Writer, Director: Abir Sengupta
Producer: Bhushan Kumar, Divya Khosla Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Nikkhil Advani, Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani, Niranjan Iyengar, Ryan Stephen
Cast: Kiara Advani, Aditya Seal, Mallika Dua
Ghazbiabad’s Indira Gupta (Kiara Advani), pyaar se Indoo, is getting ready for her first one night stand—her parents and sibling are out of town, and the rest of the neighbourhood are at the Mata Ka Jagrata draped in cheap red and gold frills, eyes closed in noisy, out of tune devotion, punctuated by rhythmic claps, and so they won’t pay heed to the hopeful squeaks of the bed. Horse Power condoms and chilli powder are kept handy, the latter is not for kinks but in case the banda she has invited does any badtameezi with her. She wears a sexy floral dress, but retraces her sex appeal, wearing a white shirt underneath.
The banda in question is a Pakistani, Samar (Aditya Seal). Seal’s and Advani’s milk complexioned, thin lipped, wide eyed beauty make for great companions. For good measure, Samar is kept shirtless in a prolonged scene. The date between Indoo and Samar that begins with the desire to get laid, quickly gets waylaid when Indoo realizes that Samar is a Pakistani. This, against the background of a Pakistani terrorist gone loose in the city creates the worst case scenario in Indoo’s head. Is Samar the man the police are behind? Things get worse when neighborhood men obsessed with her — married, unmarried — stack up in front of her house like diligent guardians to check in on her. A comedy of errors is promised.
Instead a sermon wrapped up in a feather-lite rom-com of Tinder and terrorism gets delivered. When Indoo blurts out that this would be her first time, Samar acts like the man who shares of feminist Instagram toolkits on his story. His character is treated like a clickbait, framed as a terrorist, as a lothario, to only renege on each promise. In fact, his being a terrorist is so diligently plotted in the first half that the second half’s attempt to question whether it is true or not, just to make a “don’t judge a book by its cover” message is disappointing at best.
The entire second half is an exercise in placing story at the service of a sermon. It is oriented towards redeeming its characters. Indoo, who is Pakistan-phobic and engages in cheap, puerile banter of India VS Pakistan, giving the sexual euphemism of Jhande Gaadna, used a dozen times more than necessary in this film, a more political meaning, is given a very obvious character arc—to retrace her bigotry. Samar’s potential links to terrorism are entirely creations of the plot — calling friends on the phone saying something big will happen, being near the scene of crime, calling to ask where his black Scorpio car is right before a black Scorpio car breaks through a barricade after its driver shoots a police officer— only for the plot to swerve and point fingers at us, blaming our mindset in judging him for potentially being a terrorist.
It’s not that the sermon entirely undoes the story, it is that as soon as you become aware of the story leading up to a sermon, the plot loses both its residual fun and feeling. Only so much humour can be mined from an India VS Pakistan exchange of bullet points. The sweetness that built the film is nowhere to be seen. The first time someone kisses or has sex is indeed a moment worth considering, perhaps even over-thinking—an excesses of ifs and buts plague the mind and Indoo’s shaky confidence imbues all of that. But then the cracks show, and the didactic chasm builds till it becomes the very movie; the rom and com of rom-com have been banished.
The cosmetic sweetness of such characters can only endure so much. In fact, the entire film is an exercise in cosmetic sweetness. The cosmetic linguistics — ending every other sentence with “by god”, “english picture” being a euphemism for porn; the cosmetic proper nouns — Cafe Coffee Bay, Dinder, Fakbook, Gomato; the cosmetic creepiness — the trinity of creepy uncles, the gym teacher, the sweater vest and kurta uncle, and the one with the pony-tail; the cosmetic cuteness — animations of the opening credits, and Mallika Dua playing a small town version of her Instagram self as Sonal, Indoo’s best friend and for better or worse, her guide in the realm of sex. All of this is supposed to create the illusion of detail. I say illusion because it is soon clear that what the details are in service of is not world-building, but world-flattening. Flattening it with a hammer of humour would have been acceptable. But instead, the hammer is wrapped in shrill apologies and clothed closure, and that’s the worst part — they didn’t even get laid.