Advertised as a love triangle – two brothers in love with the same girl – Sorry Bhai is actually a film about the new Indian family – siblings who want different things from life, yet share a special bond; a young woman cut off from her family who wants to adopt her boyfriend’s; the intense mother-son relationships that lie just below the laid-back, urbane, upper middle class surface. If it did nothing else, Sorry Bhai would still deserve our gratitude for giving Shabana Azmi her first real Ma ka role – a superbly-written part that draws on (and cleverly tweaks) the Hindi film mother persona, with all its emotional overload, while simultaneously allowing Shabana to channel her inner superbitch.
Moving smoothly from bantering with her husband Navin (Boman Irani, absolutely spot-on as the relaxed, jokey father) to making things just slightly uncomfortable for her bahu-to-be, Shabana plays the hard-to-please Gayatri to perfection. It’s a slim plot, and a lot depends on the performances. Shabana and Boman, of course, are exceptional actors, and share an easy camaraderie that gives the film its most endearing moments. Sharman Joshi, too, delivers a top-notch performance as the absent-minded physics professor who finds himself falling for his brother’s bride. Sanjay Suri does alright as Harsh, the clean-cut elder brother who’s so preoccupied saving his client from a stock market crash that he can’t see that it’s his fiancé who really needs handholding, while Chitrangda Singh makes an effortlessly sexy Aaliyah, (making Sharman’s predicament seem quite understandable), and brings an edgy vulnerability to her scenes with Shabana.
But since many will watch this film for Chitrangda’s “comeback”, it must be said that her character is its weakest link. She’s introduced as a bookworm, but never seems like one; her sudden attraction to Sharman seems inexplicable, and the scenes where she’s confiding in her friend are dismal. (How bad our “sensitive” male directors are at creating credible girl-talk scenes – first Rock On, and now this.) Add to this Chitrangda’s Hindi. Her accented, slightly stiff delivery may have passed muster in Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi, where she was meant to have grown up abroad, but here, mouthing lines like, “Tum apne hone wale pati se pyaar karti ho!” as she looks in the mirror, it’s a disaster. But this is a malaise that afflicts many of the cool new breed of films about cool young people: conversations conceptualized in English (like the one at the jazz bar here) sound stilted in Hindi – partly it’s bad translation: these dialogues have none of the colloquial fluency of real speech; but partly its because the people called upon to deliver them probably never say anything important in Hindi in real life.
For Tehelka magazine, Dec 2008