Set in a pair of grand manors in 1962 Calcutta, this period drama sets out to make a statement condemning the soul-sucking power of wealth and greed, and glorifying the value of placing true love ahead of the glitter of gold. Because the movie was praised highly by my friends over at BollyWHAT?, I had upbeat expectations for it. Unfortunately, with its weak story and poor characterization, Parineeta ("Bride") rather badly missed the mark.
Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan), the son of a famous and wealthy industrialist, is more interested in making music than in making deals. Lolita (Vidya Balan), the orphaned niece of a doddering retired businessman, lives next door with her uncle's family. Shekhar and Lolita have been close friends since childhood; she comes freely to his home and writes music with him. Trouble starts for this sensitive pair when Lolita learns that Shekhar's Machiavellian father is engineering a scheme to acquire title to her uncle's mansion and turn it into a posh hotel. A rich brother-in-law Girish (Sanjay Dutt) turns up and looks poised to save the day, but he's also taken a shine to Lolita. Shekhar, addled by jealousy, allows his father to get the better of him, believing that Lolita has sold herself to Girish. Heartbroken and angry, he joins his father's business and assents to an engagement to another girl.
This sounds like a serviceable, if predictable, Bollywood plotline. Yet Parineeta's central love story falls flat, leaving the film to carry an overwrought and under-motivated setup into an unsatisfying climax. A love story is a tough sell when the viewer is not shown why the principals make a terrific pair, why they belong together. Here, Lolita is charming and delightful (and
gorgeous!). But Shekhar is a jerk of the first order, and his dramatic behavior at the film's climax is insufficient to redeem him. For most of the first half of the film he is angry with Lolita, and instead of telling her what is bothering him, he sulks petulantly and scolds her without explanation. Later on, he
grows even more abusive, assuming the worst of her and refusing to listen when she ardently tries
to explain her situation and her actions.
Indeed, apart from Shekhar and Lolita's childhood friendship, there is little reason believe that they are soulmates or to root for them to sort things out and live happily ever after. The childhood friendship motif didn't add up to a compelling love story in Devdas, and it does so no more in Parineeta. (I was hardly surprised to learn that the Bengali novels upon which Devdas and Parineeta were based were both written by the same author.)
The movie is not without redeeming features. It was beautifully shot. Vidya Balan is a lovely woman whose classically Indian beauty is amplified by traditional Indian clothing. Saif Ali Khan is a sharp-looking fellow as well. The movie also featured a couple of deliciously sexy love scenes; indeed, these were naughty enough to make it a bit absurd that the film stuck to Bollywood's traditional rule against on-screen kissing. The music was very good, though it could have used some more dancing; that was confined to a fascinating traditional performance by Sanjay Dutt and a slightly creepy special appearance by Rekha in a night club item number. All of this, together with some occasional well-executed moments of sweetness, made the film pleasant enough while it was happening. But there wasn't enough there to overcome the weak story and superficial characterizations and lift Parineeta beyond mere timepass and into the realm of the truly memorable.