Director: Sneha Taurani
Cast: Sunny Kaushal, Rukshar Dhillon, Shriya Pilgaonkar
A new-age dance movie is a cute beast. The rhythm of the writing almost never matches the rhythm of the super-agile humans and their intensely choreographed energy. There are only so many ways to depict the healing power of song and dance in Indian cinema – where song-and-dance is already a deep-rooted narrative device – without coming across as utterly unoriginal and derivative. For one, such films must swear by the kind of happy-go-lucky but musically middling environment that promotes a dance competition as the ultimate do-or-die career event around which dramatic life-and-death decisions are made.
Bhangra Paa Le, for instance, takes the life-and-death part a bit too seriously. It tries to pull off a Rang De Basanti by crosscutting a pointless college rivalry of 2019 featuring star dancer Jaggi Singh (Sunny Kaushal) with a dusty British-Indian Punjab of 1944 in which Jaggi’s grandfather Kaptaan Singh (Sunny Kaushal) is a twinkle-toed soldier recruited for World War 2 solely because his infectious dancing talent inspires the Sikh troops. In short, a malnourished Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar elopes with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi but ends up having a quick and dirty shotgun wedding with Good Morning Vietnam instead. You can sense that the makers are trying too hard to convince us of a world in which a war of Bhangra – arguably the most globally recognized form of Indian dancing – is comparable to wartime love. The 2019 portion has Jaggi getting it on with rival dancer Simi while battling it out to win a ticket to London “not as an illegal immigrant” but as a legitimate star. There is not a single moment here that we haven’t seen before – including the Amritsari heroine’s love for vodka, tikkis and her single mother. Or Jaggi’s decision to go back to Pind, recruit a son-of-the-soil desi team and hit back as an underdog.
In short, a malnourished Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar elopes with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi but ends up having a quick and dirty shotgun wedding with Good Morning Vietnam instead. You can sense that the makers are trying too hard to convince us of a world in which a war of Bhangra – arguably the most globally recognized form of Indian dancing – is comparable to wartime love.
The 1944 portion is cinematically fertile, but wraps up in a tearing hurry. A man dances to become a soldier, dances at a wedding to catch the attention of a girl, dances to fall in love with her, dances to convince the girl’s family of his noble intentions, dances in war while bullets kill his comrades – he dances a lot. Sunny Kaushal, younger brother of Vicky Kaushal, stood out in the pre-Independence hockey drama Gold as a hot-headed Sikh striker. As a result, he looks far more at ease as an earthy Kaptaan here; his love for Bhangra looks rooted and enjoyable, making him resemble the ever-grinning cricketer Shikhar Dhawan in many scenes. But Kaushal lacks a sense of charisma as the flashy Jaggi – it often appears that he doesn’t quite know how to react when he isn’t shaking a leg. Rukshar Dhillon is unremarkable; it doesn’t help that her college is named GNDU. It also doesn’t help that a bunch of 1990s classics – particularly Rangeela Re and the Karan Arjun anthem Bhangra Paa Le – are remixed (read butchered) to fetishize Bollywood’s favourite North Indian culture. Director Sneha Taurani, daughter of Tips co-founder Ramesh Taurani, could have done far more than dip into the family vault to score what is essentially a boring dance-off between self-serious millennialism and nostalgic traditionalism.
I didn’t exactly come out of the movie and crash the nearest wedding to do some drunken Bhangra. I came out and wondered if writing about a movie featuring a Patiala-peg-drinking contest might have been more fun instead. In my alternate universe, 2020 is yet to begin.