Director: Luv Ranjan
Writers: Rahul Mody, Luv Ranjan
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Anubhav Singh Bassi, Dimple Kapadia, Boney Kapoor
To quickly flip through — I am thinking specifically of the two grievously pathetic Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011, 2015) films and the grunting, galling, snoring Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018) — is to see an archive of male anxiety and the balm to that anxiety unfold. All three films end with the men breaking up successfully with their girlfriends, usually a ditz or a vixen, to be with their male friend, their yaar. These are stories of men — heterosexual men, really — who are convinced they do not need women to live a happy, nourished life; of men who cannot understand women and weaponize this lack of understanding.
To watch Ranjan’s latest, Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar is to watch this archive burn up in flames. This time, Ranjan refuses to sketch bromance as that thing which exerts an opposing pull to romance. It is, in fact, what makes love possible here. There is no competition for attention or affection between friend and lover. Also, Ranjan’s female protagonist — what often feels like feminine fumes, airy and indistinct — has intentions and an interiority that gird these intentions.
While the film is preoccupied with the perspective of its male protagonist, Greater Kailash’s Rohan Arora (Ranbir Kapoor), we are given glimpses of his lover by herself, a woman contemplating both heart and heartbreak. Even if her intentions are blurry, they are blurry because intentions can be blurry, and not because Ranjan refuses to think of women as people capable of personality or progression. We see her grappling, struggling with her choices. Or at least this is the charitable reading of Nisha Malhotra (Shraddha Kapoor), a woman so focused on independence — she drives her own car, sediments her own bank balance, refuses even the company of her family — she forgets that her insistence on independence can begin to feel like revenge against her loved ones.
Rohan meets Nisha in Spain during a bachelor party for his best friend Dabbas (Anubhav Singh Bassi). They flirt, fall in love like one falls into a ditch — suddenly, clumsily, out of the blue — and come back to Delhi, where Nisha gets cold feet. All that poetry and verbal machismo against lush waters and clear skies pockmarked with stars doesn’t seem to make much sense in Delhi’s throttling AQI.
Then begins a series of scraping mind-games where they try to make each other confess their intention to break up. To get to these mind games, we first pass through the floral tunnel of romance, that initial blinding, needlessly lyrical flicker. Ranbir’s performance of Rohan feels so performed, in the same icky the way it did in Tamasha (2015) — and I know this might seem silly to say because every performance is performed, but his restlessness leaves you a little antsy, waiting to see how he behaves when he doesn’t have to impress Nisha with his wit and charm. Only we never see this. Rohan is always performing his role of a muscularly-swollen, romantically-smitten lover around her. It is only around Dabbas do we see that serration in his personality; a bluntness, a stupidity, a dopey tiredness.
It is during Rohan and Nisha’s courtship in foreign lands that the film erupts with regular punches of that bubbling cinematic rush. Pritam’s sugary tunes, and Amitabh Bhattacharya’s witty, wily lyrics are wrapped in choreography that is sharp-edged, precise, and catchy. The songs leave you with that overeager, undimmed urge to hum the same melody, flick the same wrist.
We forget what kind of force music has in cinema because we have almost renounced it as narrative water — necessary, nourishing. In anticipation of these moments, the movie throbs. The aftershocks last till scenes after. Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor are carved out of their nepotistic marble as musical actors. Ranbir makes every turn of the limb — however circuitous — look lush and easy, and Shraddha, whatever her limitations as an actor, is unbearably radiant in music videos, her face expressing all that joy, sex, and nakhra. That nakhra, that excessive blend of all things pleasurable and expressive — she gets that, and your dart towards her presence on screen.
It is why Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar swoons as long as it remains musical. As we lunge into the second half, the joy leaks from the edges, slowly, then quickly, along with the music. Not just music. Romance, too, is scant as we swim through the initial conflicts of the later half. A charmless collection of cameos — yes, Kartik Aaryan is there and so is Nushrratt Bharuccha — and mind games, the film slips into the familiar territory of Ranjan faux pas. Rohan’s saintly, solid personality and saintly, solid family — including Dimple Kapadia and Boney Kapoor — and Nisha’s shaky intentions feel like overripe fruits left on the kitchen counter. Rot begins to fester.
To be fair, the shadow of Ranjan’s filmography falls on how we posture towards every scene. As if on guard, we are suspicious of how he is going to treat women, of how he is going to present their inscrutability to the male protagonist. While Nisha does come across as a character whose lacking clarity can feel like female cruelty, like male victory, Rohan’s sacrifice can feel like masculine greatness. Under the impact of both these forces, the film turtles quickly, as though someone pulled the chain realizing the need of the hour, and brought in the music, balming over our suspicions with joy. The camera, helmed by Santhana Krishnan Ravichandran, is so excited by the scale of the songs, it keeps cutting between the topshots, whispering the intimidating scale of these songs, and close-ups of the actors, whose faces light up with a density of feeling.
It is as though Ranjan reminded himself that he needs to not just be original — which his voice is, undoubtedly — but sincere and kind, too. He cannot build an entire career out of male cynicism. That wave dries out. A cooing climax at the airport is required. Love that feels like love is required. Only romance is the antidote to cynicism.
Because to romance in cinema is to romance each other as characters, but also to romance us, the audience. To watch love, but also to feel it. To forgive flaws by pretending they blur into the force of their personality. The camera helps set the gaze. The music helps set the mood. We are both voyeurs and participants. Often characters are looking directly at us, breaking if not splintering the fourth wall. Their moony, drunken gazes and showy, poetic proclamations of love are flung at us to lap and lick. Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, at its best, at its most musical, at its most charming, allows that — a rare beast that sells love as necessary, even if it is tempestuous. Perhaps because it is tempestuous.