali sets up hapless chicken farmer Noora (Pradhuman Singh) as a fake Bin Laden and then things spiral out of control as the world media and the CIA try to find the elusive character, stock markets plunge and the US bombs the crap out of Afghanistan in Operation Kickass. Ali and his friends then decide that as their video caused the war, another video can set things right. Meanwhile the US government is closing in, and the stakes become much more real and personal.

The cast of wannabes who use the Bin Laden hoax to parlay their way into successful lives are all great fun. Sugandha Garg is Zoya, a talented make up artist who transforms Noora to Bin Laden. She wants to set up her own business, and the money from this sting is all she needs. Rahul Singh is the charismatic communist Qureshi, a talented radio voice artist. He wants to shove it up the establishment and liberate the oppressed masses and the proceeds will keep his Freedom radio running. Nikhil Ratnaparkhi plays the sidekick, cameraman Gul, a simple man, who follows Ali’s lead in everything. Lateef (Chirag Vorha) is the news station scapegoat, whose talent for speechwriting in Arabic helps create the authentic flavour of the faked news tape. He is a quiet, frequently overlooked, man who meekly accepts his lot in life until given the chance to escape his routine. The pivotal role of Noora/Bin Laden is played to the hilt by Pradhuman Singh. He has a great line in slapstick and naïveté, and manages to give the ridiculous character a touch of sweetness that made me care about his plight (and that of his chickens). Ali Zafar is the star and he is a delight to watch which is good as he is on screen for almost all of the film. His facial expressions are brilliant and he has excellent eyebrow skills for those more cynical moments in the script. His rapport with the character of Gul seems really natural, and the actors bounce lines off each other with great timing and tongue in cheek style. This ensemble is so entertaining to watch – this is a film where lots of little interactions and gags are happening in the background or periphery of shots so it pays to keep your eyes peeled.

They play for laughs but not to the point that they become heartless caricatures. This group of characters learn from their mistakes and are aware of the price their fraud is exacting so the comedy isn’t without conscience.  And the humour is very even handed – Abhishek Sharma (writer/director) takes potshots at absolutely everyone and yet allows even the craziest characters a modicum of humanity and respect. Piyush Mishra and his wig play Majeed bhai, the horrible boss of the news channel, but even he gets some sympathetic moments (especially once his wife appears!). Barry John is great fun as Ted ji, the stereotypical American secret service guy with his entourage of men in black. I particularly enjoyed the physical comedy of local agent Usmaan, played heroically by Chinmay Mandlekar. There was a distinct ‘Get Smart’ kind of bumbling fool style to Usmaan and I just loved him.

What really made Tere Bin Laden for me was the fantastic ensemble cast, the snappy writing and the taut editing and direction. The dialogue is full of sly puns and is often juxtaposed with really funny sight gags, and I loved Abhishek Sharma’s attention to those details and great timing. It’s a fairly short film, but doesn’t skimp on the entertainment factor and manages to contain some nice satirical writing in a couple of the songs. Who says song and dance has to be meaningless fluff? Shankar Ehsan Loy have provided some fun songs and Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics are pointed and very clever. Here’s what the Melbourne audience missed thanks to the projectionist deciding to stop a bit early:

It’s thought provoking and it made me laugh out loud, even after repeated viewings. I give Tere Bin Laden 4 and ½ stars!