Director: Priyanka Tanwar
Writer: Marmabandhaa Gavhane, Akshay Valsangkar
Cast: Pushkar Jog, Amruta Khanvilkar, Vandana Gupte, Radhika Ingle, Rahul Awasthee, Archana Malu Tapuria
Editor: Mandar Khanvilkar, Sandeep Francis
Cinematographer: Mohsin Khan Pathan, Santonio Terzio
Producer: Anand Pandit, Mohaan Nadaar, Pushkar Jog
Well Done Baby begins at, what feels like, the end of a relationship — Aditya (Pushkar Jog), Meera (Amruta Khanvilkar), and Meera’s mother (Vandana Gupte) at couples therapy frowning and fretting at one another. Set in London, the couple + mother/mother-in-law found themselves a Marathi therapist — the true sign of a community now migrated and rooted. Part of this feels like the beginning of Tanu Weds Manu Returns, with comedy and couples therapy in London. But the insistent motor-mouth mother/mother-in-law who sits between the two, filming the session for her YouTube vlog, gives us a sense that she won’t let the couple fall apart. A different kind of story is at play.
The therapy sessions ends with a promise of divorce, a mutual decision given there is nothing worth redeeming in the relationship. But a pregnancy test casts a doubt over this decision—can a child salvage a broken marriage?
At the outset Meera, a PhD candidate, is clear that it’s not possible. If the relationship is broken, no child can play kintsugi. But it’s also made clear that a part of her yearns for togetherness, for motherhood. Because when Aditya, on their way to the abortion, sees a couple with a child, the baby pulling at the father’s hair, his hormones bubble up at his throat and he decides that they should be together, mend the relationship for what it’s worth, and bring up the child together. Meera doesn’t need more convincing. It seems implausible, even sudden, but hormones work with no logic in hand, and the narrative contrivance makes full use of this hormonal unpredictability; the entire second half of the film is driven by it.
A suddenness erupts at various points in the story; where Meera wakes up to feel almost resentful of Aditya’s passiveness; where Aditya walks into his house and bursts in anger because there is no palak paneer left for him and the kitchen is a mess. Each of these feelings give the character an equal-opportunity monologue to blame the other and redeem the self. Both are at fault — Meera is too gullible, and Aditya has an ego sized stick up his butt. But both their frustrations are valid — Meera is beginning to feel useless, now unable to work, sitting around the house bloating in size with baby and gas, while Aditya has reached the end-shore of empathy, where all he can do is offer platitudes. At one point he says, “Do you know how stressful it is to see you stressed?” I thought — false equivalence. I also thought — oh, poor thing.
The film’s success is that it doesn’t take sides. The film’s failure is its shrillness in proclaiming its equity. The monologues are five-lines longer than they should be, and the performance suffers. It’s the kind of film where the character isn’t listening as much as performing listening, the exaggerated head nods, and the over-sincere furrowing of brows.
The setting in London is intriguing. It doesn’t seem that Aditya and Meera have a life beyond each other and their mother; no friends or friendly colleagues. The mother, who just arrived a few months ago, on the other hand has a popping kitty of friends. Maybe that’s how ageing and generational proclivities work. The film also brings out the racist undercurrent in our psyche, irrespective of location and age, whether it is an aunty-figure advising against drinking tea during pregnancy lest the child be dark, or a “modern” Indian couple in London who suggest injecting DNA of desirable characteristics like fair-skin, blue eyes, and a scientist IQ. Meera doesn’t bat an eyelid at either suggestion.
The film, ultimately, falls short of its ingenious both-sides idea because its execution is so dated. To show love there is a cutesy montage of the couple canoodling across corners of the city. To show sadness the couple is walking wearily through the streets. Background music accompanying per taste. It’s the kind of execution that is more interested in letting the audience know what is going on as opposed to letting the audience feel for themselves what the character is undergoing. The kind of storytelling we don’t know what to do with anymore, because it is engaging, and has something new to say, but you come out of it with a bullet-point list of what happened, unfeeling, unmoved, untouched.