Review: Half Girlfriend is a full fledged fiasco!

Half Girlfriend is the sort of poppycock where a guy from Patna comes to New York City to do an internship at the United Nations in collaboration with the Bill Gates Foundation by spending all his time visiting pubs and getting sloshed. Elsewhere he’d get the boot, but in Mohit Suri’s film, his waywardness is rewarded with a job offer.

Based on a novel by Chetan Bhagat, Half Girlfriend pitches Madhav Jha (Arjun Kapoor) as a humanitarian endeavouring to set up toilets in his mom’s school and promote girls education, an undertaking he conveniently forgets in his preoccupation to find a girl in NYC’s live singing bars on the basis of what caught her fancy as a 12 year old.

Bhagat’s books owe much of their cinematic success to the brilliance of filmmakers like Rajkumar Hirani (3 Idiots) and Abhishek Kapoor (Kai Po Che!) for creating something credible out of unwieldy inspiration. But in inept hands, the commonplace conventionality of his writing sticks out like a sore thumb.

As you may have well understood by now, Half Girlfriend belongs to the latter category.

In this excruciatingly flimsy film, Madhav, a brawny, basketball-playing Bihari lad, seeks an admission to study ‘samajshastra’ (sociology) in a premium Delhi college. The committee conducting his alumni interview, in an accent that’s so wannabe British, call attention to his lumbering English speaking skills. But this ineptitude serves as a bait to befriend the campus Barbie, Riya Somani (Shraddha Kapoor).

Riya, the proverbial poor little rich girl, arrives in a chauffer-driven luxury car, sports trendy fish braids to play basketball, carries her text books in a Bottega Veneta tote and breaks into a slo-mo spin to revel in the joy of unexpected downpour.

Hauz Khas, Humayun’s Tomb — the newly acquainted duo hit Delhi hot spots, even scale India Gate, and exchange vapid glances against the film’s soppy soundtrack to suggest their budding romance.

Riya’s grand home is a scene of domestic violence where singing and strumming guitar are her only escape. But in Madhav, she sees a distraction, one she’s willing to invest in if only partially. Basically, let’s stick to first base and high-society champagne brunches where some guests gift costly solitaires and rub it in too.

Bizarrely enough, Riya’s aversion to 100 per cent commitment riles Madhav’s friends even more than him. “Kaunsa half?” one of them probes on learning about her consent to be their pal’s half girlfriend. 

And because by the script’s logic he’s a village bum, he promptly sets off to find out resulting in an ugly altercation with Riya. Suri tempers the crudeness of the original scene, but the chauvinistic mentality still comes through.

The constant issue in Half Girlfriend is its wimpy characters and the contrivances they resort to arrive at its predictable conclusion. Stupidity is responded with equal, if not more, stupidity. 

Characters get married on a rebound for a relationship that’s barely a few months old. Characters get worked up about their friend’s love life like it was their own. Characters engaged in women’s liberation raise question about a girl’s moral character because she refused to stay in a bad marriage. Characters fake cancer because, who knows, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is still fresh in their mind?

The sole purpose of this stuffy confection, which feels twice its 135 minutes length, is to prolong the union of its two protagonists as long as possible by throwing in one lame twist (and whiny Arijit track) after another.

Arjun Kapoor does earnest and facetious pretty well but in Half Girlfriend his spontaneity is caged inside a single-minded goal and an accent that isn’t his natural one. The uneasiness shows.

Meanwhile, Shraddha Kapoor confuses Riya for a pretty zombie and blankly reads out her dialogues. It’s such a staggeringly vacant performance; a life-size standee could have done the job.

Speaking of which, the most gut-busting moment in Half Girlfriend arrives in the, er, form of Bill Gates. To witness the philanthropic Microsoft founder’s head superimposed on a body double, hearing out Madhav’s request for funds, is comic and creepy at once. 

Often during his speech Madhav nervously pauses almost as if to check Gates’ head is still in place. For sure the film’s is not.

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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Super filmi week: King’s Speech by SRK

Even as Mumbai’s teenybopper population was drowning in Beiber-sized disappointment, my super-filmi week delighted in a breathtaking journey to Amazon, Satyajit Ray’s fabulous use of fantasy to condemn fascism and Shah Rukh Khan’s gift of enthralling oratory. 

Monday


I am browsing through pictures of Kangana Ranaut’s pleasant-looking apartment featured in this month’s issue of Architectural Digest. Love the cheerful hues of her doors but it lacks that wow factor one expects from celebrity abodes.

Especially Kangana, everything about the Queen star — her films, her opinions, her fashion — is so individualistic, I guess I expected her home to be an extension of her uniqueness.

Something I found to be in abundance inside Irrfan Khan’s artistic pad when the magazine specialising in interior decors took its private tour not too long ago.

 


Columbia-born architect Juan Montoya once said, ‘A room should never allow the eye to settle in one place. It should smile at you and create a fantasy.’ The Piku actor’s sanctuary achieves just that.

Spacious, stylish, warm, dramatic, wondrous and inviting in its aesthetics, it’s everything a creative soul would want to return to after playing an overambitious owner of a dinosaur park gone haywire or a middle-aged office clerk corresponding with a disenchanted housewife.

Tuesday

Thanks to MAMI Film Club’s year round programme, Mumbai’s dedicated cinephiles can now enjoy cinematic treats throughout the year. All you have to do is go to their website and register.

After the award-winning Congolese drama Félicité, it’s time to make a trip inside The Lost City of Z featuring a charismatic Charlie Hunnam, unrecognisable Robert Pattinson and strong-willed Sienna Miller.

Adapting David Grann’s book of the same name for screen, director James Gray evokes the joys of old-school filmmaking — one that places soul above spectacle and slows down to reflect on the sensory, lyrical attributes of nature and uncharted destinations. One of the best (and best-looking) films I’ve seen this year, Gray paints a compelling portrait of the real-life British explorer Lieut Col Percy Fawcett and his life-altering experiences in the Amazon jungle.

The journey to discovery and glory is arduous and long but Hunnam’s consummate instincts and Gray’s intelligent vision in understanding the philosophy and practicality behind such aspirations makes The Lost City of Z achingly beautiful.

Wednesday
Random thought of the day: Bollywood’s love for tiger props comes in Papa, Mama and Baby sizes. Who would Goldilocks pick?

Thursday

“Humanity is a lot like me. It’s an ageing movie star grappling with all the newness around itself, wondering whether it got it right in the first place and still trying to find a way to keep on shining regardless.”

Shah Rukh Khan’s heart-warming speech at the TED Talk is yet another shining example of his free-flowing eloquence. His words are an intelligent mix of care and carefree, they convey humour, wisdom and an honesty that isn’t out of touch with rapidly changing reality and hopes to conserve humanity at all costs.

It’s not the first time the superstar who claims to ‘sell dreams’ and ‘peddle love to millions of people’ has connected emotionally to his listeners.

Yale campus, chat shows, intellectual forums, interviews and, of course, movies, the master of feel-good has chanelled his innate optimism and good sense to advocate ‘ache logon ke saath acha hota hai,’ pursue ‘mushkil raasta’ over ‘aasan raasta’ and reveal the key to ‘genius’ in ways that make King Khan far more valuable than a box office estimate will ever understand.

Friday

The prospect of seeing Parineeti Chopra on screen is filled with promise. But Meri Pyaari Bindu, which is her first big release in a long time, is disappointing in more ways than one.

Like I wrote in my review, ‘Summoning retro to camouflage lazy writing and blandly iterate a widely acknowledged fondness for RD and Bappida’s timeless melodies is not only a great disservice to these greats but also our fond memories of a simpler era.’

Also, Meri Pyaari Bindu celebrates its titutar protagonist ‘as some sort of a free-spirited bohemian when she’s really this unlikable, untrustworthy, selfish, vain, flighty opportunist’ sweet-talking bestie Ayushmann Khuranna to fulfill her every whim.

Agreed that she’s playing a point of view and allowed to be exaggerated. But it’s not like she’s made up. The deception served as his fiction and dumbing down passed off as her fact didn’t work for me at all.

Saturday

What better than Satyajit Ray’s enchanting Hirak Rajar Deshe to wash off Meri Pyaari Bindu‘s mannered Bangla impressions?

Like a lot of kids from my generation, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne is my first brush with the auteur, which was shown along with his other illustrious creations as part of a retrospective aired on Doordarshan in the 1980s.

It’s been so many years but I haven’t forgotten how much I enjoyed it. I had never seen anything like that before and I haven’t since. Embarrassingly though, for a very long time, I didn’t know Hirak Rajer Deshe is a sequel to one of my childhood favourites.

Released in 1980, the National-award winning fantasy resumes the tale of the mellifluous duo Goopy and Bagha’s magical adventures after they accept an invitation to visit Hirak Raja’s kingdom, famous for its diamond mines, and learn about his tyrant ways.

Rich in shrewd metaphors and quirky imagination, it denounces the politics that enveloped India in the time of Emergency through its premise of an autocratic villain, played by a delightful Utpal Dutt, and his complete disregard for the freewill of his subjects.

Hirak Rajar Deshe also stars the legendary Soumitra Chatterjee as the straitlaced schoolteacher but it’s Santosh Dutta’s eccentric, zonked ‘Gobeshok Gobochondro Gyanotirtho Gyanorotno Gyanambudhi Gyanochuramoni‘ scientist I adored to bits.

Too bad I don’t know the language and have to rely on subtitles that can never come close to translating its sur or significance.

Sunday
It’s Mother’s Day! But in Bollywood, it’s always a Mother’s Day.

At least that used to be the case when filmmakers couldn’t imagine a script where the Ma wasn’t the source of all its emotional heft. Like I pointed in my listicle about Hindi cinema’s various strains of Ma.

And so it’s quite nice to see her contemporary face going viral in a sweet short film called Jai Mata Di.

Directed by Running Shaadi writer Navjot Gulati and starring the mother-daughter duo of Supriya and Shriya Pilgaonkar, the film is a charming combination of heart and humour with a Golmaal-like twist that fits right in the emotional space of Doordarshan’s classic Katha Sagar episodes.

This column was first published on rediff.com.

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Review: Meri Pyaari Bindu relapses into indefensible stupidity

Sentimentality towards old-fashioned technology is touching but it is no substitute for functionality. But I doubt Meri Pyaari Bindu will understand my point of view busy as it is channelling it as a stylistic tool to generate nostalgia and a script out of a ‘chaar inch by dhaai inch ka dirty secret.’ 

Not a bad idea to illustrate the deep bond of two childhood friends looped in a mix tape of their favourite songs, rounding up their various highs and lows.

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, it was successfully explored to delve inside a disgruntled guy’s escape from mundane reality. But summoning retro to camouflage lazy writing and blandly iterate a widely acknowledged fondness for RD and Bappida’s timeless melodies is not only a great disservice to these greats but also our fond memories of a simpler era. 

In the absence of nuance, all the gadgetry and dialogues overdosing on pop culture references beginning with the film’s title, are akin to the umpteen frames and furniture littering its two main characters’ rooms. While it doesn’t say much about their sloppy personalities, it sure reflects the messy state of Akshay Roy’s directorial debut written by Suprotim Sengupta. 

Meri Pyaari Bindu is about Abhimanyu Roy (Ayushmann Khuranna) a MBA professional turned best-selling author of horror erotica with titles like Chudail Ki Choli and Awara Dhoban to his credit. Obviously writing of this nature can be enormously demanding and has dried up his creative juices. 

Between deflecting the clamorous attention of his hyper Bengali family (Rajatava Dutta’s James Earl Jones reminiscent warmth is most conspicuous) and a pushy publishing agent, he starts to create fiction inspired by his own life. It makes way for two of the most overused narrative techniques of all time — the voiceover and the flashback.  

At the centre of his story is a South Indian girl named Bindu (Parineeti Chopra), the padosan he laid eyes on as a Chhayageet-devouring 1980s child, who’s been his BFF ever since. Their ethnicity or Kolkata’s vibrant backdrop, tossing in a bit of obligatory Bangla, football and conch shell, is purely cosmetic in its purpose. As is Bindu and her Bhondu’s mutual love for Bollywood songs. 

The point is he is a smitten kitten and she’s his over-romanticized adolescent definition of ‘the one.’ 

It’s a problem.

The film flaunts Bindu as some sort of a free-spirited bohemian when she’s really this unlikable, untrustworthy, selfish, vain, flighty opportunist sweet-talking Abhimanyu into catering to her needs all the time. 

Unlike Jab We Met’s Shahid Kapoor, Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Naa’s Imran Khan or Hasee To Phasee’s Sidharth Malhotra, Meri Pyaari Bindu’s Abhimanyu is unable to make sense of such compassion. He is a blind, bonafide fool and you so wish he wasn’t. I almost felt a sense of relief when he finally, even if jokingly, acknowledged her ‘rebound mein bhi exploitation.’ 

Meri Pyaari Bindu’s show of strength comes from its two actors battling shoddy characterisation.

Khuranna shows he has a range that flexes beyond the surly, street-smart North Indian lads as he smoothly alternates between genial and witty. 

Parineeti has often shown flair in playing people, who can’t help themselves. She brings lightness to oddballs. As Bindu, she uses all her spunk, songstress skills and freshly acquired glamour to distract us from the idiocy of her on-screen behaviour. Vanquished and arguing still, Parineeti Chopra you’re a wonder. 

What amused me though is how little these so-called childhood pals know about each other beyond a compilation of chartbusters, one that is exposed every time Meri Pyaari Bindu abruptly reveals one’s ambition and another’s domestic cravings. Her struggle is unreal and unintentionally comical. One minute Bindu is bungling up a job interview for a dubbing artist by seductively reading out a baingan ka bharta recipe as if it was a segment of Koffee With Karan, next she lands a record deal as easily as buying a dress from Zara.  

I am certainly not averse to whimsical protagonists.

Everything that I dislike about Bindu could also be used to her advantage in creating an unapologetic, compulsive attention seeker. Except under Roy and Sengupta’s infuriatingly daft and regressive outlook, Meri Pyaari Bindu relapses into indefensible stupidity. 

Rating: 2

This review was first published on rediff.com.

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