I understand why the matinee-show moviegoers around me couldn’t stop laughing. The girls behind me giggled till they cried. An usher was so busy smiling that he tripped on his way out. The couple in front choked on their coffee thrice. Almost like they…wanted to laugh louder. They wanted the screen to entertain them harder. Who can blame them? Right now, most of us need a happy space. Any sort of fleeting escape will do. Hell, if it’s not there, we will find it. In this climate, a movie like Good Newwz – a big Bollywood ‘social comedy’ that resorts to ridiculous lengths to rediscover Akshay Kumar the comedian from deep within Akshay Kumar the preacher – seems like the perfect medicine.
The premise – of two vastly ‘different’ couples whose IVF procedures involve a mix-up in which both sets of sperm are deposited into the wrong uteruses – is fashioned to concede the stage to Kumar. He is admittedly funny. As a man who discovers that his wife is accidentally pregnant with another man’s baby, he leaves no stone unturned to remind us of his pre-nationalism days. A glimpse of Hera Pheri here, a snatch of Bhagam Bhag and Garam Masala there. Both the wives even speak out against abortion and adoption so that the outlandish conflict can continue to bring the clown out of Kumar. He plays a droll husband whose predicament makes him exasperatedly mock everything from fertility to womanhood to doctors to Sikhs to accents to abortion to childbirth. At one point, his character is so stoned that a pregnant woman in the scene is made to fart so that he can break into peels of hyena howls. At another point, he is embarrassed by his Punjabi mother referring to his condition as “Slipped dicks” instead of Slipped Disk. When his wife (Kareena Kapoor Khan) demands sex twice while she’s ovulating, he responds with a “main andar se sukk chuka hu” (My insides are parched). I mean, what’s not to love?
The most dangerous thing about Good Newwz is that it’s an easy crowd-pleaser. It isn’t obviously apparent, but the film is narrated from a dizzying perspective of privilege. Under the progressive garb of IVF and childbirth and parenthood, it ends up making a running joke out of the Us v/s Them narrative. Much of the film hinges on the condescending (and therefore, amusing?) attitude of a posh upper-class Mumbai couple towards their “desi” Chandigarh counterparts. But given that it is a Dharma Production, both the parties are obscenely wealthy. Imagine if one of them was middle-class – there would be no space for those manic meltdowns and monologues in a 1-BHK apartment. Varun and Deepu can’t stand the fact that their future baby will carry the genes of someone like Honey (Diljit Dosanjh), a son-of-the-soil landowner who acts like a younger version of Paresh Rawal in Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge. As a result, his ‘simple’ wife (Kiara Advani) and he are repeatedly insulted in all sorts of colourful ways, and they keep bouncing back like rampant rednecks with a heart of gold.
You can almost imagine the writers go “Let’s pit the SoBo types against the crass Honey Singh types”. At least in the case of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s characters in K3G – despite his sardonic tone towards her cultural brashness – they are in love with one another. Here it’s just a barrage of jokes at the expense of the “other”. In its attempt to tackle the misconceptions of artificial conception, the film ends up reiterating the divides defined by social artificiality, elitism and classism.
Humour is simply a smokescreen to laugh at what we don’t understand. In that sense, Good Newwz hides its pretensions far better than a smug advertisement of wokeness like Ki & Ka – but the truth is that neither of them is self-aware enough to know what their real messages are.
Humour is simply a smokescreen to laugh at what we don’t understand. In that sense, Good Newwz hides its pretensions far better than a smug advertisement of wokeness like Ki & Ka – but the truth is that neither of them is self-aware enough to know what their real messages are. One merely has better gags than the other. The drama in the end almost never compensates for the tomfoolery that leads up to it. And to believe that childbirth melts all walls – even if it’s the wrong bun in the wrong oven – is to propagate that pregnancy is life’s ultimate ambition. And, by extension, marriage is worthless without it.
Some of Akshay Kumar’s most humorous moments in Hindi cinema are often derived from a tone of desperation and dismissiveness. His throwaway comments are uncannily timed. They are also derived at the cost of everyone else in the frame. This works in an all-out comedy, but it’s unsettling to see it take center-stage in a film about dysfunctional drama. You sense that the makers might not have been confident enough to deal with the complexities of a straightforward story about a modern couple and their IVF adventures, so they added a punchline. The reason Badhaai Ho was good and successful is because the gimmick – of a middle-aged couple conceiving in a middle-class society – was also the message. Here, the gimmick – of the sperm mix-up – is nothing but a vehicle to make the message more watchable.
The same premise could have been afforded a sense of humanity if it were based on a couple who resorts to donor-assisted reproduction instead (in Vicky Donor’s crossover universe). But then, we would be denied the wit of Akshay Kumar schooling Diljit Dosanjh. We would be denied the empathy of Kareena Kapoor Khan sharing paanipuris with young Kiara Advani. Who will make us laugh and cry?