Hey, see Amrita's eyelids in that picture? Get used to them, cuz that's all you're getting for the next couple of hours.
Okay, I don't know if I'm too Western to appreciate this movie or what. Or maybe I'm just too much of a white girl. However, in my defense, I went into Vivah fully expecting to enjoy it. After all, I loved Shahid's performance in Jab We Met and thought Amrita did a great job in Main Hoon Na. And at the time, I hadn't seen Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (ahh, the days of my carefree youth), so I had no prejudices against Sooraj R. Barjatya. In any case, this 2006 movie, which stars Shahid Kapoor, Amrita Rao, Anupam Kher and Alok Nath, had no appeal for me.
Here's the set-up: Prem Chandra (Shahid) is a young man working in his richer-than-God father's (Anupam) company. He's the younger brother--his bhaiyya is already married with a son. Poonam (Amrita) is a gorgeous orphan, living with her loving uncle, resentful aunt, and adorable cousin. A mutual friend brings photos of Poonam to Chandra-ji's house and Baba talks Prem into at least glancing at the photo. One look at the Glamour-Shots-worthy pic and Prem's ready to get this show on the road.
The rest of the movie consists of Prem and Poonam slooooooowwwwwwwllllllllyyyyyyyyyyy getting to know each other (by interval I felt like the movie was happening in real time), with a standard Barjatya "twist" that anybody could've seen coming from a mile away in the last 25 minutes.
To me, this movie felt like a throwback to yesteryear Bollywood, although considering my limited acquaintance with it I could definitely be wrong. I'm not talking about the plot when I say throwback, either. I don't have a problem with arranged marriages if both parties are in favor of it; some of my favorite books have arranged marriages in them and if it works for the bridal couple then it's fine with me. What I mean by throwback is the cartoon sound-effects, the overly earnest acting (and just plain overacting), the heavy-handed moralizing (I swear, if I heard one more reference to "going to temple" I was going to pull my hair out), and the archetype characters.
To tell you the truth, the two characters I most liked were chatty Rajni (Poonam's cousin, played by Amrita Prakash, which must've made for some interesting mix-ups on-set) and grumpy Chaachii (that means aunt and I don't care enough to go look up her character's name, although Seema Biswas did a great job portraying her). Why? Because they actually acted like human beings instead of puppets in a morality play.
Wait a second! Eyes!
By the time Prem tells Poonam about how their wedding night will basically make the stars amazed, but "we'll wait, as you consider it proper," I rolled my eyes so far back that I could practically see my brain. Growing up in a religiously conservative community means I know plenty of girls who share (or used to share, anyway) Poonam's reservations about sex before marriage, but that didn't mean their boyfriends and, later, fiances didn't try to push the limits of, um, "propriety." My first, totally-modern-American thought, was, "Is this guy gay?" Then my second thought was, "Am I supposed to care about these saints? Clearly they have an express pass to heaven."
I know, I know, they're supposed to be types of whatever Hindu god and goddess preside over domestic bliss, and I know, I know, this movie was a HUGE hit in India, mostly based on word-of-mouth, and I know, I know, I am such a huge cynic that clearly I am destined for warmer temperatures than Prem-and-Poonam.
There are some good things about the movie, namely Rajni and Prem's older brother. Prem's family only accept a token dowry for Poonam, a great message in a country where dowry killings aren't unheard-of. Shahid does an excellent job of playing the callow, lovelorn young man, and I guess Amrita does precisely what's required of the role, although I have to say that Sanjana in Main Hoon Na would've kicked Poonam's ass. And toward the end of the movie, there are some heart-rending moments as doctors reminisce on victims of bride-burning they've treated and the fathers pour out love upon the newlyweds, particularly Poonam. At this point I was awakened by the sound of my head hitting the keyboard with a "thud."
No, wait, they're gone again. Eyelids.
The soundtrack is boring, other than "Hamari Shaadi," which is totally adorable. This movie is a waste of one of Bollywood's best dancers, and "Hamari Shaadi" is the only song which shows Shahid even remotely busting a move. "Mujhe Haq Hai" has beautiful sentiments, but the voices of the singers don't compliment the characters or the actors at all. (Maybe another example of throwback status?)
So. Vivah is clearly a worthy movie, and the only way for it to be more worthy would be for it to get out a hammer labeled "Propriety" and hit me over the head with it repeatedly. Maybe I'm the only person who's seen it to think so, but I don't think it's worth much.