In a year that has seen the release of modern adaptations of both the Mahabharata (Raajneeti) and the Ramayana (Raavan), one adaptation of Jane Austen (Aisha), four-and-a-half Aishwarya Rai movies (the whole Raavan/Raavanan thing can get confusing), four Akshay Kumar movies, four Shahid Kapoor movies, two-and-a-half Ram Gopal Varma movies, two Salman Khan movies, two Imran Khan movies, one Shah Rukh Khan & Karan Johar movie, and several other notable outings from notable filmmakers — I’m afraid I can’t say I’ve been entertained much, this year.
Sure, Ishqiya was a treat, Raajneeti was a great experiment, Raavan was so terrible it was almost morbidly entertaining, and my thoughts on Aisha and others are documented elsewhere on this site, but there’s been a particular itch that has just not been scratched this year.
I’m happy to report that with Band Baaja Baaraat, I have been entertained, and thoroughly.
The basics of BBB are as straightforward, no-nonsense, and dhinchaak as the title and its protagonists. Shruti Kakkar (Anushka Sharma) and Bittoo Sharma (Ranveer Singh) are about-to-graduate college students in New Delhi. She wants to be a wedding planner, and has got a five year reprieve from arranged marriage to do just that. He’s just looking for an excuse to not go back to the family farm and poke around sugarcane fields for the rest of his life.
Caught between a rock and a big blue tractor, Bittoo tells his father he’s going to stay in the city and start a business — a wedding planning business. One thing leads to another, and soon the pair are running their own outfit, Shaadi Mubarak, specialising in ‘dhinchaak’* Indian weddings — free of pretension, full of colour and life. They’re partners, but with the rule that it’s business only — absolutely no place for love.
This being a romcom, I think you can guess where the rest of the movie goes. But it’s a journey worth taking.
*(The adequate-if-dry English subtitles translate this as ‘kitsch’ but it isn’t really that. Dhinchaak may convey a certain lowbrow aesthetic, but like the movie itself the term has charm and appeal beyond mere kitsch. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?)
What seperates Band Baaja Baaraat from your average Bollywood romcom is, firstly, just how sound the fundamentals of it are: the writing, the direction, the cinematography, editing, music and the acting are all solid.
Fresh face Ranveer Singh is not the garden-variety chiseled dreamy-eyed Punjabi superhero that Bollywood usually churns out. He’s an engaging and oddball screen presence, that if given similarly interesting roles to play with in future, might just be a force to be reckoned with. His character Bittoo is, like him, just a bit rough around the edges, endearing in his frank aspirations of doing ‘binness’ and swearing oaths on bread pakodas — even his first lines on screen are said with his mouth half full. It flies in the face of every convention of filminess — the Hero as God, born fully formed, plastic-smooth, and shot in slow motion — and it works.
But if Singh is a revelation with a bright future, then Anushka Sharma is already a force to be reckoned with. She’s so far turned out one solid performance (the criminally underrated fable Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) and one dud (Badmaash Company, which was such a sucky movie on all fronts that it isn’t her fault), but in BBB she really comes into her own. From smart alec Delhi girl to cutthroat wedding impresario and everything in between, Sharma’s is a carefully calibrated performance that dials both down for the spontaneous, fly-on-the-wall montages, and up for the 1000 watt song sequences.
And speaking of songs, you really have to give it to Salim-Sulaiman for making some really strong tunes (especially the instant earworm Ainvayi Ainvayi), and cinematographer Aseem Mishra, and editor Namrata Rao for bringing them to the big screen with all their energy intact. Mishra & Rao’s work in particular is novel for a Hindi movie, making extensive use of hand-held camerawork without ever employing style for style’s sake. There are none of the swishy jump cuts and split screens that have come to clutter many a modern romcom. However, when they needs to bring in big Bollywood glamour — such as in the song Dum Dum — they pull out all stops.
There’s a great deal of care taken in the way the movie looks, which is certainly a product of strong writing and direction, but one can’t discount the role of production designers Sonal Choudhry & T.P.Abid and costume designer Niharika Khan. Going for verisimilitude over flash again, the world of BBB is both whimsical and filmi, while being entirely plausible and true to life. Characters dress like they should, sometimes even (gasp!) repeating the same clothes; trays of chai in an office are delightfully mismatched, and all the decorations at the various weddings look authentic (a two-and-a-half lakh wedding looks the part, as does a two crore one).
Furthermore, when a dream sequence calls for literally millions of marigold flowers, or a stage full of dancers, they just go ahead and show that, no CG, no tricks — and just the photographic wonder of it all is enough to leave a strong impression.
The more I think about this movie, the more I like it, and the more I think I must have missed half of its subtleties just taking it all in the first time. Because, for all its simplicity, there are some very important things that BBB does, purely in the context of the state of Indian culture & movie formulas (vague spoilers until the last paragraph).
A lot of the humour, for instance, is both rapid fire and layered — some jokes take several minutes and sequences to pay off, but in the meanwhile you’re barely able to catch your breath between one zinger and the next (Habib Faisal’s dialogues are strewn with gems, the rustic charms of which the subtitles just cannot do justice to, though they aren’t bad). Sex is handled in a surprisingly mature way; there is no big deal — no deal at all, actually — made of two platonic characters sleeping in the same bed, a situation that in most films warrants a long, pained ‘comedy’ sequence about spatial boundaries.
When actual sex does occur it isn’t glossed over, and the very words and phrases that are used to define it in modern, repressed Indian culture are questioned and form the basis of problems, rather than the act of sex itself. I can’t go into it in greater detail without major spoilers, but suffice to say that even if all you expect from this movie is a smooth and slick romcom, there is a bit more depth to it if dwelled upon.
I went into Band Baaja Baaraat with the notion that as long as it wasn’t a disaster (Badmaash Company, you wounded me so) it would okay, but this movie is good. Frequently, it’s astonishingly good. Not the kind of movie that shakes thing up and rewrites history (though it does plenty of that, in the subtle ways mentioned above), but it’s odd how affecting something can be when it’s just done just right.