Director: Raaj Shaandilyaa
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Annu Kapoor, Manjot Singh, Vijay Raaz, Nidhi Bisht, Nushrat Bharucha
Ayushmann Khurrana is a jobless Delhi youngster. He wants a shortcut to success. He is blessed with a natural gift that earns him quick money. The social stigma of it, however, forces him to keep it a secret. He falls in love. Annu Kapoor is a significant part of his life. His personal life is soon at odds with his professional life. The secret eats away at his conscience, he wakes up to the inadvertent humanity of his job, and things become a hot mess before a progressive moral-of-the-story monologue ends the film.
No, I’m not reviewing Vicky Donor. I wish I was. Dream Girl is, at its best, a malnourished tribute to Vicky Donor – the hero’s sperm donation gig is replaced by the silk-voiced hero’s phone-sex-operator gig. The ensemble cast is terrific and the one-liners (“If #MeToo happened during the Mahabharata, the Pandavas would be the first to fall”), creative. The job is used as a device to access – and parody – various sections of society. At its worst, Dream Girl is an endless sequence of cultural-appropriation gags that passes off male horniness as Indian loneliness. It sugarcoats the rawness of male desire to present a loud “family-friendly” take on what might have otherwise made for a reflective story. But even the volume doesn’t quit while it’s ahead. The mistaken-identity motif becomes repetitive after a while – by the end, we derive more laughs out of the individual predicaments of skit-like characters than out of the chaotic narrative as a whole.
Karam Singh (Khurrana) monetizes his ability to invoke his feminine side by doubling up as Pooja, an underground phone-sex operator who finds a loyal client rooster across Delhi’s isolated darkness. Each of ‘her’ lovelorn clients – a poetry-spouting hawaldar, a Jatt party boy, a feminist man-hater, a Brahmin widower and a celibate virgin – is sad and amusing enough to merit a message-filled dramedy of their own. But the greedy Dream Girl chooses the-more-the-merrier route – it uses them as droll ingredients to spice up a familiar primary story. As a result, every thread jostles for space. Some, especially the shaayar cop (Vijay Raaz) and old widower (Annu Kapoor) threads, rise above the casual caricaturization of obsessive love. While each of the actors (except the ‘heroine’) infuse the characters with a distinct brand of physical comedy, there is a stale been-there-donor-that aura to the film’s novelty. Unlike other Khurrana films, even the ‘social’ is forced into the social comedy. The feeble attempts to humanize Pooja’s profession are punctuated by an unnecessary villain and the lead actor’s penchant for token speeches. There’s fun to be had in uneven spurts, but the songs and sappy romance keep appearing to remind us that this is more of a producer’s movie than an actor’s statement.
Would Dream Girl have been a better, more original film back in 2012? Probably. But it still wouldn’t have been a good one. I’m not sure it aspires to be memorable either – a chuckle here, a grunt there, an all-in-one weekend at the movies. Much of this might also be down to Ayushmann Khurrana’s ‘space’ as a Bollywood actor today. His angsty comic timing is infinitely better than Hindi cinema’s idea of commercial (sex, slapstick, small-town) comedy. His quirky social posturing is infinitely better than Akshay Kumar or John Abraham’s idea of national service – it addresses smaller-than-life everyday issues rather than larger-than-life cultural shortcomings. But Khurrana is now so synonymous with his own custom-made genre that, as tough as it sounds, his talent has started to feel a bit monotonous. Dream Girl, despite the ‘risk’ of a mainstream hero acting out an entire climax in drag, proves that it’s possible to turn a carefully cultivated image into a get-rich-quick formula. Once upon a time, this eye-catching lack of egotism might have been declared ‘refreshing’ and ‘offbeat’ – but time is a cruel mistress. One could argue: Why stop doing what you’re good at? The flipside to this argument: Why stop at this when you’re good?