18 October 2015

Dismissed with Prejudice

My Mirror column today:

Pyaar ka Punchnama 2 returns to the premise of its 2011 predecessor: a supposedly comic investigation into modern love in India, conducted entirely from the male perspective.

Luv Ranjan's first paean to the pain of men appeared four years ago. The original Pyaar ka Punchnama (2011) centred around three Delhi lads and the horrendous women they try earnestly to woo. Pyaar ka Punchnama 2, released last week, repeats the premise. The men spend the whole film being manipulated by the women, and end by revolting against the shackles of relationships - just as they did in the last film. 

Perhaps this repetitiveness is something of a sign: If men learn nothing from bad relationships, they're condemned to repeat them. 

As with the previous film, Ranjan's men may conform to type, but they are portrayed with warmth and a degree of accuracy. The original PKP had the guitar-playing stud (Raayo Bhakhirta), the sweet boy (Kartik Aaryan, then Kartikeya Tiwari) and the argumentative nerd (Divyendu Sharma). The new film retains Kartik Aaryan, now playing the saucier Gogo, and has replaced the other two actors with Omkar Kapoor as the strong, silent, sexy Thakur, and Sunny Singh as Chauka, the golden-hearted type you can always depend on. 

The scenario is largely the same as before - the three male protagonists are close friends who work in corporate jobs, and share an apartment. The black leather couch and guitar of PKP has been replaced by a more sophisticated beige sofa, while a motorcycle is parked at the edge of the now un-messy living room like some totem of imagined freedom. There are other signs of settling down: the older PKP framed romance as relief from deadening jobs, but the new one doesn't show them chafing at the bit, except if it's to start out independently. 

The women - the same actors as before - are given even less complexity to play with here. On the surface, Ranjan appears keen to establish that his women aren't old-style cliches - he gives them all the external accoutrements of being modern: They drink, they talk back, they have sex before marriage. Their positions on things seem entirely rational at first - Kusum (Ishita Sharma) asks Thakur uncomfortable but reasonable questions about why he's always the one shelling out cash for the trio; Chiku (Nusrat Bharucha) insists to Gogo that a platonic male friend isn't a threat to their relationship; Supriya (Sonnalli Seygall) tells Chauka it's a good idea to introduce him to her conservative parents as a friend before springing him on them as son-inlaw. 

But if you dig just a little deeper, PKP 2's women are just as unattractive as in the older film. Chiku is a rich brat, who when she's not bitching her boyfriend out to her bimbo-esque friends, seems to spend all her time going shopping, partying, or painting her nails. Worse, her interest in the male friend turns out to be not-so-platonic after all. Supriya leads a double life - she gets Chauka's attention by demanding whiskey at a shadi-wala secret car-o-bar, but turns out to be a gutless liar who can't gather up the courage to tell her conservative father that she's dating him. Ishita Sharma, whose Charu spent the 2011 film manipulating Divyendu Sharma's poor Liquid into paying for her, again plays the manipulative, money-minded fightercock as Kusum. (Though here she gets to be in-your-face sexy rather than retiring violet.) 

The original film had at least a certain brutal comic accuracy, even if it insisted on showing all its men as pure victims, with not a dishonest bone in their bodies. The new film is much less funny: What had some lightness earlier now feels dull and heavy. The female stereotyping here - the endless shopping trips, the "you didn't pick up my phone" guilt tripping, the shrill attention-seeking - has a bitter edge. 

There is certainly something complicated and interesting about the sort of women the film depicts, who seem caught between an old world and a new one. These are women who have jobs but not careers, who don't earn as much as the men they date, and channel any ambition they have into their boyfriend's careers. If they're well-off, it's because they have family money, and then they're spoilt brats (that version of the mollycoddled life is nicely captured by the invisibilised, unspeaking domestic help who appears with plates of cut fruit every time Chiku enters). They're bold enough to experiment with alcohol and sex, but not to fight an actual arranged marriage. They make gestures of equality - in terms of money, or sexual freedom - but don't live up to their side of the bargain. 

It is not as if there are no women in the world who might act as these ones do. But Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 is not the film to explore their actions with some complexity. It simply tars them as duplicitous. And as with the previous film, the men take no responsibility-- neither for the emotional miscommunications they allow to fester, nor for the women they've chosen. The film has a perfunctory line of dialogue about the ridiculousness of 'love at first sight'. But in fact, that's how all our heroes choose their partners. 

Whether it's a perfect posterior at the gym, a curvaceous kamar at a wedding, or a dancing vision of loveliness at a party, hotness is the one and only criterion that matters. It makes sense, then, that none of these relationships have anything beyond sex to make them stick. Lest you think I'm being too harsh, the film makes an open admission that men only put up with relationships for sex - which women are accused of holding out as a bribe. "Isse toh accha hai apne haath se hi shaadi kar lo!" declares a frustrated Gogo. Given how instrumental, how tragically limited, this vision of relationships is, perhaps that's really not such a bad idea.

Published in Mumbai Mirror, Oct 18, 2015.

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