Fast cars. Designer jeans. Loyal friends. Partying the night away. The daily repertoire of the average Bollywood hero is fairly limited, all things considered, but we as an audience have embraced them whole and soul. It’s expected that the hero of a movie is the carefree son of a rich man, fresh out of college, a boyish twinkle in his eye and a confident swagger in his stride. Unimpeded by the constraints of an empty wallet or a nine to five job in middle management, the Bollywood hero is free to woo his heroine in style.
This was the pragmatic solution to an audience that has started to tire of otherwise gritty films about the urban underbelly conveniently resorting to dream sequences and other such contrivances. For decades after, the slacker son reigned unchallenged. Someone, somewhere was bound to acknowledge the trope and think of giving it a long, hard look on celluloid.
Unfortunately for the makers of Wake Up Sid, that person was Farhan Akhtar, and he did so eight years ago in Dil Chahta Hai.
It very hard not to look at Sid through the lens of Akhtar’s groundbreaking 2001 film, but try we must. Taken at face value, Wake Up Sid starts off as an intriguing deconstruction of the Bollywood slacker son archetype. Sid (Ranbir Kapoor) is the only child of a wealthy bathroom fitting magnate (Anupam Kher), nearly out of college with a commerce degree if the young man can manage to pass his final exam. If there’s anything vaguely resembling an ambition in Sid’s life, it’s to have a Porsche Cayenne, and this too is something he’s perfectly willing to have handed to him on a platter. Sid is unrepentant of his reliance on his parents, and his lack of interest in anything but having fun. When asked about what he does, he replies that he spends his father’s money.
And what does he plan on doing in the future? The same.
These questions are posed by Aisha (Konkona Sen Sharma), a new arrival in Mumbai who Sid befriends at a college farewell party. Aisha’s the polar opposite of Sid, determined to make it on her own, to carve out an identity for herself. The two become friends, with Sid helping her settle into the city.
From this point the story pans out almost exactly how you’d expect it to. Unfortunately it does so at a plodding pace, and with very little in the way of reward along the way. It ambles along and never picks up speed, with its characters having the least challenging life journey they could possibly have with a plot like this. It’s not that the various montages and sequences aren’t entertaining as you watch them, but they never quite add up. A film that is ostensibly about people growing up and taking on life’s grand adventure turns out to be about moving in with friends & getting ill-defined jobs in the media industry*.
*(Even as I type this, I am keenly aware of how realistic and common this situation actually is. Still, if I wanted realistic and common, I wouldn’t be watching a movie**.)
**(On the other hand, I do like movies that deal with the common & the realistic. Genova, for instance.)
It’s almost a relief when the film does cut to a music montage, because these sequences — even with their fairly generic Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy pop tunes — kick up the pace a little. The dialogue is adequate but unmemorable; rarely does it pull off a line that doesn’t sound cliche and trite. In fact, the entire tone of the film is decidedly filmi, every inch of it pureed and blended into a smooth pulp of processed Bollywood product; quite the antithesis of Dil Chahta Hai‘s naturalistic take on the subject.
It’s almost as if Karan Johar had ma—oh wait, he kinda did.
This would be fine if every element in the film were stylised and over-the-top. Instead, in the centre of this lukewarm Bollywood melodrama, standing in sharp contrast to its filmi-ness, is Ranbir Kapoor. While everyone else is hamming it up royally, Kapoor is a natural, lively, interesting screen presence. It’s a pleasure to watch him perform, even with the vapid character he’s saddled with. You end up not so much liking Sid the character, as liking Kapoor playing him. There are a few cracks — he can’t quite sell the romance or the angst (granted, it’s badly written romance & angst) — but he’s the one reason to see the film, hands down.
The rest of the cast rarely rises above its treacly filmi delivery. Barring one scene, Anupam Kher doesn’t have much to do (though in that one scene, he delivers, and how). And will somebody please give Konkona Sen Sharma a role which doesn’t involve her playing wet blanket/surrogate mother figure to immature man-children? The girl obviously has spark, and we get to see fleeting glimpses of it, but such moments are few and far between.
Wake Up Sid is very much like its main character. Entertaining if not profound — not very bright — and you don’t mind spending a couple of hours in his company, but afterwards you’re left with the unshakable feeling that your time would have been better spent elsewhere.
Time to fire up that Dil Chahta Hai DVD.