Directed by: Abhishek Jain
Writer: Abhishek Jain, Prashant Jha, Deepak Venkateshan
Cast: Kriti Sanon, Rajkummar Rao, Paresh Rawal, Aparshakti Khurana, Ratna Pathak Shah, Manu Rishi Chadha, Prachi Shah
Cinematography: Amalendu Chaudhary
Edited by: Dev Rao Jadhav
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
I thought 14 Phere – a 2021 caste-based dramedy featuring a trendy live-in couple who hire fake sets of parents to trick each other’s regressive families into a wedding each – was a tonal mess of a movie. But Hum Do Hamare Do – a 2021 social dramedy featuring a trendy orphan who hires fake parents to trick his orphaned girlfriend into believing he’s sanskaari like that – is a tone-deaf mess of a movie. Vikrant Massey and Kriti Kharbanda star in one, while Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon star in the other. But it’s impossible to tell the difference. It’s one giant shared universe of people pretending to be people they’re not, and old people processing emoticons and Whatsapp lingo. If I look back ten years later, I might erroneously recall Ayushmann Khurrana in both. (Brother Aparshakti plays the best friend in one of the two; I already can’t remember where). You get the gist. This genre is way past its saturation point. It all merges to form a single cookiecutter-North-Indian blob of cross-cultural set pieces. In fact, the family-for-hire trope has gone so far that it’s only a matter of time before Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters screams: Am I a joke to you? (To which We’re The Millers replies: Yes).
We’ve reached a stage in Hindi film discourse where if a movie is dated and formulaic, baffled viewers like myself tend to wonder if it’s perhaps a deliberate ode to old-school Bollywood pulp. But I’ve no such conflicts about Hum Do Hamare Do, which is gratingly basic on many levels. Somewhere inside, there’s a nice story about the core idea of family and familyhood – but it’s buried so deep that not even the drilling team from Armageddon can reach it. I don’t mind the unlikely premise…actually wait, I do. Boy meets girl at a fancy event, he’s rude, but the two pretty Chandigarh natives bump into each other twice more because this is a movie. She notices him teaching street-kids on the footpath (‘70s Bollywood maybe? No? Okay) and all is forgiven. Needless to mention, montages occur to save these characters the trouble of speaking, feeling or conversing – or whenever time is in danger of passing.
Hero Dhruv (Rao), a rags-to-riches orphan who often recalls his days as a helper at a highway dhaba, is rattled when lady love Anya declares that her parents died in a cinema hall (I wonder which film) – and that she dreams of marrying a man with a good family and a dog. It’s the politically correct equivalent of growing up poor and wanting to marry a wealthy prince. For some reason, her sob story makes Dhruv conjure his own family out of thin air to impress her uncle and aunt – a decision that’s passed off as humorous but is also borderline serial-killer-ish. I say this because every time Dhruv spots a family in a public space, he stares at them emptily and a sad-violin score emerges. When he does convince an old couple – who have some sad-violin history of their own – to be his makeshift parents, it feels like the makers are relentlessly milking four broken souls who need therapy. The old man (Paresh Rawal) and woman (Ratna Pathak Shah) were once in love, but now he’s a lonely alcoholic and she’s a widow with an estranged son. Yet, the film turns his pining into a flimsy comedic device – symbolized by a scene where he gets drunk and makes a scene at a restaurant.
That they begin to think of Dhruv as their real son makes for a solid psychological drama, but the writing simply goes with it, without once probing the delusions of everyone involved. I’m convinced that the real film should have been about these two – fine actors, poignant characters – but they’re reduced to narrative pawns in the lives of twisted orphans. When their conflict is resolved, the film moves onto the ‘main’ conflict. We know Anya and her family will learn of Dhruv’s lies in the most dramatic fashion. Sue me if I’m wrong, but the echoes of Dil Toh Pagal Hai – from Anya’s noble uncle-aunt upbringing to a climax featuring the truth being ‘broadcast’ on a public stage – are unmistakable. Happy song after sad song, the film seems to be going through the motions, more focused on following bullet-point structures than being honest about its themes. The performances barely matter, which is not something I imagined writing for a Rajkummar Rao film back in 2017.
Even if one were to accept the silliness of it all, we need to talk about the way modern Hindi films depict new-age professions. Dhruv is the Bollywood version of a Silicon Valley whizzkid – the inventor of a Virtual Reality app called “Jaadugar”. So he confesses his love to her by showing up in a VR video of her late parents’ wedding – a perfectly creepy proposal that would have been a red flag to any girl on this planet except Anya. At one point, his app is not selling, so he comes up with the questionable brainwave of restructuring it to help families take exotic vacations from their living rooms. “That way, nobody needs to travel again,” he exclaims, like a man who genuinely believes he’s making the world a better place. The writing is so desperate to connect his profession to the film’s theme that this is what it comes up with.
Anya, on the other hand, is a freelance blogger who has 1.6 million Instagram followers for the heck of it. Her introduction aside, we never hear of her job again. She isn’t seen staging photographs, endorsing products or blogging. Worse, her alleged fame has absolutely no bearing on the outcome or dressing of the plot. This tokenistic nod to the internet generation is a problem that extends beyond derivative movies like Hum Do Hamare Do. It’s likely the least of its issues, though I kept hoping against hope for the film to switch genres and reveal that the entire experience was a new VR demo all along. Maybe Dhruv was only testing his sociopathic idea on Anya before executing it. Title: Black Mirror – it’s all about duping your family.