Cast: Tabu, Ajay Devgn, Rakul Preet Singh
Director: Akiv Ali
Whenever Hindi cinema has ventured into anything that’s different from the tried and tested, filmmakers have gingerly tread on the path with extra caution, and have invariably refused to go the whole hog. Mostly on the pretext of having to face the wrath of audiences, they, perhaps, first introduce a few novel elements in the script, and then are quick to follow the formulae-ridden track the very next moment. De De Pyaar De was written by Luv Ranjan, and his misogyny was evident in his first film, Pyar Ka Punchnama, which he followed in its sequel too, and was also very much an underlying theme in Sonu Ke Titu ki Sweety. His latest, De De Pyaar De, directed by Akiv Ali, a serious issue of a middle-aged man who is separated from his wife, but wants to romance a 26-year-old, is a multi-generational romcom that starts with a lot of promise, then crumbles by the time the film ends.
Fifty-year old Ashish Mehra (Ajay Devgn) leads a great life as an investment banker in London where he boxes in his free time, lives in a swank apartment where he entertains friends (he even arranges a stripper for his friend’s bachelor party!) and has the occasional flirtatious romp whenever he gets an opportunity. When he runs into the 26-year-old Ayesha, it’s not just because of his “single” status that sparks begin to fly. Ayesha is a student, works at a bar, and is all out to enjoy life too, in between her dalliances that include working as a stripper too!
The next thing we know is that the two are in a relationship, much to Ashish’s good friend and psychiatrist Samir’s (Javed Jaffrey) strong objection. Everything would have been fine if only Ashish didn’t have a family back home in Kullu in India — an estranged wife Manju (Tabu), Ashish’s father Veerendra Mehra (Alok Nath) and his wife (Madhumalti Kapoor) and Ashish’s daughter Ishika (Inayat Sood) — all of whom he has not been in touch with for years.
His decision to marry Ayesha seems rather unpremeditated as all hell breaks loose the moment he arrives in his home unannounced, that too, on the eve of his daughter’s engagement to her boyfriend. Obviously, over the years, his long absence from their lives is something that the family must have come to terms with, but is not ready to allow his re-entry into their now well-ensconced home.
A bewildered Ashish introduces Ayesha as his secretary in the melee that follows as an equally bemused Ayesha, who feels like an outsider in the house where everyone hates Ashish, is in for another surprise when Ashish’s son Ishaan (Bhavin Bhanushali) begins to set his eyes on her. That both Manju and Ashish have grown apart after marital togetherness, rekindles, albeit momentarily, when Manju breaks down one night and has his shoulder to lean on. Post their quiet understanding and comfort that they enjoy, they even make out, leading to Ayesha throwing a fit. Not that the couple develops emotional feelings for each other; it’s just that their long relationship has a consolation and reassurance that may not be a regular balm in a new liaison.
Tackling a theme that is unconventional in more ways than one can be cumbersome, what with doing away with the usual tropes, and instead, settling for something alternative. Writer Ranjan does have a storyline that is not in the least run of the mill, but beyond a point, he doesn’t know how to carry it forward. He pads up each scene with quirky dialogues that one would have to accept as real, but however, digresses from the primary issue several times.
Despite daring and, at times, even brash lingo that the characters speak, the fact that the film is headed towards a compromised ending is known throughout the film. Also, it seems that the team comprising co-writers Surbhi Bhatnagar and Tarun Jain knew from the word go that they had to go in for the most unusual climax to make their film remarkable and noteworthy. Too bad for the eager audiences that despite good performances and tone that try to find a truly perfect balance, what could have been a heart-grabber loses steam.
A Hindi film hero playing his age is rare and full marks to Devgn for looking and behaving like one too. His constant fear of not being able to match up to the sprightly Ayesha and her demands are reinforced several times in the 134-minute drama that has everyone from his friend, his father, to his wife and daughter re-emphasising his huge age gap and rubbing it in several times. At one point, after getting to know about their relationship, his wife even warns, “Dus saal ke baad tum bude ho jaoge aur kuch kar nahin paoge toh yeh (Ayesha) kisi aur ko dhoondh legi” (“Ten years hence when you will be old, and won’t be able to ‘perform’, Ayesha will find a new man for herself!”)
There are some moments that will stay with you. Manju’s defence of Ashish when he is hemmed in from all corners for letting everyone down with his absence and then his sudden decision to remarry is memorable. The fights that ensue between family or the chaos that results after Manju introduces Ashish as her “brother” to her samdhi (Kumud Mishra) are interesting. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a mess. And all because some stereotypes have to be intrinsically woven in — While that fact that Manju and Ashish “sleeping together” once since they are not officially divorced can be overlooked, Ayesha’s no-holds-barred physical relationship has to culminate in her tying the knot with Ashish.
You see, she being the characteristic Hindi film heroine is not footloose, though she is fancy-free!
Devoid of many clichés, this one has some smart writing that will appeal to the young. It also can boast of a wonderful cast, especially Tabu. Each frame she is in, she virtually owns it. And it isn’t just her screen presence, her quiet, dignified look but also her character that has been fleshed out well. When she endorses fighting for married love through all the difficulty, and the heartbreak of a middle-aged woman, you want to hug her for sure. Devgn, in comparison, may not be that great an actor, but he allows himself to be swayed by the flow of the narrative and over blending with the proceedings. Rakul Preet Singh is appropriately bubbly, displaying chutzpah and righteous indignation when the scene demands.
If films go beyond the deal of married love as wonderful, and that it’s worth the struggle, we would welcome more such stories from Bollywood. And as a sucker for romantic comedies, I would want to see more such stuff. But it needs to be charmingly told, and not cheesy!