बैंड बाजा बारात
Dir. Maneesh Sharma
It isn't often that a new film makes me wonder how it will be remembered in 30 years. Even most good movies are looked back on with affectionate nostalgia; only a few attain the status of classics, elevated in memory to a cultural touchstone, something more than a nice way to spend a few hours. Before you decide that I have lost my mind: I am not quite ready to say that Band baaja baaraat ("band, fanfare, wedding procession") is such a movie, though it is delightful and extremely well-wrought. Yet, just like the business created by its protagonists, Band baaja baaraat is a synergy, more than the sum of its parts - enough so to make me wonder whether more might be going on here than just the best-made love story of the past few years.
Shruti Kakkad (Anushka Sharma) is a young woman with a plan. Fresh from college, she has a vision of building the biggest wedding planning business in the country, and is not afraid to work for it. Her classmate, Bittoo Sharma (Ranveer Singh), talks Shruti into a business partnership, if only to buy some time before his father drags him away from the excitement of Delhi, and back to the family farm. Shruti and Bittoo take to the work like demons, putting in long hours together and working their way up from small celebrations in dingy chawls to the grand prize of wedding planning - giant, multi-day, estate home affairs. Their style is unique, colorful, and fun, and their business - Shaadi Mubarak - has arrived. But the growing attraction between Shruti and Bittoo sours the laddoo; Shruti's rules of business don't leave any room for passion, and Bittoo sees himself too much the gadabout to let love tie him down. Shaadi Mubarak bends and breaks under the strain, and each of the partners tries, unsuccessfully, to carry on the business alone. It is going to take near-divine intervention to get Shaadi Mubarak - not to mention Bittoo and Shruti - back on the right track.
Band baaja baaraat is, most importantly, a ton of fun, well-paced and colorful - and cleverly constructed with built-in excuses for multiple wedding songs without turning the movie into Hum aapke hain koun. It is a cute, shiny entertainer - accessible, charming, and funny, and blessed with lots of terrific music. Shaadi Mubarak's signature style is described in the movie with the words "chatak" and "dhinchyak" - both rendered in the subtitles as "kitsch" - which lend the whole film a wonderful shimmering color and energy that is exactly what makes this kind of Bollywood movie so immersive and fun.
But for all of that delicious sparkle, Band baaja baaraat is also a lot richer and more character-driven than most love stories. It isn't just two hours of stalling to see how the principals find their way to each other; there is a strong character arc for each of them, a process of maturation that is very satisfying to watch. The movie gives them a few lucky breaks - the one that brings Shaadi Mubarak back together after the rift, in particular, is a little too far on the deus ex machina side of things - but it also never shies away from showing just how much hard work Shruti and Bittoo pour into their business.
As a modern, independent young heroine, Shruti is even better than Jab We Met's Geet, strong-willed without being reactionary, visionary without being flighty. She is far from flawless - she has eye rolling down to an art form, and it is clear from the beginning that she will need to develop some flexibility and a sense of humor before movie's end. But develop she does - her speech to Bittoo in the movie's climax nearly made me stand up and cheer - how refreshing to see a young woman in a movie, after suffering a heartbreak, dust herself off and prepare to get on with her life! And at the resolution, she accepts him without compromising her strength, noting that "uske tang tod dungi, partership nahin" ("I'll break his legs, but I won't break the partnership").
The movie's excellent handling of the sexual facet of Bittoo and Shruti's relationship is refreshing, poignant, and thoroughly relatable. It is not sex itself that throws a wrench in Bittoo and Shruti's works; it is their failure to honestly acknowledge and communicate their feelings about it and about each other. Band baaja baaraat does not have even the scent of a morality tale, in which young people's ambitions are driven off the rails by sex. No one's life is ruined by sex - in particular, Shruti's life is not ruined. The message here is only that one should be as mature and forthright about matters of the heart as one is about matters of business - but in neither sphere is it necessarily a bad thing for a woman to be aggressive about getting what she wants.
With all that richness in Shruti's character arc, Band baaja baaraat would have been a good movie even if Bittoo were merely a cipher or a foil for her development, but he too gets a satisfying character progression. He starts the movie as a bit of a feckless loser with more strut than substance, and a capacity for lying under pressure that, one feels, will cause him more trouble than it gets him out of. But Shruti's steadying influence puts his natural (if rough) charm and fast-talking ability to its best possible use, and there is much delight in watching Bittoo coming to understand how he needs her.
As such a character-driven movie, Band baaja baaraat asks much more of Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma - a newcomer and a near-newcomer - than most light romances demand of their young stars, and part of what makes it so good is that the two of them are more than up to the task. And that is where I start to think about where Band Baaja baaraat will end up after a few more decades of filmi history. There is something about its electric young jodi that reminds me of the thrill with which folks remember star-launching romances like Bobby or Qayamat se qayamat tak. As a work of filmmaking craft, Band baaja baaraat is far better than either of those. But even as the decorations get taken down and the bleat of horns fades into the distance, the question lingers: are Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh a nascent powerhouse jodi?
And beyond just the power of the pairing, Band baaja baarat offers a bold, empowering, reflection of the industrious, young population of urban India - it's like Rocket Singh with sex and without the questionable business practices. (It's no small matter that Shruti is explicit in her conviction that Shaadi Mubarak distinguish itself from the prevailing wedding-planning practice of cheating customers. Band baaja baaraat strives to show an alternative path to success besides beating the establishment at its own game.) The segment of middle-class society portrayed so positively in Band baaja baaraat is, in no small part, the folks who get to decide which of today's movies are tomorrow's classics. So, does this movie capture a watershed moment in the development of the Republic? That is a grand and heavy load for a light, comedic romance to carry. If any movie can shoulder that load, though, Band baaja baaraat is it.