Monday, May 25, 2015

Tanu Weds Manu Returns Movie Review

Tanu Weds Manu Returns starts with a wedding ceremony video- the video itself is a marriage of the two dreams of semi-urban middle-class India: their big wedding day and cinema. They want it to look like a film and the glorious images from YRF's Band Baaja Baaraat or Dharma's Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani hasn't entered their sub-conscious idea of a wedding yet. So the video ends up looking like of the times when Bollywood had lesser sense of aesthetics- the '80s and the '90s. With cheap VFX that makes the groom's face appear in the patterns of henna on the bride's hand, this one has Ram Teri Ganga Maili's Sun Sahiba Sun playing in the background muting the actual sound of the atmosphere being shot (you can imagine that in your head what's making groom's father do a drunky break-dance, obviously not Sun Sahiba Sun). It looks odd in the way Anurag Kashyap places songs in his movies: two disjointed narratives. But this doesn't form the larger narrative form of the film. At first, when the film begins, the video shows us the wedding that we didn't get to see in the first part. Few moments later, when Tanu arrives at her home four years later, it becomes a part of the immaculate detailing of the setup as the folks at her home are rekindling the memory of the big day of their girl watching the same video on TV.

Just after telling how their colorful marriage commenced, we are thrown into a cold scene with the couple- now looking a bit worn out- standing in front of a castle-like building in London. This abrupt change in the tone does tell us that their marriage has gone somewhere after all these years. Where? We realize that as we are told that the building is a... mental asylum. For a sequel of a romantic-comedy melodrama, this is a great place to start with. Clearly, why their marriage is not working is their conflicting dysfunctionalities and sexuality: she's bipolar, he's boring, they claim, she's a flirt, he's a pervert referring to the creepy scene from the first part in which he planted an unasked kiss on asleep her when he had come to see her for the first time. What was wrong with them right from their first meeting (of sorts) has come to bite them now; and what looked like wrinkles in the first part of the film are tried to be ironed out in this one. So this does make for an assured start of a sequel.

An uncertain sense of dislocation creeps in Tanu after she dumps her husband in the asylum and she moves back to Kanpur where she looks out-of-place to others (her casual hug to a rickshaw driver from the mohallah who had a secret crush on her; her entry in a towel in aangan). We enter Kanpur- or precisely, Tanu's home- exactly as we did last time. A kid running around announcing her welcome; other kids making the place homely creating the kind of commotion one could easily relate to a North Indian home. Rai's recreation of such small-town homes is impeccable. Not only as an artistic detail, but also how the small-towny-ness is imbued in the characters. Backfiring sharp tongue in the spur-of-moment conversations is, again, something you could relate to ones belonging from the North India belt: like, when a paanwala warns Chintu (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayub) about Tanu, he instantly backfires "Tum sasur lage ho?"; or when even in a tense situation involving a kidnapping (an overwrought subplot, more about it later), Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal) spews onto a hurried rickshaw-wala, "Teri badi flight miss ho rahi hai". These little things don't specifically arise from the characters but from the milieu itself out of which these characters arise. And these are carelessly thrown in stuff yet with minute attention to their language and dialect. When Chintu is introduced by a certain uncle, he says "Ladka baareek hain." He was, again, referring to his fine tongue.

I saw that subplot of kidnapping a girl from her own wedding as Rai making fun of his own idea (It is overwrought in execution and reaching till that point needs some serious suspension of disbelief). Pappi had arrived to the wedding with the hope that the bride Komal would escape with him as he had "misread" their friendly relationship for a romantic one. It's upon arriving, he learns that she, of course, had no such intentions. Even Chintu had fallen for such false impression of Tanu. This was exactly the misunderstanding between Kundan and Zoya in Rai's last Raanjhanaa. This problem of male-female relationship politics is, in fact, exactly the problem that persists in many such milieus. Again, something coming out of the milieu, and not specifically from the characters, where extremes like stalking, kidnapping comes as an offhanded solution. When Pappi and Manu are stalking someone who is a lookalike of Tanu in an urban Delhi, they know if caught, they'll be beaten to pulp. But how difficult was it for Kundan to perform it in a small-town like Benaras?

Tanu Weds Manu Returns revolves the same circle as Tanu Weds Manu did. It takes the same convoluted path. It is again Awasthi (Jimmy Shergill) who is being robbed off of his fiance. This time it's Datto (Kangana 'Queen' Ranaut in her double role). Like Tanu, she is a rebel too, but unlike her, with a cause. She has broken the regressive Khap panchayat barrier around her to get admission in Delhi University under sports quota. She is supported by her equally progressive brother (Rajesh Sharma). However, she likes to be loved like Tanu; likes to be touched to feel that love (We are taken back to a similar scene from the last film. This is contrived as hell. There's also a missable but remarkable scene revolving around Tanu's white duppatta that has its roots in the first film but thankfully that doesn't comes across as contrived). When Tanu and Datto collide, former tries to demean her and fittingly in Datto's sense of understanding, she gets a piece of her mind which is also quite demeaning to Tanu's character. Obviously, we are being manipulated here to root for Datto. And I did get carried away, for Tanu's rebel-without-a-cause attitude never got down well with me. Her casual fuck-around attitude does make her look spunky but it invites the same debate that Deepika Padukone's My Choice video did. I wanted her to make her choice prominent during the overtly melodramatic and masculine climax of Tanu Weds Manu. She now wants to become like Datto; wants to be loved by Manu again but ends up being sadomasochist like Manu from the earlier film- except that she does that in repentance, while he was just being himself. Well, whatever happened to her rapturous "Move On" attitude?

There's also very little to buy how Manu falls for Datto. But he being eternal romantic like the older Hindi film heroes and this double-role plot coming from the films of the same era, I would give in. But he is also foolishly romantic. He is about to be burned alive by the Khap family against whom Datto rebels, and it is in this moment that he romanticises of Datto's rebellious nature, without realizing that the urgency of the situation lies somewhere else. Technically, I shouldn't be accusing Manu because he comes from Rai and Sharma's (the co-writer) imagination. But that's the achievement  of their writing of such rooted characters. You cannot blame the writers for a character's thoughts and actions. Rai just underlines Manu's feelings here with a romantic song in the background. It's also satisfying to see how Rai and Sharma address a society and its issues in a love story which reminds me of Faiz's "Aur bhi gham hai zamane hain, mohabbat ke siwa". I desperately wanted Rai to make Manu realise this at that moment.

But all of Rai's social-responsibility comes nosediving towards the end when I see him making a rebellious character make last-moment self-sacrificing choice. It's just shattering and I couldn't help but ask where was Datto's brother at that moment?

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