Here’s one of my biggest laughs of the year, but let me first set it up for you. We are in the Mumbai apartment of the Batras – Varun (Akshay Kumar) and Deepu (Kareena Kapoor Khan) – and there are two more Batras in the living room. The latter are neighbours, who’ve moved from Chandigarh: Honey (Diljit Dosanjh) and Monika (Kiara Advani). The two couples are like chalk and chole bhature. Varun and Deepu are yuppy stereotypes, Honey and Monika are puppy stereotypes. Good Newwz paints these characters with every single cliché, and then some. Varun and Deepu’s classy home could be featured in Architectural Digest. With all the gold curlicues and sequins, Honey and Monika’s apartment looks like the love child of Marie Antoinette’s bed and Maganlal Dresswala. And then, Monika farts. Loudly.
That’s not the joke — at least, not all of it. Monika is pregnant, after all. As is Deepu. The joke is also that someone farted in this house. It’s also that Honey isn’t the least bit embarrassed that his wife just broke a largish amount of wind in the house of neighbours who don’t really care for them. It’s also that Varun – high on a joint – is in splits. He’s laughing about everything. It’s also that Honey cheerfully asserts that Deepu may be letting it rip, too. “Paad shaad to nikaalte hi honge…” It’s also that a horrified Deepu claps her hands to her mouth, and — for an instant — she seems less the character than the actor, a princess of the Pataudi family, being accused of passing gas by a “commoner”.
If Diljit Dosanjh’s persona were a movie, I’d imagine it’d be something like Good Newwz: genial, casual, warm, comfortable with its blingy brightness, not particularly out to transform the world but impossible to resist. The film’s high concept is that — thanks to a mix-up at an IVF clinic — Deepu and Monika’s baby daddies are the Batra they’re not married to. The resulting plot points — the man who feels happy enough without a child, the wife who worries that her husband may be more interested in the woman who is carrying his child — feel like what would result if Salaam Namaste‘s sperm were inserted into Filhaal‘s egg. But despite the modern trappings, we are also in the realm of seventies’ tearjerkers like Swarg Narak, where two couples are put in situations that make them rethink their lives.
What works is that these (potentially) heavy themes are shoehorned into the ultra-broad sitcom format. This makes for one very real problem: when the going gets serious, the emotions aren’t fully earned. The transition from laughs to tears isn’t smooth. But first-time director Raj Mehta has such superb screwball instincts and the writing (Jyoti Kapoor, Rishabh Sharma) is so knowing and funny that I didn’t mind all that much. Who knew Adil Hussain could be this hysterical! He plays the new-agey head of the IVF clinic, someone who offers an earth-mother prayer before each procedure. A bit involving eye drops had me dying. Adil plays it all with a poker face, and the character’s painful earnestness makes him even more of a riot.
The entire cast explodes. Kareena is perfect as the model-perfect woman whose desire to become a mother turns her life upside down. At first, Deepu looks down on Honey and Monika, these hicks from a lassi-drinking hicksville. But later, as pregnancy begins to soften her, she attempts to get to know Monika. She asks Monika why she opted for the IVF procedure. Why not simply adopt? The wide-eyed Monika (Kiara infuses the character with such innocence) simply says, “Apna khoon to apna hi hota hai.” Deepu is reminded of her own reluctance to adopt, when the doctor asked her about it. And she’s the “sophisticated” one, the one who’s supposed to be “cool” and “woke” about stuff like adoption. Deepu sees that, despite her Vogue-ready lifestyle, she’s not all that different from this Mata Rani-worshipping simpleton.
Akshay has the trickier part, because Varun is even more condescending than Deepu is. The way he keeps shaming Honey borders on the obnoxious. But again, he gets a levelling moment when he sees Honey and Monika in the ICU, taking a look at their premature baby. The things he hated the most — their garishness, their loudness — are gone. They are now in hospital-blue gowns. They have blended in. They are just like any other set of parents, just like… him and Deepu. Akshay’s comic timing is on point, but when he mists up a little after this scene, lying beside Deepu, I misted up, too. I don’t want to make this sound like deep drama. It’s strictly a sitcom-level epiphany, but it works.
And now, the man who walks, jogs and runs away with this movie: Diljit Dosanjh. The part of Honey is hardly a stretch, but it’s a reminder of what pure pleasure it can be when actor and character fuse so perfectly. He takes jokes that sound flat on paper (like how Honey pronounces “sperm” as “spam”) and makes them fly. And Diljit’s essential desi-ghee goodness takes the sting off the potential offensiveness. He makes the character so sweet, such a good man, that Honey seems to be saying: If you look down on me and my red-velvet wardrobe, then that’s YOUR problem! The film is equally unapologetic. It wants to make you laugh a lot, weep a little, and walk home with a grin. The good newwz is that it checks all these boxes.