After Delhi 6 and Luck By Chance earlier this year, if there’s another movie that’ll slip under the radar before you could recover from a festive weekend it is What’s Your Raashee? Unlike the other two, it hasn’t sent the so-called critics fighting or raving. It is given a unanimous thumbs down from the niggling, finicky intelligentsia that would rather revel in ho-hum life lessons of two “fuck-ups” on a road trip in remote America to work out what it takes to be parents: yes I am talking about Sam Mendes’ twee and slight Away We Go, a film he started and completed while doing post-production for his infinitely superior Revolutionary Road. Now I am a fan of Mendes and all, and I have seen Away We Go, but it is nothing more than a bittersweet familiar-quirky indie that is less profound and funny than it thinks it is, but what has really gotten to me is how everyone on the desi writing scene has trumped and patronised this over a well-scripted, painstakingly mounted and performed homegrown socio-comic drama like What’s Your Raashee? Yes, opinions are like belly buttons and all but the unfair amount of snobbery WYR has and will be putting up is just befuddling. More importantly, it is quite disorienting to think that in their over-analysis and hyper-dissecting ways, even reviewers who one assumes to discern good cinema from bad, cannot be trusted to spot a good film when they see one. Pardon the overtly righteous tone here but I was at loss of words when I came out of the cinema at the number of misgivings I had about this. It swells my heart no end to see a director telling a story so well. Ashutosh Gowariker has again crafted a piece of motion picture that is wholly suffused with heart and pathos and imagination and is so quintessentially Indian and all the more original for that, that it will find appreciation as days, months and years go by. Or atleast that is what I hope. It is not cinema gold, and it is certainly not his best but it is definitely close, and not far behind, respectively. To compare what Gowariker makes when he is on a break to what Mendes does is just something to ponder upon as both the auteurs’ recent work hits the screens simultaneously.
Yogesh is an NRI-boy who’s being emotionally blackmailed to fly back and then forced to marry in ten days to get his big brother out of debt-the scheme being an exacting-for-virtue grandad who’d will all his assets to Yogesh the day he ties the knot. He lands and after casually shrugging off the hoodwinking, finds an Indian Linda Goodman-esque paperback snuggled between spines of Gujarati literature during a jetlagged insomniac night and in a Eureka moment, infuses this obligation for the family with his version of incentive by looking for twelve brides in ten days with the notion that this will offer him a chance to make the journey to the decision less arduous, more fair and infinitely more interesting [we are led to believe that our affable leading guy isn't all that "into" the fantasy-world of soothsaying horoscopes, sunsigns, kundlis and more such ilk]. Clearly,WYR has an imaginative ring to its premise and it delivers from the word go.
Even in this first half hour of the first act of this movie, there are moments of such touching sublimity, like what compels Yogesh to say yes to the parade that is an Indian arranged marriage in that moment where he’s served water by his sis-in-law who just glances teary-eyed and in that look lays bare of how hapless and humiliated she is of being tied to a dork like Yogesh’s big brother. Even Yogesh’s attitude towards his family, regardless of how infinitely different their viewpoints on marriage, partners and life might be, is commendable. There isn’t any indulgent rebellion or wallowing in tiresome despair, just moving on to the next step of trying to make the best of what is presented to him. I found this inherent curiosity of his to see “where it all leads to”, the spring-in-step embracing pacifism really mature and endearing. Besides Harman’s underplay really helps the cause. He’s a good-humoured, assured geezer who doesn’t wag his ass back to Amreeka at the ludicrous proposal being put in front of him (essentially a lose-lose proposition for him) where if he doesn’t wed, the debt-ridden family will be forced to go into hiding and if he does hitch up, the chances of him truly ending up with The True Love of his life are next to nil given the time constraint.
And so his journey starts with an awkward Arian, and I won’t solemnly dissect her awfully funny quirks here, but just that she attempts to smoke, drink, drop awkward English syllables to impress. And is caught. There’s a touching minute of sentimental confession that reveals how she went along with her dad to tutor herself with stereotypical personality paraphernalia [listed above!] to impress an NRI boy. Then there’s the upfront Aquarian who reveals she’s taken and it would be better if she’s rejected after a facile drive around town, which reveals Yogesh’s got much up his sleeve with vocals and guitar as a terrific male-aria fills the auditorium, Jaao Naa (only jarring moment being the husky chorus-y vocals that Priyanka’s cords elicit are unintentionally hilarious). And then to a Gemini overgrown teenager, with whom Yogesh, clearly in his element with locking and popping at her college festival, in a telling moment reveals how he’d react if his other half is switched off impressing the young lady who’s obsessed with screen/romcom versions of love. Then there’s the cryptic Cancerian who’s aggrieved by an ex who walked over her to knock someone else up. Decked up in ashen pink and Dabur Vatika tresses, you’d think she’s a doe-eyed starlet trying her best to look convincing in a Star Plus soap, but she’s not. What’s more, it takes just one interaction on the balcony to intrigue Yogesh how deep the pathos runs in an otherwise integrity-laced maiden. Then the Libran corporate vixen with a 24/7 attached to her hip and a business-approach to marriage replete with pre-nup who sets the scene for a thoroughly imaginative and enjoyable absurdist-scifi-comic-fantasy dance. Followed by a creepy reincarnation-believer with an overbearing dad who, in another expository fantasy (where the Sridevis and Madhuris are channeled in a cliffside windy routine and Piggy Chops gets to heave a requisitely padded bosom) later, when reveals on feeling suffocated in the room is greeted by a fabulous comeback by a creeped out Yogesh who comments on feeling suffocated in his body. The comedy is fabulously toned-down, timing terrific, writing just crisp enough. And interactions have space to breathe. It might last a good 192 minutes but the movie’s characters, its 12 girls, Yogesh’s family and their conflicts and joys during the space of this one month stay with you.
Post-intermission, a split-personality Scorpion, an underage Capricorn [10 minutes of this is more effective than the heinously exploitative and shamefully regaled-as-the-next-big-thing TV soap Ballika Vadhu], a virtuous Virgo doctor, a slutty Sagitarean pujarini, a rumbustious theatre performing Leo who gives an earful to Yogesh for giving the roadside ice-gola a snub or finally a princess Taurean playing cuckoo to dissuade suitors with a wanton eye… What’s Your Rashee? is forever engaging. Sometimes with its broad farce, sometimes with its ever-so-pertinent character-elaborating ditties where the things unsaid and the spontaneous flights of emotion get a musical voice, and sometimes with its wholly convincing drama. It doesn’t fail to baffle me in how many ways WYR could’ve gone wrong and unspooled as a tired mess, and how it never does. Of its many triumphs, foremost is its writing. Like it should be for a drama as seeped in surreality as in reality. Then be it the emotional heft given by the family’s whole debt-ridden theatrics, or the comic froth risen by the illicit dalliance of the matchmaking uncle of Yogesh which besides adding to a pre-climactic Wodehousian ruckus of sorts cushions the unpredictable meetings of Yogesh with the girls with a continuous comic sponge.
The organic nature of all the meetings: some ending abruptly, some on an ugly note, some suffused with feel-good but truncated by priorities; it just adds so much plausibility to the proceedings, you believe in Yogesh’s journey. Vignettes hardly exceeding fifteen minutes sure, but within their on-screen time constraint they mimic the slippery slope of state of affairs that an arranged marriage always is. And yes, the impact of first impressions, the first dates, first encounters: every glance, every smile passed, every tear-swollen eye, every anecdote shared and every sarcastic remark pointed demands attention here, which thanks to Gowariker’s keen eye, gets it. The guy wears his social conscience on his sleeve alright but never for a moment plods on with it. Accessible, trendy and rooted, his male protagonist, Yogesh’s reactions to his 12 hopefuls is as interesting as a single actress’s enactment of the 12 disparate girls replete with quirks, aspirations, pasts and futures. It taps into the gravitas and grandeur that comes with an institution like marriage with the traditional joint family is evoked as lovingly as in the early Barjatyas and his winking-smirking magic-realistic touch to cast a singular face in twelve different visages is a celebration of and a comment on the diversity of the 21st century Indian female experience on one level besides the more obvious one of every girl’s essential sameness from a curious groom’s vantage point is downright fantastic. Plus is there a guy who captures everyday kitchen-sink, drawing room interactions as lovingly as he does without resorting to easy caricaturism? Straight up, No.
Priyanka Chopra’s spectacular turn as the twelve wholly disparate characters are filled with enough nuance and meticulous, tasteful subtlety (when she could have so gone for a broader, straighter, cartoonish OTT version to ram the character in the audience’s psyche given she barely has 15-20 minutes to leave an impression on us and her on-screen to-be groom) that deserves nothing but accolades. The gorgeous and intuitive lass is going from strength to strength and we are all the more thankful she’s constantly up for a challenge. And Harman Baweja is everybit the sincere Gowariker hero that this script asked for. In one of the many self-referencing moments in the film, he’s your non-steroid-buffed, ethical and moral hundred percent Indian male. All my skepticism of the boy’s talent has been laid to rest by his confident, charming underplay. Poor man’s Hrithik he might be, but then this film did require an everyman persona with some Bollywood flourish. Both these, or rather 13 of these main characters are scaffolded ably by a whole motley of Gowariker-staple character actors and theatre and TV thesps each of whom retain the uproariously funny, inconsolably Gujju and often mesmerisingly sublime tone of this upanyaas of a flick. The production design is detailed (Nitin Desai, I heart you), Priyanka’s looks supremely entrenched in the milieu her 12 characters inhabit, the music very situational but jeweled by Jaao Na, Kitne Chehre, Aa Chal and Su Che, and the ode to performing arts other than the movies along with the ample jazz inserts and detailing is slick. Moreover it breaks new ground by taking two extremely over-shot and over-commented aspects in the romcom genre: compatibility and marriage, putting a whole new spin of archaic tosh about horoscope on this and somehow managing to deliver something that flows, and has a thing or two to say about the times we live in.
In all, a genuinely feel good social dramedy filled with good people making sensible choices and elevating their life experience, this is one movie you can enjoy with your family.