Director: Karan Boolani
Writers: Radhika Anand, Prashasti Singh
Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Shibani Bedi, Natasha Rastogi, Sushant Divgikar
Duration: 118 mins
Available in: Theatres
At one point, the leading lady of Thank You For Coming, Kanika (Bhumi Pednekar), is informed by her gynaecologist mother that 70% of women don’t orgasm during sex. If you’re thinking this is the sort of wild fiction that only Bollywood can concoct, there is a bona fide study from 2014 which conducted a survey among more than 6,000 men and women, and found only 61.6% of heterosexual women said they orgasmed during sex. (The success rate was better for lesbians at 74.4% and worse for bisexuals at 58%.) More recently, the Durex Global Sex Survey of 2017 reported 70% of Indian women do not orgasm every time they have sex. Men, on the other hand, reported consistently more orgasms than women, irrespective of sexual orientation, geography and year. “If men had this problem, there would have been complete chaos,” Kanika’s mother says wryly about the elusive female orgasm, adding that there’d be at least three or four films on the subject by now.
She’s right. Thank You For Coming deserves some praise for talking about female pleasure and peopling the film with women who (mostly) don’t conform to stereotypes of ‘good’ girls. Women in Thank You For Coming drink like fish, party hard, go to drag shows, aren’t coy about their desires, and curse colourfully. All this is a refreshing change from the humourless paragons of feminine strength and virtue generally platformed by Indian entertainment. If only the storytelling lived up to this promise.
The Kapoors of Thank You For Coming are a matriarchy of sorts, with two generations of single mothers, played with glorious flair by Dolly Ahluwalia and Natasha Rastogi. (Whether or not this is an affectionate dig at the film’s producers — Ekta Kapoor and Rhea Kapoor — belonging to families where the women very much rule the roost, we’ll never know.) Kanika is the third generation and she’s determined to buck the family trend even though her past relationships have all left her unsatisfied. Hilariously, one of her ex-boyfriends is played by Anil Kapoor (he’s also one of the film’s producers), who is known only as “Professor”. He writes poetry and name-drops Gulzar when hitting on women. It’s a delightful cameo.
One day, on a whim, Kanika decides she’s going to settle down with her longtime admirer, the bespectacled and bumbling Jeevan Anand (Pradhuman Singh, best known for playing Osama bin Laden in Tere Bin Laden (2010), now seen without a beard). After getting wildly intoxicated at their engagement ceremony, Kanika wakes up with only one memory of the night before: She’s had her first orgasm. Everything else, including the minor detail of who was in bed with her at the time, is lost to memory because she blacked out. What follows is essentially Mamma Mia (2008), but for orgasm-giver instead of sperm donor, as Kanika tries to figure out which of her exes is responsible for her pleasure.
Parallel to Kanika’s quest is the film’s hunt for comedy. Despite having a standup comedian among its writers and director Karan Boolani amping up the film’s comic tone, the laughs in Thank You For Coming are too few and far between. Most of the giggle-worthy punchlines are in the trailer and the attempt to use Kusha Kapila for snarky humour doesn’t land because her 30-second online sketches have more wit and characterisation than the role she’s got in Thank You For Coming. It’s not just Kapila. Most of the characters are one-dimensional, which is a shame because thanks to the actors, the film does have some delightful portraits of friendship between women. Bhumi Pednekar is wonderful as the chaotic mess that is Kanika, matching the heroine’s unlikeability with glamour and vulnerability. Kanika’s dynamic with her two besties — played by a fabulous Shibani Bedi and Dolly Singh — is a delight to watch until the writers force an awkward wedge into their relationship. Another womance that’s powered by the performers rather than the writing is the one between Kanika and a woman who is both her rival and fan, played by Shehnaaz Gill. Gill has precious little to do in Thank You For Coming, but she has fantastic chemistry with Pednekar, particularly in their song sequences. When they’re dancing together, you see Kanika go from being awkward to uninhibited with Gill’s character, hinting at a story arc that the film doesn’t explore. Another actor who makes the role work because of their performance is Sushant Divgikar, who plays one of Kanika’s exes. In his masculine avatar, there’s a hint of artifice that makes sense after later reveals and eventually melts away when Kanika and he are finally able to be honest with one another.
Countering these flourishes is the judgement that creeps into the film with Kanika depicted as strangely unappreciative of her mother, a questionable friend, and relentlessly self-serving in her romantic relationships. As her life spirals out of control, it’s almost as though Kanika is being punished for prioritising herself and own pleasure, as though this is only possible by losing empathy for others. Thank You For Coming also has no interest in exploring any other part of Kanika’s life (her profession is very literally a detail), choosing to show her as irrationally obsessed with experiencing an orgasm instead of making a case for why sexual pleasure and satisfaction should be given due importance. This curiosity about orgasms soon gets confused with anxieties about being unmarried and later with the notion of shame as an intrinsically feminine trait. The last is mostly a pivot to include a monologue that will let Pednekar yell “Smash the patriarchy” (right after she gets into a car crash and is saved from dealing with the consequences by…Jeevan).
The film also trivialises something as disturbing as the alcohol-induced black out, which becomes a weirdly convenient narrative device. Kanika’s decision to drink to the point of oblivion may be explained by her trying to distract herself from her own feelings, but you’d think at least one of her well wishers would be concerned for her. Yet no one takes a moment to acknowledge how worrying it is that Kanika has so little memory of who she was with and what happened. The black out carries with it an unspoken threat of abuse and the lack of consent, which makes it a jarring narrative device for a wannabe feminist sex comedy. Also, Kanika’s memory helpfully serves up details as and when the plot requires them, as though it’s not a black out she’s suffered but the amnesia that afflicted so many Bollywood characters in the Eighties and Nineties. However, as narrative choices go, the patchy black out is more believable than the film’s hypothesis that a woman in her 30s (and a social media influencer, no less) hasn’t tried her hand at masturbation.
What makes Thank You For Coming particularly frustrating is that hidden under its layers of bluster and performative wokeness are at least four excellent stories. One is about two women, from two separate generations, who actually smash the patriarchy when they choose to be single mothers and raise their daughters in Delhi. Another is about a content creator who’s struck with anxiety when at age 32, she’s hailed as a “senior” by a young woman. The two women strike up an unlikely friendship despite the older viewing the younger as her nemesis. Yet another story is a contemporary spin on My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), in which a single woman in her 30s starts wondering whether her bestie’s husband is The One, only to realise at the end that he’s actually just a good friend and her feelings are mostly rooted in the envy she feels at the sight of her two friends being a couple. There’s also the story of a woman who seems confident and bubbly, but is actually grappling with deep insecurities, including those she’s garnered over her years of living with a single mother who seems tremendously cool to those who don’t have to live with the consequences of the older woman rejecting social convention.
Unfortunately, Thank You For Coming isn’t interested in any of these character arcs or possibilities. It’s satisfied with flatness and predictability. That’s a shame because both Pednekar and audiences deserve better.