Friday 12 December 2008

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008)

Bottom line: AVOID THIS FILM.

Hey Ram! We took a gaggle of Bollywood virgins to see this, and half of them fled the theatre before the film even ended. Yes, we are sorry to report it: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (A Match Made by God) is bad. Actually, it's not bad - it's terrible. Director Aditya Chopra attempts to use the same formula which worked for Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge - that is, undermine modernism with some comfortingly vanilla traditionalism, and name your movie after a popular old Shashi Kapoor song - only this time, the results are disastrous. Even Shah Rukh Khan - superstar, blog favorite, everyone's favorite - misfired so badly he blew us off the train to Shahtown altogether. We'll be approaching work by these two with caution from now on.

The plot is simple: nerdy, aging Surinder Sahni (Shah Rukh Khan) is living his cubicled, monotonous existence in Amritsar, where he works for "Punjab Power - lighting up your life!" One day, he goes to the wedding of his former professor's daughter, the young, sunny Taani (newcomer Anushka Sharma), and - after a series of unfortunate, but typical filmi events - Surinder and Taani find themselves engaged, as per her father's dying wish.

The marriage is as forced as can be. While Surinder has a wee bit of a crush on Taani - she's so spunky! alive! dancing! laughing! - Taani is definitely not interested in her nerdy new husband (nerdband?). Also, she finds herself bored and restless in her new role as housewife, and so, when she hears news of a local dance-a-thon, she begs Surinder to let her compete. Not only does Surinder allow her, but he himself undergoes a radical, secret makeover, becoming Raj - a caricature of all past Shah Rukh Khan roles! - her new cheeky, flirtatious dance partner. As Surinder confides tearfully to his best buddy and confidante, Bobby (Vinay Pathak), Taani said she would never be able to fall in love with Surinder... so Surinder will just have to make her fall for Raj. You can pretty much foresee how this is all going to end: with traditional norms and the conservative ideal glorified, and with the "Your husband is your God!" idea bashed into your head repeatedly. Save us!

So much that could go wrong, did go wrong. First: the moral of the story. Surinder is self-admittedly boring, quiet and reserved. He's not really a heartbreaker, and he doesn't try to be. He knows that his wife won't love him as he is, so he dresses up as Raj in order to win her over. Once won over, he then insists that she... love him as he is. In other words: he dazzles her with a better option, but then insists that she settle for the lesser original. Why? Does he find it tiring to be Raj? He seems to enjoy it too. So... huh? When best buddy Bobby voices how hypocritical this is, Surinder is stubborn: no, Taani must love the boring husband, and he shouldn't have to change. Huh? Whatever happened to "marriage is compromise"? And what the hell are you talking about - you just changed and liked it!

There's also a whole load of stuff about God - seeing God in your beloved - and it all becomes very confused. Taani is angry at God about her father's death, and so she can't see God in anyone. Surinder sees God in Taani, and therefore loves Taani. When Taani finally wakes up and sees God in Surinder - mostly because he pulls a lamer version of Naseer the Perfect's nice husband routine, and she appreciates it - this instantly translates into loving Surinder! What? It was a little weird to watch Taani just flip from non-love to love for one guy, to love for another guy, all based on pretty tenuous emotional engagement.

Second problem, the performances. SRK, SRK, SRK. Why? WHYYYY? He seems to do everything in his power to mask his natural charisma and good looks. Normally we love SRK - he's fun, bouncy, lovable, sexy - and yet, in this film, whether he's hiding under pursed lips and a thankless haircut, or whether he's prancing around like a maniac with another thankless haircut, he was awful. Argh, we hate to write this, but he was! We spent most of the film crying on the inside: "Save us, Anil, save us!" We can understand what SRK was trying to go for - his nerdy avatar was wonderful in Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om - but here, it just didn't work. Perhaps he made his "cool" Raj avatar obnoxiously over-the-top in order to enhance the appeal of nerdy Surinder. Honestly, both were pretty unappealing!

Newcomer Anushka Sharma was fine in her role. In fact, it's a shame that her debut was in this film, as she seemed to have a natural charm and homey grace to her, a bit like a young Hema Malini, yet we were so distracted by the God-awfulness that we couldn't appreciate her talents. We look forward to more, Anushka! Anything's gonna be up and up after this!

Third major flaw: the songs. As we mentioned in our soundtrack review, the music was fine, but nothing great. We usually don't worry too much about mediocre songs, as sometimes a good picturization can really work wonders. The picturizations of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, unfortunately, were uniformly uninspired and uninspiring. We're no big fans of the dancing genre - Dil To Pagal Hai was one of the few Hindi films we couldn't even finish, and we fear Taal too much to watch it - and this film unfortunately relies heavily on a sort of Dil To Pagal Hai hangover.

Fourth problem: the misjudged emotional pitch! Why did Aditya Chopra think that a "SRK fights a sumo wrestler" scene, dressed up as an Austin Powers-style gag, could then be milked for heart-warming melodrama? Either it's funny, or it's sad - it can't be both! (And, in this case, it was neither.) How many times does Surinder need to tearfully mention that he loves Taani an awful lot? And how many times does he have to do this - in the hair salon? We felt like the film was skipping like a scratched record - the same scenes just kept repeating themselves, with no crescendo, no climax, no movement of any kind.

Man, this always happens. We went into this film completely optimistic. We were thinking, "Gosh, can they even do any wrong in Bollywood? Clearly, no!" A friend of us had just lent us Ram Lakhan and, after randomly selecting a song, we landed on the spectacular My Name is Lakhan. We were pumped! We were like, "OMG YES to EVERYTHING HINDI!"

And then we saw this.

This is just like the time we went to see a bunch of really good plays, and we thought, "Gosh, can they ever do Shakespeare wrong? Clearly, no!" And then we saw the worst version of Macbeth ever made by man. We keep jinxing ourselves!

"After all this bad news, is there any good news?" you might ask. Well, sort of. For once (and only because we haven't seen Singh is Kinng yet), it was a film with a protagonist who isn't Hindu, but Sikh. The setting - Amritsar's bustling alleys and beautiful Golden Temple - was the best part of the show. And we enjoyed the token religious pluralism song. But that's about it.

So should you see it? We're usually willing to give everything a try once, but, honestly, spare yourself the trouble. We spent most of the film wishing for it to end. Time to go purify ourselves and watch something sublime to remind ourselves how, when Hindi films get it right, they really get it right. It's just a shame that sometimes they really get it wrong too.


Filmi Girl said...

OMG! I was half-planning on ducking out of work early today to see this but I'm so glad I read your review first.

I actually prefer Shahtown when he's *not* Mr. 100% OVER THE TOP. (I didn't much care for his character in Kal Ho Naa Ho for example.) And the husband = GOD thing is just too yucky in this day and age.

Let's cross our fingers that Ghajini will be fantastic -because we are going to be seeing it!

ajnabi said...

Aaaaaahhhh! How awful! I'm so very sorry you had to sit through it--and that your friends had *that* as their Hindi movie intro!

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Omg. I am so sad to hear this, cos I was looking forward to this SRK character who reminded me of Amol Palekar-Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies. I dont dig this flipping into a cool dude and flipping bk at all :(
I'll still probably watch it for Vinay Pathak, who I adore- just wont have high expectations.

Anonymous said...

O that sucks. First day first show and so bad. Just when I was beginning to think that the husband=God sentiment had finally left Hindi Cinema for good, to find that its SRK of all people who resurrected it (he's normally good with gender relations in his movies except for DDLJ)! :-(

I'll try to catch it when it comes on DVD so I can abandon it when the going gets tough. :-)

Anonymous said... to hear this. I can watch SRK in pretty much any drivel, but this sounds truly awful.

I hated Mohabbatein (snooze!) and thought DDLJ was overrated (I think I'm too western for it)---I think tradition is wonderful, as long as it isn't oppressing someone. Your father/husband/brother/son is God=pet peeve. Methinks Adi Chopra is not someone I'd like much.

Beth Loves Bollywood said...

It sounds like Paheli but gone horribly, horribly wrong! Nahiiiiiiiiin! How horribly disappointing on both personal and ethical levels.

I am with Memsaab on AC's other films and am all the more determined Rani not marry him.

Rum said...

NAHHHHIIIIII! LOL I really found this to be a sweet movie, perhaps the punjabi element got to me as a Punjaban myself, I jumped out of bed and though I must see this and took 2 buses and found it sweet. Sure the Rab in your partner was there and the whole I actually like him now switching, wait a min Your making me rethink the pyar! PPcc I'm so conflicted now, perhaps I got too caught up in the hysteria of SRK in a punjabi-themed movie! NAHIIIIIIII

Temple said...

I liked this movie! Not all on board with some of the interpersonal relationship/gender politics ideas. But I think it was less a "worship your husband movie" than a heavy handed "god is love, love is god" message movie, which was also hammered into our heads in the Tujh Mein Rabh Dikhta Hai picturisation with different faiths represented. The second half got sadly bogged down but the first half was very charming. Re the Suri "she must love me for me" bit - I wasn't so troubled by that as he was also very anxious that Taani did not change herself to suit him as she planned to (in the I must kill the old Taani speech). I thought the Raj thing was played well as a nerd's concept of a cool guy and SRK managed some really nice touches in physical mannerisms (the Suri running style, Raj's pigeon chest). So Raj was meant to be a bit off the mark as he was a creation of a clueless guy and his camp-as-knickers mate.
And the problematic ending of accepting your husband as god - I read this more as Taani realising that she had been blind to the love Suri showed her everyday in his quiet consideration and acceptance of herself - whereas Raj demanded her attention and some sacrifice (leaving her marriage which would rebound far more on her). And so when she asked god to show her what to do, it was not IMO a specific direction to treat her husband as god. It was a seeing-what-is-right-under-your-nose moment.
So yes I enjoyed it - and I LOVED LOVED the Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte medley.

(And just to prove I really must be from another planet - I won't see Ghajini because I cannot begin to believe that a remake of Memento will be anywhere near watchable. Aamir doesn't guarantee movie excellence to me. But I am hanging out to see Slumdog Millionaire! )

red42 said...

I'm with Temple on this one - and not because we went to see it together either - we often disagree. But I really enjoyed it - I don't have a problem with the husband as god theme, and thought that SRK was good as a nerdy guy trying (and failing) to be cool. The second half did drag a bit, but I thought the first half was great. Taani had great outfits, and overall I thought it was a sweet film. Better than I was expecting from Mr Chopra I have to admit - I'm not a fan of his at all.

Anonymous said...

Oh what an unfortunate choice to bring Bollywood virgins too. But really, if you can't count on SRK who can you count on?

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Filmi Girl - Yes, "Raj" was basically a repackaged Rahul - only with Rahul's worst aspects! Imagine KHNH... but a cheeky, OTT parody of it. And this is supposed to be charming?! Argghh! Yes, I am feeling a LOT warmer towards Ghajini - here we come!

Ajnabi - I kept trying to distance myself from it after it ended: "It was really bad. That's not the norm. Noo, nooooo."

Shweta - Good luck! SRK is actually quite good in his nerdy role; his body language is 100% different, and it goes to show he can "act" when he wants to. The problem was really that the "Raj" avatar was so annoying, and the "nerdy" one was sort of... non-charming.

Bollyviewer - I know! He makes Chak De, and then this! Whyyyy? I recommend just Netflixing this.

Memsaab - Amen and hear, hear. Mohabbatein was one of the few Hindi films I couldn't finish (apart from Dil To Pagal Hai), so I probably should have tempered my enthusiasm!

Beth - OMG, yes to EVERYTHING you said. Raniiii!!!

Rum - Hey, I can totally understand the Punjabi pride. Hell, even I felt it! It was the best part of the movie!

Temple - You make some very good points - especially re: how Raj was off the mark, and the "seeing Suri as God because he's so nice" idea! I guess I just couldn't get into it due to the performances - I didn't care for either version of SRK, and found a lot of the emotional stuff a bit tenuous (e.g. I kept going, "Wait, what? She likes him now!?). The Phir Milenge medley was quite cute, I agree, and it was especially fun to see SRK do Shammi Kapoor!! That was fabulous. Also, I didn't mention in the review how I quite liked the Tujhe Mein Rabh Dikhta Hai picturization, if only because we were going back to that lovely masala-style easy religious pluralism where everyone can be everything. Hey, I'm with you on Aamir - I'm an Aamir skeptic. But Slumdog - that was amazing!

Red42 - Maybe that was my problem; I just went in with HUGE expectations that, of course, would have been dashed away as the flaws started showing through.

Brian - Anil Kapoor, I have decided.

Anonymous said...

Google needs to work on its Search Engine and avoid blogs and reviews of people like you who can't review movies. Its just like a Monkey telling Bill Gates how to make a OS.

a ppcc representative said...

Mayank - Oooh, Mayank. While your simple rage is touching, you haven't really convinced us to re-evaluate this movie by mentioning Microsoft (?!).

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I kind of guessed the Raj character would be super annoying right from watching the trailer (guys: tight orange t-shirt + overly gelled hair = unfortunate character. No exceptions) and now that I know God is to blame in the whole affair, I'm buttressed against that as well... so I guess I'll go see it.

I'm actually re-evaluating Ghajini now because I saw this scary trailer of Aamir as one aaaaannnnggrrry munchkin and now I'm not sure I want to see him stomp random people's heads into the ground.

Oh, Bollywood, all I wanted this miserable year was one feel good extravaganza - couldn't you give me that much?

Anonymous said...

I beg to disagree. This is a wonderful film, one of SRK’s best, but I must confess to being a big SRK fan, have seen most of his films. As Raj, Suri’s alter ego, SRK brilliantly caricatures himself in past romantic film hero roles, but, as Suri states plainly: Raj is a “no body”, a celluloid/digital fantasy reincarnated over and over again from movie to movie. When Suri assumes his take on the Raj persona, even though he drapes himself in all the expensive accouterments of Western MTV “cool”, struts the standard SRK stock moves, flirts, and brings his loved one laughter and entertainment, he can only offer her escape from her present unhappiness, not a solid future relationship of mutual respect within their shared culture. Suri is the real partner and hero, who has the courage to commit his life to a lackluster career of public service; to a God and religious practice that gives his life values and meaning; and to a woman he loves deeply. What a great film!
This movie stands in sharp contrast to the well constructed “Slumdog Millionaire”, a movie that is Indian only in the sense that it projects Western values of social Darwinism and nihilism on a Rorschach of all that is most evil in India. The film is cleverly centered around a game show theme that holds the attention, but the only positive element is a thin, unconvincing love story. Indian religion is presented as an excuse for one group to kill another group, or assuage guilt by seeking pardon for criminal acts before the brother goes out to sin again. “Ram and Allah are the reasons I have no mother now” declares the angry protagonist. His childhood struggle to survive through the worst horrors of exploitation and abuse ignores everything that is positive about Indian culture and its people. If this ugly film represents India in world awards, it will be a shame.

a ppcc representative said...

Amrita - I've decided we need to take matters into our own hands and write our own masala if things continue like this.

Mara - Very good points! Defenders of the film indeed make the same point: that Raj is a caricature (which I appreciated) and a misfire, i.e. a nerdy man's idea of a cool dude. I think the crux of my disappointment with the film lies in how unappealing I found Raj... if he had been a caricature with a heart, I would have swallowed the whole film a lot more easily. Instead, since he was almost like a mean-spirited piss-take of SRK's worst hamming, I couldn't get into it. It felt like Saturday Night Live portraying SRK!

Very interesting point regarding Slumdog Millionaire! Agreed that it's a bit of a "Western" take on social Darwinism (and eep, you said social Darwinism on my blog, bless you!) - complete with a Dickensian dystopia and a hero who can rely only on himself. That said, surely such a "feel-good" (though yes, feel-bad in many parts) story has broad appeal in the West - hence its success there! (i.e. Golden Globe nom for Best Picture, wow!) Also, themes aside, I think Slumdog Millionaire is better told than Rab Ne. So even though I might agree with Rab Ne's "love" message, I was more moved and exhilirated by Slumdog's "every slumdog for himself" story. Hope to see more comments from you, Mara, you make really interesting points!

Anonymous said...

An insult to the audience's intelligence. As always, Yash + SRK = craptastic.

B said...

I wish the Raj character wasnt there in the movie at all-the overacting was so damn irritating, was it intentional I wonder?

As Surinder, the king Khan was a dream..I could watch the movie again just to see Suri and his simplicity..

The movie is not very good or bad-its just somewhere in the middle and thats its biggest problem. We expected better from Adi but it was not meant to be..

Anonymous said...

so did you see Ghajini? SRK is great. i agree with you, "unmoved by" Aamir and think he is "stupid"...just like we SRK fans should be!

Manjushree Abhinav said...

Hey, I enjoyed this fillum. Specially the song which goes tutu tu tutu tu tooo too....

mallenalla said...

oh nooooo! please don't talk so harshly about this sweet movie! even me, big-time srk fan, can admit that "rab ne bana di jodi" isn't a masterpiece but surely it's not as bad as all that. i think suri is charming in all his clumsiness and awkwardness and raj was a wink at so many of srk:s old characters -and yes, i do think the overacting was intentional. raj is meant to be a caricature, and that's why i liked him. and don't really agree about the husband-is-god theme either (though that's one of the things i find hardest to accept about bollywood movies), it's actually surinder who finds god in his wife - and he doesn't fall into blind worshipping and obedience, he just sees god's love in her and there's nothing wrong with that! he doesn't expect her to change into someone else and he knows he himself can only guest-play as raj, he can't change for good because that would be false. hmm, seems i'm only repeating with less elegance and accuracy what other people have already said, so i'll stop it before i embarrass myself too much :). i just wanted to defend the movie and one of my favourite nerds a bit!

Ness said...

I agree wholeheartedly with what mallenalla says - sure, RNBDJ is flawed, but it's not awful. I love this movie and I think SRK as Surinder is so sweet - he's never known love except for his love for God and so that is the natural way for him to speak of love to his wife - that's how I get around the difficulty of the whole 'i see god in you' thing.

JD said...

I have to say I disagree strongly with your review.

Maybe it's because I am a 40-something never-married girl geek and can identify with the hero's "no love expected" outlook. Maybe it's because I see genuine charisma and acting ability in every scene that SRK inhabits. Maybe it's because I found myself actually laughing out loud in several scenes. Maybe it's because the romantic smarm churned out by Bollywood is chipping away relentlessly at my over-active cynicism. All these are true. But I found this a genuinely unique and charming and fun flick unlike anything I've seen in Indian cinema or anywhere else.

I recognized the hopelessly outdated setup that made the marriage happen. I was willing to forgive that because this was not the standard "churn 'em out, push 'em out, waaaay out" Bollywood smarmfest that requires only two attractive people and a trip to Switzerland for the love montage. The main characters in this film actually felt like real people to me.

The writing is not genius but it is confident enough to let the characters be who they are.

I'm only about 100 films deep in my dive into Indian cinema but this one has found a place on my top 20 list of films from everywhere. Your mileage certainly will vary.