Director: Akshay Roy
Cast: Parineeti Chopra, Ayushmann Khurrana
We know Bindu. She's that girl. She's the heartbreaker, the game-changer, the restless spirit destined to change the core – for better or worse – of the men she touches. In actual life, she's fickle, flaky, warm, cold, unpredictable, expressive and selfish, determined to live life on her own terms, leaving wrecked relationships and shattered conceptions in her wake.
Yet, she waltzes in and out of places and lives as she pleases. She isn't ashamed of being confused, and carries her feelings in a suitcase. She is novel and exciting – something like fleeting art – for smitten boys, but unreliable and conscienceless for jilted lovers. It's easy to label her "unstable" – the flimsy types feared by good Indian boys' mollycoddling parents. But that's a common misconception. She is anything but. In actual life, it's easy to resent her. It's hard to get over her.
Cinema, too, has known Bindu for years. Or at least, the idea of her. It has thrived on her. Just like the 'contemporary love story,' she is a genre. She has appeared in various manic-pixie avatars, opposite various disillusioned heroes. One year, she's Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Alfonso Cuaron's Great Expectations (echoes of which can be seen throughout Meri Pyaari Bindu), another year she's Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) in 500 Days of Summer. One year she's Riana Braganza (Kareena Kapoor in Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), and another year she's Tanu Trivedi (Kangana Ranaut) in the Tanu weds Manu series or even Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra, again) in Shuddh Desi Romance. In reel life, she is almost always easy to love and difficult to understand.
She is a tightrope walk for screenwriters – who're saddled with the tough job of making her, both, aspirational and a cautionary tale. Along the way, she is influential in the man's career and evolution, and serendipity is invariably the device that allows them to reunite at different junctures. But except Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Hindi films often treat her recklessness as a 'condition' – a passing phase – until she comes of age (read: settles down with the romantic, stable hero). There is always a definite outcome. It's always about "them" instead of an individual story.
This is where Meri Pyaari Bindu begs to differ. It demonstrates a rather progressive perspective. It is about one person, not a couple. Which in turn means it is about one point of view and one kind of love – and doesn't carry the narrative baggage of having to explore and analyze the other person.
So if Bindu (Chopra) is half-baked and overly filmy, it's because he remembers her that way. If she isn't convincing, it's perhaps because he didn't understand her – just like movies never really do. If they never quite share any chemistry and look odd together, it's because maybe it was never there to begin with. It's made clear from the beginning that this is the story of a writer (Ayushmann Khurrana, as Abhimanyu Roy) using his own story, and heartbreak – its memories, music, smells, closure, locations, incomplete emotions – as fuel for his next book.
As a result, Bindu remains equally inexplicable right through, without changing, and all we sense is the direness of Abhi's graph. And this is a good thing. Characters like Bindu are perpetually in the process of finding themselves, so there's no reason we should expect their creators to know why they do what they do. The first time he sees her as a child moving in next door, she strides into her house regally, her long hair and mannerisms reminiscent of a young Estella showing Finn around her reclusive aunt's mansion.
From then on, each of her attributes is heightened to make sure we know that they are very different people. To remind us that everything he finds so desirable about her will be his downfall one day. And that he knows this, too. And to warn us that even though she is a complicated girl, mainstream storytelling holds the duty to indulge her; to make her a singer (Carefreeness 101), and an exceedingly excitable human being.
Because in the end, it's still down to the MBA v/s following-your-dreams conflict, the thinkers v/s doers quandary, the love v/s ambition predicament. As relatable as they may seem, one can then sense the extra impact that his goofball parents, her father, her backstory, his friends and his "writing" have to make in order to define an entertaining environment.
The film may present itself as a conventional rom-com, but I can't help but feel that its much-marketed form is also a problem. The thoughts are right: songs triggering memories, heartbreak serving as an eventual medicine, and a man finding his calling because of – and not despite – a seminal separation. While this gives first-time director Akshay Roy the license to establish a tone, dip into the cacophony of quintessential Calcutta households and 1990s mixtape nostalgia, it also prevents him from tapping into the true moods of romantic closure. The bitterness of it, the starkness of it all – which is where Chopra's vacant voice and meandering grins should have amounted to more than just an "independent" sense of fashion.
Maybe that way I'd have believed her more when she says she doesn't really know what she wants, but knows what she doesn't need. The design of YRF productions, I believe, is always restrictive when it comes to the invisible existentialism of urban dramas – the physical fabric being a method of compensation for inherently one-dimensional lead personalities. Because in the end, it's still down to the MBA v/s following-your-dreams conflict, the thinkers v/s doers quandary, the love v/s ambition predicament. As relatable as they may seem, one can then sense the extra impact that his goofball parents, her father, her backstory, his friends and his "writing" have to make in order to define an entertaining environment.
I'm not saying this would have made for a somber, serious-looking and effective indie. But the fact that it's a fairly commercial-looking, decent-budgeted film makes it a different animal: it means to tell a largely visceral story about minds and unrequited feelings using a traditionally visual palette. Like an introvert attempting to convey his/her emotions through the mouth of an extrovert. As a viewer then, you suddenly notice the oddities of a non-linear narrative, the breaks in emotional continuity, and the fervent desire of the filmmaker manifesting itself into the vacuum of the writing life.
To be honest, a writer is boring to watch. We are essentially lifeless creatures looking to create life on paper. Bindu's temperament is simply an antidote to Abhi's, so that somehow their generic-ness acquires a cat-dog compatibility on screen. It is familiar, isn't very memorable, but is just about functional enough to pass off as a 'personal' film.
Perhaps at a different stage of my life, I might not have liked this movie at all. I might not have found the need to engage with it. As of now, owing to certain circumstances, I do, which is why I expected to be more moved – or shaken, healed or affected – by Abhimanyu's plight. By Bindu's callousness and energy. By the writer's words. By his coming of age. Either way, these "great expectations" are enlightening. They make me see Meri Pyaari Bindu for what it is: an imperfect little film that doesn't overreach for the stars.