Director: Luv Ranjan
Writers: Rahul Mody, Luv Ranjan
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Anubhav Singh Bassi, Dimple Kapadia, Boney Kapoor
In a normal universe, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar is about a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’ who fall in love only to realize that they want different things from life. Breaking up is a problem because they’re not Gen Z enough to ghost each other. At most, they hang around in the relationship until the love dissipates. Anything to not have “the talk”. In this normal universe, the film is certainly not called Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, or anything on the lines of Sonu Ke Titu Ki Pyaar Ka Punchnama. But in Luv Ranjan’s universe, this same story is a bitter battle of sexes between a good-looking boy and a gorgeous girl who tries to leave him because – horror of horrors – she likes her independence and his family is too overbearing.
You can’t say Ranjan isn’t trying. If anything, this is him reacting to the criticism – that is, the (correct) accusations of casual misogyny bubble-wrapped in crowd-pleasing comedy – of his previous movies. You see, the women in those movies (Pyaar Ka Punchnama, ) were scheming, conniving caricatures who forced their boyfriends to. Love was a messy war of ownership. But here, the conflict is centered on the woman’s inability to be cruel and manipulative; she is too evolved to be the quintessential Luv Ranjan heroine. (Coincidentally, actress Shraddha Kapoor’s breakout film, from 2011, was called Luv Ka The End). Her Nisha in this film is so nice that, rather than force poor Rohan (Ranbir Kapoor) to choose between his family and her, she attempts to do the nobler thing: Gaslight him into believing he’s the issue. Nisha would rather have Rohan reject her than the other way around. You see, her dishonesty is merely an expression of compassion. This is Luv Ranjan being progressive.
Never mind that Rohan, like his Kartik Aaryan-esque predecessors, decides to turn her predicament into a game. At stake is the incorruptible Indian idea of marrying not just the person, but also the family. In the pink corner lies Rohan’s courage to go from cold Casanova to heartbreaking martyr, and his pride of being a Momma’s Boy. In the blue corner lies Nisha’s reluctance to sacrifice her own ambitions at the altar of Rohan’s Barjatya-shaped love. There can be only one winner. At one point, he subjects Nisha to a sexist rant about women and jobs – except that he’s only pretending to be a horrible man. He’s pretending to be a Kabir Singh so that nobody blames her. For a moment, I was almost impressed by Luv Ranjan’s self-awareness to use toxic masculinity as a smokescreen. It’s like the film is mocking the preconceived notions of both the girl and the audience – first by staging a harmless bromance, then by staging a hidden chauvinist.
But that’s giving Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar too much credit. Because the fact of the matter is that it’s Rohan who always manages to be the victim. From the way it unfolds, the screenplay believes that Nisha is the damaged one; that she is the one missing out. It presents her sense of freedom and agency as a ‘symptom’ of her own growing-up years with a single mother in a joint family. It considers her personality an illness that can be treated. When Nisha is sad, for example, she gets wasted at a club and has to be carried home; when Rohan is sad, he drives around Gurgaon with brooding poise. Shraddha Kapoor’s glassy-eyed performance doesn’t offer room for subtext. During one specific breakdown, Nisha’s tears drop faster than the storytelling.
The worrying thing about Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar is that it’s better at hiding its dubious gaze than Ranjan’s previous stories. It commits to distracting the viewer by any means possible. For instance, there’s a climactic airport dash that’s pretty funny if isolated from its context. One would have to graciously overlook how the noxiousness of the man’s family (his mother freely slaps and yells at anyone within reach) is mined for easy laughs and we-are-like-that-only punchlines. The supporting cast is spirited and noisy, so that all their constant chaos drowns out any suspicions about the story's iffy gender dynamics. Most of all, Bollywood becomes a dominant language. There are abrupt emotional set-pieces that evoke an edgy (from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil past). A crucial plot point brings to mind the scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, where a child divulges the identity of a teacher by reciting a phrase. There are the lavishly choreographed songs and crude lyrics.
The central love story – a.k.a. Romantic Hunger Games – plays out like a mutant offspring of Tamasha (2015) and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). The two meet and mate in Spain, as the respective best friends of a future groom (Anubhav Singh Bassi) and bride. They get drunk and recreate the ‘Agar Tum Saath Ho’ frame – heads on bar table – as a happy one. They converse like robots who’ve been fed an Aaron-Sorkin-designed algorithm of heterosexual attraction, speaking at a 100 miles a minute and stopping only to kiss with paralyzed lips. It’s not the first time a Hindi film interprets chemistry as the sexless union of chiseled bodies. Nisha says she doesn’t trust exotic-holiday love, but Rohan convinces her that he’s the real deal. She wants out once they get back to the reality of Gurugram.
Without giving away too much, let me just say that a flimsy device – featuring an artful ‘break-up consultant’ – turns the film into Rohan’s version of a Suri-versus-Raj narrative. He is made to go through loyalty tests that involve two tasteless Luv-verse cameos – one where a male character is paid to feel Nisha up in public, and the other where a female character is paid to seduce Rohan in private. (You say “transactional nature of love” and they hear “literal transaction”). Imagine this, too: When the stranger flings her hand toward his crotch, Rohan protects himself with a bowl of buttered popcorn. You can nearly see Ranbir Kapoor morphing into a lesser actor to pull off this character (and get that elusive box-office hit). His face quivers with emotion in the serious scenes, and his monologues are designed to turn romance into a form of verbal diarrhea. Towards the end, he speaks so fast that the sentences actually sound long; you lose track of what Rohan means by the time he finishes his speech. These are the sort of roles Kapoor did at the beginning of his career. Coming full circle has never been this gloomy. It's as though the actor is turning back the years and scaling back his talent at once.
In a normal universe, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar might have been yet another Luv Ranjan movie about love in the time of incels. But in a universe – and a culture – where women are conditioned to blame themselves for all that fails, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar feels like a Luv Ranjan movie striving to be an Imtiaz Ali film. One dies a woman-trolling villain, and the other lives long enough to look like a woke hero. Either way, love means never having to say he’s sorry – and always having to prove she’s sorry. I was young and foolish when I watched Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011) and enjoyed it, even recommending it to all my (male) friends. I’m older today, and wise enough to realize that perhaps in the next film, the thematic succession will mean this: The kind girl swipes left to save the sanskari boy the trouble of choosing between his country and her.