Director: Abhishek Sinha
Writers: Nitesh Tiwari, Nikhil Mehrotra, Varun Agarwal
Cast: Ishwak Singh, Mahima Makwana, Gaurav Pandey, Amala Akkineni, Karan Jotwani
Duration: 132 mins
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
You know how there’s that friend’s friend who gets on your nerves so readily – who’s so ill-informed, tone-deaf, socially aggressive, fake-cool, gratingly simple and performative – that you’d rather unfollow him than mute him on all social media accounts? Tumse Na Ho Payega is that person. And it is a man, make no mistake.
It’s based on a novel called How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company (they say don’t judge a book by its cover). But it plays out like a plastic hybrid of Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009), Tamasha (2015) and TVF Pitchers (2015). The title (and ‘Anu Aunty’) alludes to that jaded old conflict: Millennials struggle to dream big in the face of society’s what-will-people-say mentality. Entrepreneurship is reduced to a handsome underdog journey, where a ruthless investor smokes while speaking like a rejected Shark Tank judge; where a lunch-delivery service is presented as a radical concept; where the line “relationships are like start-ups, too” is the second-most unsuccessful love analogy in a year led by Bawaal’s “every relationship goes through its own Auschwitz” – both co-written by Nitesh Tiwari; where a story about young adulthood has the maturity of a campus drama (why does it feel like everyone still lives in the same colony?); where a story set in Mumbai has Gurgaon written all over it.
Tumse Na Ho Payega is about a protagonist named Gaurav (Ishwak Singh), who gets fired from his job and starts a tiffin service called Maa’s Magic with his childhood friend Mal (Gaurav Pandey). His target customers are 20-something corporate slaves who crave genuine homemade meals (as opposed to office canteen food). This human (of Bombay) has his eureka moment randomly and out of the blue, when his mother serves him lunch at the dining table. Cue revolutionary “Maa ka haath ka khaana” idea. Before we know it, Gaurav convinces all the gossipy housewives in his locality to whip up restaurant-like food for his tiny venture. Irony is doused in butter masala.
The conflict emerges when Maa’s Magic grows too fast, gets acquired and loses its tasty soul. “What’s Maa’s Magic without the Maa?,” asks a character written by an all-male team, for a movie that gladly sells domestic labour as glossy home-cooking; it romanticizes the kitchen as a woman’s space to the point of delusion (or as the kids today say: Delulu). Which reminds me, there’s also Gaurav’s childhood crush Devika (Mahima Makwana), a social media manager who spends most of her screen-time saying “it’s his day, yaar” at success parties of her boyfriend(s). She is a portrait of reverse-empowerment, not least when a man gives her a ‘deadline’ to accept his second proposal weeks after ghosting her during his implosion. If anything, this seems to inspire her, because doing the sensible thing (like rejecting him) would be conforming to societal standards. Apparently, feminism (or just common sense) is useless if it doesn’t defy the oldies.
Even if one were to accept the ambition-for-dummies premise, the narrative has zero sense of time and pacing. For instance, there’s an arbitrary shot of Mal schooling the company’s Gen-Z coder about coding, lest we assume that Mal’s only job is to be the crude foil to Gaurav’s good-boy vibes (Ishwak Singh cursing in Hindi sounds like a Volksvagen using a scooter engine; he just isn’t cut out for this role). The sudden downfall of Maa’s Magic is limited to one shot of Gaurav’s client not enjoying his tiffin. Cut to: A chart showing diminishing profits. Things escalate quickly; start-ups become end-downs in a wink. Blink and you’ll miss a fallout between buddies, a breaking-news flash, the vanishing of Devika (from the movie, not Gaurav’s life), a comeback interview, and a single mother who abruptly decides to stop being an unreasonable parent. Events (and characters) unfold with the subtlety of colour-coded sentences.
I refuse to pin the film’s problems on its jarring protagonist. But Gaurav is the sort of trendy hero who seems to be grinning when he’s happy, sad, worried, angry and ashamed. He’s so sincere that it hurts. The film ditches his fourth-wall-breaking habit midway through – or maybe it doesn’t, and we just can’t tell the difference. He also has that dopey Toby-Maguire-in-Spiderman vibe that makes it impossible to decipher his feelings. Which is why Gaurav’s t-shirts do the emoting – they flash hipster quotes like “Dead Inside,” “Please Share Your Thoughts And Opinions (the letters ‘Shut Up’ are highlighted across words)” and “Hang on, let me overthink this”. It’s too easy to say that the title (slang for “You can’t do it”) actually conveys the tired viewer’s message to the film. Too easy. But I will say it anyway. Because I wear plain t-shirts.