Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017): Look, there are lots of problems in Qarib Qarib Singlle. As there are in life. But that’s what makes life, and life in the movies, worth living.
Qarib Qarib Singlle (QQS) is a delightful ‘romp’-com about two middle-aged strangers, one a widow the other a vagabond, travelling together to meet his ex-girlfriends. Don’t giggle. Nothing new here. But then if you want something new, please visit your nearest mall and buy yourself a fresh coat of paint for your living room. Movies make sense only when they bring us characters we know in ways that we never knew that we knew them. And I can swear I have met Yogi and Jaya somewhere. The fact that they are played by Irrfan and Parvathi(who is a prized find for Bollywood) is just so providential for director Tanuja Chandra. The director gets the best possible actors for the two principal parts. I can’t imagine what Yogi and Jaya would have been like had they been played by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. What follows after the flawless casting for the flawed protagonists is sheer serendipity, as Yogi and Jaya, so mismatched they make chalk and cheese appear like long-lost twins, take off on a journey that they, and we, can never forget.
More than anything else it is just so refreshing to meet protagonists who are over-the-hill and not afraid of the view on the other side…. At least not afraid to peep with brazen curiosity to see what lies in store after middle age. So I was telling you about Jaya and Yogi. Jaya is a 35-year-old widow and Yogi is an obnoxious chipkoo, a human leech who just doesn’t know when to stop trying to get the other person’s attention. In real life we avoid the Yogis, although we know they are helpful, kind generous, considerate and well-meaning. Irrfan pulls out all stops to play Yogi. He redefines the word ‘obnoxious’, and manages to make Yogi endearing, like a distant benign loud and crass cousin who makes politically incorrect ambivalently sexist comments sounds plausible and acceptable. I doubt any actor except Irrfan could have played Yogi so honestly. Irrfan has a terrific co-star in Parvathy, a well-known name from Malayalam cinema, she plays Jaya with the right doses of insecurity and swagger, pulling in her breath when tense, exhaling exuberantly when relaxed, making Jaya one of Bollywood’s first post-30 heroines whose insecurities define rather than obstruct the free flow of festivity. There are memorable cameos dotting the devilishly flippant plot. Siddharth Menon as Jaya’s brother on FaceTime, is a part that shines for its writing. Navneet Nishan as a ditzy gossip-monger shows up twice with lumbering languor. And the wonderful Brajendra Kala is terrific in a cameo as a hotel receptionist wondering if he should allot a single or a double room to Yogi and Jaya. Our thoughts, exactly. Though we know how this would end(movie hai na, baba) we get sucked into Yogi and Jaya’s crazy Bharat Darshan, probably because we have all been in such situations thrown together with people whom ideally we would avoid. Also, the journey is so strikingly captured.
Cinematographer Eeshit Narain makes Hardwar, Rishikesh, Gangtok and even Rajasthan look inviting enough to make us want to leave everything behind and rush for a holiday. But not now, please! There is business yet to be finished between this…this…criminally unmatched couple who seem to share nothing in common except trains, planes and taxis. Speaking of taxis, there are two interesting cameos by chauffeurs whom Irrfan’s Yogi insists on calling ‘Betaji’ and who, again, like much else in the film are people whom we’ve all met at some point in life. The film persistently strikes up conversations we have had, or overheard somewhere or the other. Tanuja Chandra’s film doesn’t simply touch your heart. It runs against the most sensitive portions of the heart, tugs and pulls at your emotions in ways that are far from manipulative or gratuitous. Yes, some portions after the midpoint get repetitive. The narrative tends to sag in parts. But nothing that Irrfan and Parvathi can’t swoop up in their arms and revivify. QQS is a gloriously joyous journey into the heart and the heartland. It is refreshing to come across a film where the protagonists sound neither over-rehearsed nor strenuously casual. The conversations are real. Mercifully when these protagonists talk or sing they are not afraid to make mistakes. And yes, get ready to fall in love with that vintage Amit Kumar –R D Burman number Bade achche lagte hain all over again.
Tumhari Sulu (2017): One extra star in this flawed and often loosely structured film for Vidya Balan’s extraordinarily empathetic performance as a middle class housewife, okay home-maker, with serious concentration issues. You see, our Sulochana , aka Sulu can’t focus on any one thing (but then this film can’t focus on the issue at hand either) not even her growing son who , as it turns out, becomes conveniently problematic as the narrative progresses. A scene later in the film in the principal’s office of Sulu’s son’s school made me cringe in the way similar sequences of reprimanded parents never made me feel in English Vinglish or English Medium. The progress report of Sulu’s life runs in direct proportion to the storyteller’s(feeble) ability to keep the momentum alive. Or perhaps ‘progress’ is not quite the process this lengthy often baggy and loose-limbed inconsistent film achieves as it tries to put together Sulu’s scattered life into a semblance of cohesiveness. But then you can’t really pin down a middle class home-maker’s life, not when she wants to fly. Vidya Balan brings forward Sulu with all her inconsistencies and flaws… The trouble is, the narrative seems even more inconsistent and flawed. The editing(by Shivkumar Panicker) is languorous to the extent of seeming lazy and compromised. Many sequences refuse to end just so that we can watch Ms Balan perform. We really don’t need any convincing on that score. So why unnecessarily make the show a show reel for the powerhouse actress?
When the narrative is not busy converting the converted , and when the camera can pull itself away from gazing admiringly at its leading lady’s infinitely immersive portrayal of what Glen Campbell sang about ‘Dreams Of An Everyday Housewife’, it takes us through a cumbersome labyrinth of Mumbai’s working class lifestyle. You know, the local trains, the economical eateries, the traffic snarls, the talkative cabbies…. The world of Basu Chatterjee’s romance comes into its own in a rush of surface-level nostalgia. Even the songs used for creating nostalgia represent a world that is scarcely in the past. Compound the film’s shallow reading of nostalgia with a tendency to get over-cute , and you have an embarrassing sequence like the one where a senior citizen calls up RJ Sulu and requests for an “old” song which turns out to be ,ha ha, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin.
What works, and works like charm , is Balan. She is incredibly poised in conveying her character’s uncertainties. The quiver in the voice when hurt by her husband, the emotional outburst when hurt by her son, the sob-filled laughter when hurt by life… Balan’s performance treads on the shards of life without wounding the character’s soul. She is gloriously charming. And then some more. Other actors also lend heft to Sulu’s towering presence. Neha Dhupia as Sulu’s boss , Vijay Mourya’s as her jealous RJ rival and Manav Kaul as her husband are in one word, elevating. In two words, elevating and life-enforcing. But I often felt these well-written defly-performed characters belonged to a better more cohesive and sharply written film. Tumhari Sulu is more remarkable for its central performance than for actualizing the performance into a state of durable renewability. Often, the storytelling gets sluggish, and the narrative faces the imminent danger of losing the audience. But then, Vidya Balan takes charge over and over again. And as in life, so in the film, we realize all is not lost.
Image source: IMDb