It's rare in Bollywood - a story that takes its own time to cultivate, where developments don't happen in hyper-mode, where problems are simple and real.
So here's a story where two urban people who are in love, and the villains, as it were, are well-meaning parents.
Adapted from Chetan Bhagat's autobiographical book 2 States, the film is about IIM grads Ananya and Krish, who are in love. They decide to get married because Krish (Arjun Kapoor) realizes that he's thinking about her all the time, which must equal love. He gatecrashes Ananya's (Alia Bhatt) placement interview to propose marriage. She accepts.
All's well till Meet The Parents happens. They naively believe their parents will submit to their choice and support them wholeheartedly. Sadly, the parents, who meet first at their convocation ceremony can't stand each other.
Krish's Punjabi mother finds the Madrasis - an inaccurate and generic term used for all South Indians - too grim. Ananya's Tamil parents find the opposite side 'uncultured'. For both parties, it's a match made in hell.
The two sprightly youngsters decide to win over each other's family. Sounds like fun, but forget the filmi entertainment of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge where the boy's winning over the girl's family is as easy as pie.
Here the problems are real, and the solutions too. So Krish volunteers to tutor Ananya's younger brother, he helps out her father with an office project, and so on. Both sides try to break the ice with limited success. While Ananya's parents are skeptical of the North Indian family's lack of culture, Krish's mother worsens matters by continuously hinting at 'gifts' (a prettier word for dowry).
This is where the film is not clear on its own politics. We see a boisterous Punjabi wedding, where the family of a plump groom called Duke (because he's foreign returned), threatens to break the marriage because the bride's side is giving them a smaller car than decided. Instead of being outraged at this blatant dowry exchange, Ananya steps in to salvage the situation by suggesting a compromise.
Also the film indirectly advocating abusive behavior by showing Krish's mother putting up with his father's abuse, is unfortunate.
The film has some heart-felt moments. Krish and Ananya's coupling has a sweet, contemporary touch. Revathi (who plays Ananya's mother) singing Saathiya… from her 1991 film Love, is a nice moment (even if incongruous).
The equation between the protagonists with their prospective in-laws has some interesting insights. The slight nuances like Krish's mother (Amrita Singh) freaking out because he helps Ananya's parent with their luggage is a sad reality in our country, where, oddly, a section of parents of boys still consider themselves entitled to extra privileges.
Krish's mother dreams of keeping her daughter-in-law on a talwar ki dhaar (the edge of a sword) and what she gets is a free-minded, independent girl. Krish faces the dilemma faced by several young men of walking the tight-rope between their conservative mothers and contemporary life-partners. It's no easy task, as we see in the film.
Debut director Abhishek Varman lets the story simmer without cramming it with developments. He has an understanding of both characterization and visual flair. He falters in using repetition to make a point. Another grouse is that the film takes a very poignant premise and just scrapes the surface.
Varman takes liberties and exaggerates the obvious cultural oddities of both communities, without delving into the more significant aspects. So the Punjabis are loud and obnoxious, while the Tamil home is so gloomy and sparse, it looks like a 'Punjabi home that has just been robbed'.
As far as characters go, Krish and Ananya are bound to be identifiable for the young viewers, who absurdly, still face parental opposition for marriage outside their community. The performances vary. Arjun Kapoor is dull as the young Krish, making the performance way too understated. Alia Bhatt, on the other hand, is an absolute livewire, infusing the performance with charm and smarts. As a pair, their chemistry clicks off and on.
The stellar cast that makes up Krish and Ananya's parents (Ronit Roy-Amrita Singh; Revathi-Shiv Subramaniyam) are fabulous.
Cinematographer Binod Pradhan makes the '2 states' of Delhi and Chennai come alive with stunning visuals. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music is another plus.
The film targets a young audience, and they have to be prepared to appreciate the story at a slower pace than they are used to in commercial Bollywood cinema. It's worth the patience, because you get a well-cooked meal where all the flavours get a change to integrate with the dish. Worth sampling!
Rating: 3 stars