I am a 90s kid and have grown up on hundreds of quintessential nauseating Bollywood romantic flicks of that era. From fawning over the Rajs and Rahuls of DDLJ and K3G fame, to dissing the Poojas and Tinas and Nainas, it has been a long and conflicting ride about which side of sensibility to stand on – while also shamelessly lapping up all that came my way because there was hardly any choice.
Last checked, with the evolution of cinema, I (including so many of my generation) had graduated to post-millennial Meera, Silk Smitha, Kashibai and so many other strong, intriguing women who were much about love, but so much about their own selves as well.
Which is why it was quite a frustrating exercise to wrap my head around Taapsee Pannu’s Koroli Nair – an immature caricature of a tortured girl constantly looking for love to fill her own sense of self.
Koroli is the shy, reserved daughter of an uber rich business tycoon who wants her to take over the family business but she has other plans – to continue teaching English literature – and to be ‘happily married’ to whoever loves her. In the framework of this simple, threadbare character sketch some other supporting filler content appears – Koroli’s Maggi-like curls and the prominent bangs, her glasses (because how else will we believe she is a teacher!!) and her insanely annoying ritual of sticking notes and writing pages and pages worth of sob material in her scrapbook that is supposed to give us an insight into her perpetually screwed love life.
When she is not lamenting her imagined love life, Koroli spends her free hours poring over romantic novels, and has a best friend named Shumi (Srishti Shrivastava) who spends her free hours raising eyebrows at Korolis’s serious (read: clingy) take on relationships urging her to go ‘get some action’ instead.
Which is fine and actually interesting advice, considering Koro is the dampest, most insipid female lead character ever written in the history of cinema. No wait, that has to be Ameesha Patel’s Sonia from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. But then that was the year 2000, and to have women portrayed like they are lost kittens waiting to be rescued even in 2018 is an unforgivable cinematic catastrophe.
On the other hand, we have Saqib Saleem playing Sumit Uppal, the stereotypical Delhi lad prepping up for the typical Bollywood debut – while moonlighting as the head instructor at Gulati gym in Lajpat Nagar and as a reluctant model in condom ads. He also has an average-looking, bespectacled best friend (Abhilash Thaplial) who stands by him as the loyal sidekick, offering us more relief with his straight-faced remarks than the hero does with his pretend Delhi attitude. See how many clichés we’ve already run into – and well, the meaty chunk of the movie hasn’t even begun!
Sumit is desperate for a break in Bollywood and ends up at the British Council where Koro teaches. From then on, there is some predictable wordplay where Sumit spends more time ogling at Koro than actually getting the diction right, there is a nightclub scene where Koro lets her hair (and top) down Naina-esque style from Kal Ho Na Ho and the leads then dance with abandon, already crossing over to the other side of shikshak-shishya maryada.
The next morning apologies are exchanged, some flirting and eye-gazing happens and before we know it, Sumit invites Koro home – only to have his mother (Supriya Shukla) barge in on some embarrassing cuddly couple moments and spend the rest of the day admiring Koro’s fair skin and her Anglo-Indian genes…and well, the fat load of cash. There are a few more fast-forward moments which lead to an instant overturn of Mommy Uppal’s affections for the could-be-bride and Koro is instantly thrown off the pedestal – because she is ‘manglik’ and Mommy realized not even White skin could save her son’s anyway-doomed life.
I will spare you the details so you can partake first-hand in some of the headache-inducing plot twists that come soon after as the duo decides to lay Mommy’s well-meaning concerns to rest and decide to elope and get married anyway. Which, by the way is the cue for Armaan Malik’s admittedly punchy number Beat Juunglee – a trap essentially to make you feel a little less lost about where the movie is headed.
But a few more songs (including the genuinely soulful Dil Jaane Na where the leads showcase some effortless chemistry) later you realize you are just as god-smacked as you first were when this immature pair with their childish tricks fell in love for reasons that had remotely anything to do with love – and then snapped apart like your patience does when the credit card guy calls you from an ominous-looking number and you hang up on him anyway.
What was designed to be a unique rom-com because of the ‘special’ packaging fails to keep you hooked because there is too much fluff in the characters to base an entire 120+ minutes movie on – and your initial impression of both the leads being downright clueless comes to fruition as more layers are peeled away.
Even as Koro next sports a chic hairstyle and a brand new wardrobe and has upgraded herself to fit into Dear Daddy’s entrepreneurial dreams for her.
Even as Sumit seems to have successfully oriented his life away from condom ads and punk-mythology shows, toned down his brash ways.
Even as the trajectory of the story physically moves from Delhi to London.
It was painful to see Tapsee give her all to this ridiculous character, after having recently portrayed some powerful ones in Pink and Naam Shabana, including her role as the feisty Nimmi from Running Shaadi, a far better project than the current one. On the same note, we have Saleem who looks and speaks his part (a little too much though), cracks fifth grader jokes along the lines of ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’ and tries to convince himself- and us- that he really is a boy who’s fallen madly in love.
It therefore, appears outright foolish when Saleem as Sumit tries to imitate 21st century Devdas – an outstanding portrayal of which Abhay Deol is remembered for in Kashyap’s Dev D and standards the former might take ages to achieve.
Supriya Shukla remains grossly underutilized through the movie as have the other fringe characters making up this charade. On her part though, Nidhi Singh as the Delhi-bred girl with the Dilli ki ladki ke nakhre and accent shines in the limited room accorded to her, overpowering even the leads’ performances. Santosh Barmola, whose first screen appearance was in the extremely forgettable, shady Warning (yes, that Varun Sharma movie about sharks attacking in the open sea) plays the mild-mannered, suave rich guy with panache in Dil Juunglee – but there’s just so much you can do when the script is flagging off in all directions. Of course, the fact that he looks drop-dead gorgeous helps his case, making you wonder why he hasn’t been offered meatier, saner roles in Bollywood.
Nevertheless, despite the occasional humor and fleeting flashes of some passable acting, this is a movie that couldn’t have been rescued anyway, given the sketchy roles and the abysmal character graphs. From debutante director Aleya Sen to the actors and the supporting cast, everyone seems to be trying too hard to inject some element of Juunglee-ness in the movie – the outcome being the movie neither touches your heart nor feels wild.