Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Struggle to Take the Bro Out of the Bromance

Director Rajesh Krishnan’s heist comedy is a step up from most other masala movies about female friendships, but the bar is low.
Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Struggle to Take the Bro Out of the Bromance
Crew Review: Tabu, Kareena, Kriti Struggle to Take the Bro Out of the Bromance

Director: Rajesh Krishnan
Writers: Nidhi Mehra, Mehul Suri
Cast: Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Kriti Sanon, Kapil Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh, Rajesh Sharma, Saswata Chatterjee

Duration: 123 minutes

Available in: Theatres

There are many reasons to cheer for Crew. It’s a film led by women characters of different ages, all of whom are shown as career-driven, and don’t seem to succumb to the usual clichés. With a runtime of two hours, the plot moves at a steady pace and there are plenty of satisfying moments, ranging from the joy of seeing a pervy passenger get his due when he tries to cop a feel on a flight attendant (“Veg or non veg,” she whispers in his ear while viciously wrenching his arm), to a delicious special appearance by Diljit Dosanjh that confirms his status as the internet’s boyfriend (someone, anyone, cast him as the lead in an Indian adaptation of The Idea of You, which plays on his Punjabi pop star status). And of course, there’s the star cast of Crew. It’s rare to see a film led by a woman and it’s even rarer to see an ensemble, women-led cast with three bona fide stars. All hail Tabu, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kriti Sanon, who catwalk across Crew, dragging behind them not just their suitcases, but also the promise of adding glam to feminism and making it fun.

It falls on this trio and Crew’s writers to salvage the wreck that has been the womantic comedy, meaning films led by women that celebrate female friendships (rather than regular romance). Luckily for all concerned, the bar is low and Crew does better than previous films of this genre, like Veere Di Wedding (2018) and Thank You For Coming (2023). Unfortunately, that doesn’t feel enough and despite a few moments of triumph, on the whole Crew struggles to both take off and stick the landing.  

Kriti Sanon, Tabu, Kareena Kapor Khan in Crew
Kriti Sanon, Tabu, Kareena Kapor Khan in Crew

Using the very real tragedy of how the staff of Kingfisher Airlines were devastated when the airlines went bankrupt, Crew tells the story of three flight attendants, at different stages in their career, who take to smuggling because they haven’t been paid for months. Initially, Geetu (Tabu), Jasmine (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and Divya (Kriti Sanon) are just acquaintances at work. It takes the death of their stodgy male superior to turn the women into a gang of friends, after they learn the dead man was making a small fortune by smuggling gold out of the country. In its first half, Crew shows Geetu, Jasmine and Divya living it up as they sashay between India and a fictional Middle Eastern city called Al Burj, ferrying gold disguised as chocolates that probably would have been Ferrero Rocher if the brand had joined Crew’s long list of branded partners, which includes Louis Vuitton and Wow! Momo. It’s the one aspect of Crew that actually shows range — unlike the writing and acting.

There’s nothing wrong with catwalking across a film, especially when the leads are as stunning as Tabu, Kapoor Khan and Sanon, but Crew struggles to make these women feel either relatable or charismatic. Sanon brings the energy of an enthusiastic front-bencher to her performance of Divya, who seems to belong to the stereotypical “hum do, hamare do”, middle-class Indian family, but beneath that conventional facade is a young woman who relishes violence and one-night stands, and is lying to her parents about her job. It’s a character that should have felt provocative and complex, but the writing is perfunctory and Sanon brings an earnest, good-girl quality to the role that serves to dull the character’s potential edges. That’s arguably better than the dialled-in performances by Kapoor Khan and Tabu, who deliver crushing reminders to their fans that they are indeed capable of mediocrity. It doesn’t help that the three women have little chemistry between them. Compared to their performances of friendship, the brand placement in the film — how about some Forest Essentials skincare or a dress from Ajio when you’re in the mood to pamper yourself? — feels more authentic. 

Tabu and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Crew
Tabu and Kareena Kapoor Khan in Crew

Questions of Class and Gender 

With lazy one-liners and punchlines that are frequently mired in tasteless classism, the humour in Crew has too little sparkle. Every now and then, characters trot out dialogues that punch down at women who occupy lower rungs of the social pyramid. Tabu’s Geetu bemoans how she’s gone from “beauty queen to bai (domestic help)”. Later, when unemployment looms large on the horizon, Geetu snarls, “Khadi ho jaaon Linking Road pe, gajra laga ke (shall I go stand on Linking Road, with flowers in my hair)?”, making a reference to sex workers. These lines are intended to draw laughs — and depending upon the makeup of the audience, they might succeed in doing so — but the humour pivots upon disrespecting the labour of women who are considered “low class”, and distancing Crew’s heroines from “those” type of women. 

The class distinction is also shown pointedly between the flight attendants and customs officer Mala (Trupti Khamkar), who is dogged in her investigation and suspects Geetu, Jasmine and Divya. Mala is not only denied the subtlest hint of make-up but also speaks in a coarser tone, is shown eating with crude messiness, and having a shrieking meltdown. Once we’ve laughed at Mala’s expense, the character is shoved aside. Khamkar’s performance redeems this supporting role, which is written and depicted in a way that emphasises a class difference between Mala and the other women — not with an intent to show solidarity, but to make Mala look shabby in order to elevate Crew’s heroines. 

Class differences are also made obvious in Jasmine’s relationship with a janitor, which is limited to the two women smiling at each other and Jasmine pressing money into the other woman’s hands. It’s not a friendship as much as an exercise in establishing Jasmine as golden-hearted and generous under her facade of money-grabbing narcissism. It should come as no surprise that at a later point in the film, the janitor is called upon to help Jasmine. Instead of making the effort to set up a friendship — which is essentially a relationship of equality — Crew opts to keep the relationship between the janitor and Jasmine as transactional: The janitor’s loyalty has effectively been bought by Jasmine, who is richer and higher up on the social ladder. The only conversations the two women have are functional and tie up loose ends in the plot. Such details feel particularly jarring in a film that ostensibly celebrates female friendships because equality and solidarity are central to the idea of a friendship between women.     

Under the forced banter and a plot that steadily loses coherence while leaning on ridiculous coincidences, the subtext of Crew is to explore what on-screen women can do if they’re given the space to behave like their male counterparts. To that end, Divya, Geetu and Jasmine swear, smoke, have casual sex, make money, crack crass jokes that objectify the female body, and slap women. This quickly becomes less an act of ungendering and more about seeing what the story can get away with. Does the line “Saamaan dukaan se bahaar hi rakhiyo (put your wares in the front of the shop)” — with “saamaan” referring to breasts, and “dukan” swiping at the idea of women using sexuality for their own gain — objectify the woman less if Tabu says it? Does using bad language become funnier if a woman speaks it because she’s going against convention or is it just the shock value of a potty-mouthed woman aping juvenile male behaviour? Rather than exploring how women use language with one another or the distinctive rites of passage that establish a sense of sisterhood, Crew imposes the patterns of bromances and male humour upon its women characters. The fit is awkward and unimaginative, constricting the idea of femininity by mapping it upon masculinity.

Kriti Sanon and Tabu in Crew
Kriti Sanon and Tabu in Crew

Evolving a New Genre?

Crew is proof that evolution can be a frustrating process to witness, especially at a time when audiences have access to diverse entertainment cultures. It’s possible that for some, Crew will feel like a feminist whoop, and the fact that it’s a release that is much-anticipated makes it heartwarming. However, compared to how female friendships have been written in films and shows like Frances Ha (2012), Insecure, Lipstick Under by Burkha (2016) and Four More Shots Please!, there’s a lack of imagination to Crew. It’s trying too hard to replicate formulae that have proved successful for male ensembles, rather than working towards building a creative construct and language that’s distinctively feminine, and not just because of the physical fact of women playing the leads. Let’s hope Crew is the next step in a new genre evolving into itself in which women can define themselves on their own terms, rather than against conventions established by others.             

It’s worth noting that unlike the regular bromance, which is free to be quirky and have low stakes, a film that has female friendship as its foundation must also have a loftier purpose attached to it. When Geetu, Jasmine and Divya first embark upon their criminal activities, they’re only looking to help themselves. As motivation, this has traditionally worked without a hitch for male protagonists of heist comedies. However, the women of Crew are punished for their self-centred behaviour. They have to earn their top billing (and the right to wealth and luxury) by bringing down the bad guy who is responsible for bringing misery to thousands. 

Not just that, Crew also feels the need to end with a message about being sympathetic to the pressures that characterise the Indian middle class. The didacticism comes out of nowhere and is proof that the makers of Crew are blind to how radical it actually is to show women being friends who support one another, privileging the details of their everyday lives over the demands and expectations of society and social hierarchies. If Crew had just been able to show a truly authentic female friendship, it wouldn’t need anything else to justify itself. That’s it. The fact of a female friendship, covering everything from resistance to conflict to wish fulfilment, that’s the message.

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