While on the subject of love stories (see post below), I have a confession to make. I’ve watched the ending of “Band Baaja Baaraat” about a dozen times on YouTube (it’s been taken offline very recently, hence the link to the official site. Sniff).
Almost everyone I know has seen and loved “Band Baaja Baaraat”. It was released while I was AWOL and in any case, my enthusiasm for Bollywood is, shall we say, limited. I made no effort to see it, despite all the praises that were lavished on it. On Valentine’s Day, a film critic I know nominated a scene from it as his favourite Bollywood kiss and I’ll admit I found the relevant clip on YouTube. It’s not a bad kiss. For one thing, it’s not a peck and more importantly (and surprisingly), it looks like both the hero and the heroine know what they’re doing isn’t attempted CPR. (Incidentally, when I mentioned this to a random acquaintance, they said, “Obviously. He, the actor, is a Bandra boy.” So ladies, before you pucker for a Mumbaikar , check his pincode.) Anyway, as satisfyingly executed as that kiss may have been, it didn’t fill me with any tearing need to see the movie, which is why the fact that I’ve YouTubed the ending 12 times is worth mentioning.
I ended up picking up the DVD of “BBB” when I went to my trusty DVD library and found there wasn’t anything among the new releases that I wanted to see. The chap at the library had only just filled my name in the DVD’s index card when I saw the DVD of Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” I ended up renting both. The idea was to begin with “BBB” and then deal with the general sense of dissatisfaction that Bollywood leaves me with by watching “You Will Meet…”. Because it’s reasonable to assume that even if this was Woody Allen’s worst, it would be provide more contentment than Habib Faisal (screenwriter) and Maneesh Sharma (director) at their best.
“You Will Meet…” is not Woody Allen at his worst. It’s not Allen at his best but it’s certainly not a bad film. There are some lovely performances in there. The film is neatly plotted and moves fluidly. It’s got oodles of Allen’s dry wit. Yet, after watching “BBB” and “You Will Meet…” back to back, I put the DVD of “BBB” in again and watched bits and bobs of it again. Not because it’s a better-told story but because it’s so much sweeter. BBB a genuine, cross-your-heart romantic comedy. The characters are charming, the acting is good (Bandra boy Ranveer Singh plays such a good Delhi loafer that I was sure he must be from that city of barbarians. Most impressive), the dialogue is often very funny, there some nice snogging, and most importantly for me, I sighed happily at the end when Bittoo and Shruti kissed and made up. Yes, the film floundered a little in the second half but the first half is great fun. Despite the wobbles, “BBB” remained grounded. There were no heroics, no melodrama and for the first time in aeons, Bollywood presented the audience with a film in which the love story felt credible because you the viewer fell in love with the characters as they muddled their way through the plot. Perhaps because it looked and sounded realistic, it offered up hope — that you can build your dream career if you work hard; that the annoying, crass flirt from your friend’s wedding could polish up to be a pretty adorable boyfriend. Obviously this isn’t necessarily reality but what the heck? It’s a film, not a documentary.
The world of Woody Allen’s films has never been known for its realism. His characters tend to be a little more eccentric than the general urban animal. Only in the Woody Allen planet does the goofball get amazing girlfriends he does. The gorgeous homes and elegant lifestyle certainly don’t match the reality of the unemployed/out of work hero/heroine. But there is an emotional core in Allen’s work that you can relate to and there’s a celebration of weird goofiness that makes everyone cheer. Because most of us have felt like oddballs at some point in time and perhaps it’s heartening to know that we are not alone.
I’m not sure with which film it began to change but somewhere along the way, the sweetness left Allen’s work. I know I noticed it in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, which was a superb film but I found it utterly cruel and depressing, more so because of the beautiful tissue-paper wrapping of sardonic humour. I watched it with a friend who stared at me like I’d turned into Mallika Sherawat when I said I found the film heartbreaking. Yes, it was funny to see how Woody Allen used stereotypes like the Latin lover or the free spirit. But consider just how sad the romantic relationships in the film are. The marriages are either blandly empty or so overpowered with emotion that they’re destructive. The romances all end in heartbreak. And this is supposed to be a romantic comedy.
“You Will Meet…” is even more bitter and cynical than “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. At least in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, Allen allowed a few of the characters to have at least a brief glimpse of romance during the course of the film. “You Will Meet…” begins with a suicidal divorcée, moves on to a crumbling marriage, then mid-life crises, infidelity, a crushed heart, broken marriages and finally, unhappy endings. The only one with a happy relationship is a batty old woman who is teamed with an equally batty old man, and both of them are on their own planet. Marriages are vicious spaces, filled with façades, manipulation strategising and lies. They suck the confidence out of the people in them. They are burdens borne with Christ-like fortitude at best. Maybe marriage in general is this horrible, soul-sucking trap but I’m not expecting to confront these realities when I pick a Woody Allen film. Rather, I hadn’t expected it when I rented “You Will Meet…”. From now on, I’m picking up the new Woody Allen film when I’m in the mood for cruelty. Or when I feel the need to make myself feel better by saying, “So what if neither my flat nor I look as gorgeous? At least I’m not married to that guy.”
As it stands at the moment, I’m furious with Woody Allen. Because thanks to his bloody cynicism, when I had to choose between the urbane writer who lives in London and the Punjabi wedding planner, in spite of inheriting generations of Bengali snootiness concerning Punjabi lack of culture and postcolonial swooniness for London, I chose Bittoo and his kisses.