2 April 2018

Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017)

Directed by: Tanuja Chandra
Music: Anu Malik, Rochak Kohli,
Vishal Mishra, Ali Merchant
Lyrics: Raj Shekhar, Hussain Haidry,
Varum Grover
Starring: Parvathi TK, Irffan Khan, 
Neha Dhupia, Pushtil Shakti, 
Siddharth Menon, Luke Kenny, 
Brijendra Kala, Navneet Nishan
I don’t usually review new films. I figure there are enough reviews, synopses, and what have yous about new films that it’s not worth my while to add my two paise of content to it. However, ever so rarely, I do make exceptions. Either because I just had so much fun or because they are films that I love that I think deserve to be better known. Qarib Qarib Singlle (don’t be put off by the misspelling in the title – there’s a reason for it) is both entertaining and good. It definitely deserves a little more love than it’s gotten. 

The film begins with Jaya Shashidharan (Parvathi TK), a 35-year-old army widow whose life revolves around her work (she works in health insurance) and her home where, until recently, her younger brother lived with her. She’s the go-to person for her friends, whether it is to baby-sit their kids and take them shopping, or look after their cat while they are away. She’s confident, hardworking, takes pride in not having taken a single day off from work, and is relatively content with her life.
Despite all that, sometimes, comments still pinch – the aunt who asks her whether she’s seeing someone, a friend who thoughtlessly introduces her as ‘the senior whose husband died’, another who – not unkindly, but without meaning to – refers to her as 'stepney', the colleague who’s always trying to set her up with various single men or, to at least ‘get some action’ lest she turn 'virgin again'… Finally, Jaya gives in and decides to open an account on a popular dating site, ‘Ab Tak Singlle?’

So she sets up a fake profile as ‘Jayashree TK’ and in a nod to all profiles on social media, lists one of her hobbies as ‘skydiving’, and makes herself a couple of years younger to boot. Jaya is repulsed by the initial responses to her dating profile – cheap tawdry passes from men who are looking for sex. She’s almost ready to delete her account when she gets a straightforward response from someone who finds her profile interesting and asks if she would like to ‘give some coffee shop a bit of business’. Hesitantly, she agrees, only to later have doubts.

However, she forces herself to go to the rendezvous at the appointed time. Enter Yogi (Irrfan), just as Jaya is getting ready to leave, a vision in red and yellow, confident, funny, engaging, and horribly irritating. 
He lounges about, is aghast at the idea of having sandwiches for dinner, is ruefully resigned at learning Jaya is a vegetarian, and manages to get her phone number by the simple expedience of borrowing her phone to call his driver.

Jaya has never met a man like him, and she’s not sure she wants to know him further. But this is Yogi – he tells her the ‘right’ way to eat mangoes, convinces her to see him again, lands up at their next date with a box full of mangoes (his driver jogging alongside him with the box), makes bad puns, pokes mild fun at Jaya’s seriousness, goes on and on about his exes who he says are heartbroken – until, Jaya, exasperated, tells him to go meet all his exes to find out if they really are pining for him.

If she thought that would burst his bubble, she’d underestimated Yogi. After expressing initial reservations, Yogi is soon planning the trip. Would she like to go with him, he asks Jaya; his treat. She can pay her own way, snaps back a flustered Jaya. Yogi is admiring – so speaks a feminist! Okay, he will pay for the journey and the food, and she can take care of the hotels; but, he says, it has to be two rooms. Jaya is not sure whether to be angry or amused – but no, she has no interest in meeting his exes. Or him.

But soon something happens to change her mind, and impulsively, Jaya calls Yogi and agrees to the trip. She will be his ‘cousin’ she says. Later that night, she’s to rue her decision, and decide to call it off. But something impels her to continue, and soon, this odd couple are on their way.
What follows is a delightfully humorous journey from Delhi to Rishikesh to Jaipur to Gangtok with two endearing people who laugh and squabble and disagree about almost everything under the sun. 
Jaya is self-sufficient, independent, and can deal with most things life throws her way. She’s certainly not waiting around for Prince Charming, and probably wouldn’t know what to do with him if he did. She is also unassuming, vulnerable, prickly, acerbic, and given to second-guessing her own decisions. While she’s still quietly mourning her husband, you get the feeling that yes, she would like some male company, but no, she’s not that desperate that any company would do.

She is matter-of-fact about some things and can be annoyingly immature about others. Just the way she allows Yogi to ruffle her feathers makes you both smile and want to remind her she’s a grown-up. 
Parvathi infused her Jaya with a touching vulnerability and humanity that makes you root for her to find her happiness – wherever that may be.

Yogi is an extension of Rana in Piku. But Irrfan is talented enough to make you feel for him, even if you want to smack him for being such a pain. He misses flights, takes the wrong train, is obsessed with food, brags about his ex-girlfriends, jokes all the time, and can be annoyingly cheery and engagingly funny. Irffan is a joy to watch as he turns Yogi into a multi-faceted individual who likes to go with the flow. He grows on us as the movie progresses, and one can see why Jaya would be both intrigued and attracted to him at the same time that she would probably like to throw him off the train herself.
Director and co-writer Tanuja Chandra (the other writer is her mother, Kaamna Chandra), back after a long hiatus, competently directs possibly her best film yet. Seldom have I seen a mature love story without the baggage of family and emotional melodrama. Here, the only baggage is what our protagonists carry, both literally and emotionally. While Jaya has definitely moved on with her life, there’s an underlying melancholy when she remembers her husband. (His name is her password.) ‘I have Manav – he’s the love of my life,’ she tells Yogi, and is speechless when Yogi gently reminds her that ‘He was.’  

The interplay between the two characters is also fabulous. Like the scene where Yogi is aghast that Jaya has booked them into an ashram instead of a hotel.
Or the one where, after they leave Radha, Jaya commiserates with Yogi: ‘Par ‘mamaji’ nahin bulana chaahiye tha.’ ‘Chhote sheharon mein aisa karna padta hai, Jayaji,’ responds Yogi. Jaya solemnly  nods her head in agreement. Then, eyes twinkling, she quips, ‘Chalo, kam se kam woh phoot phoot ke, phoot phoot ke, phoot phoot ke royi nahin thi.’ By the end of that sentence, she is struggling not to laugh. Yogi acknowledges the hit with an expressive look, but responds with a straight face, ‘Kya pata woh baad mein royi ho? Mere jaane ke baad?’

What also appealed to me were Yogi's interactions with his ex-girlfriends. Both Radha and Anjali meet him with such unbridled joy. It is clear that they remember him with affection, equally clear that they have both moved on happily. Radha (a joyously self-assured Pushtil Shakti), in fact, not only introduces him to her husband and sons, but when, giving in to her persuasion, he sings ‘Bade acche lagte ho’ impishly queries, ‘Aur?’ in the middle of the song. It is nice to see the usually self-assured Yogi pause, flustered, before he grins and continues ‘Aur… tum’. 

Similarly, Anjali (a stunning Neha Dhupia) reminisces about their love for each other, remarking (after hugging him) that his ‘mehak’ has pulled her into her past. She even digs out the maroon kurta she was wearing the first time they met. But she’s also the one who tells Yogi (about Jaya), ‘She’s a keeper. Don’t let her go.’  After all, as Anjali remarks, ‘Nirmala bua ki ladki kabhi main hua karti thi.’ Thus implying that she's guessed what Jaya means to Yogi. I like that she can tease him that way, or that Radha can close his lips with her fingers so casually.

It was refreshing that past relationships can be remembered even celebratedwithout rancour, and with such deep affection. At one point, when Jaya makes a comment about Yogi hanging on to his past, he asks her, ‘If we were to get together – hypothetically – would you be able to forget Manav? Should you?’ Such a pertinent question. Do we forget our pasts to embrace our present, or should we make just peace with it knowing that is what made us who we are today?
The ending is equally refreshing. It's the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Will it progress to love? It’s too soon to tell. It’s not the grand heady all-consuming passion that romance is often made out to be on screen (indeed, there’s a scene where Yogi subverts the ‘saath jeene marne ki kasmein’ trope) but you leave feeling that there’s something between them that’s far more important – a relationship between equals. There is a mutual attraction and liking. 
Perhaps the passion will follow. Or not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what Jaya and Yogi have now.

If I do have a peeve, it is that Yogi’s ex-es – the fantastic Radha and the gorgeous Anjali don’t get enough screen time.  I would have liked them fleshed out a little more. Especially the world-weary Anjali. I also wish the ‘break the fourth wall' trope wasn’t used, or used quite as much but these are minor peeves in a film that has much to recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a gentle mature romance that meanders slowly through witty dialogues and expressive silences, with no item songs, no melodrama and no villains, this is the film for you.

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