When I forced my mother-in-law to watch Jab We Met for the first time--it was also her first Hindi movie--she observed, "They do what we do," as Aditya's rented Mercedes pulled up to Geet's tremendous family compound.
"What's that?" I inquired.
"They only show upper-class people in movies," was her reply, and I had to admit that for the most part, the Hindi cinema I've seen does resemble American productions in that regard. If a movie isn't about the wealthy, then the protagonists' lack of money tends to be the main plot point.
Bunty aur Babli (aur is Hindi for "and"), a 2005 movie starring Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, and Rani Mukherji (or however you'd like to spell her name in Romanized fashion, here it is in Devanagari: रानी मुखर्जी), breaks that mold and pours a new one. The movie, true to Yash Raj form, opens with a big musical number ("Dhadak Dhadak"), but with fascinatingly different choreography and a new-to-me message: small town life sucks and we're getting the heck out of Dodge before we're crushed.
Rakesh (Abhiiiiiiiii! My inner fangirl is hopping up and down and trying to get a cell-phone photo) lives in a small village. His father is a ticket-taker for the railways; his mother is a housewife. Both are incapable of understanding their son's ambitions to make something more of his life; his entrepreneurial efforts seem more like foolhardy wastes of time to his pragmatic parents.
Vimmi (Rani) has lined her walls with cut-out photos of Aishwarya, Kareena, and other superstars. She spends her time giving her mute audience fashion tips (and I have to admit that I agree with her about the lipliner, Bebo, fire your makeup artist) and designing quirky clothes, but her parents have already chosen her future husband and her future life. Vimmi dreams of becoming Miss India; her parents want her to become Mrs. Someone Suitable.
One night, both Vimmi and Rakesh make up their minds to stop dreaming and start taking action. Through a series of mishaps, the two fall into company and con artistry, becoming the bluff masters of India--known as Bunty and Babli--and garnering the pursuit of an angry cop (Amitabh Bachchan).
Bunty aur Babli is a joyride, all bright colors and catchy music and schticky acting, but it's got its nods to reality as well. The soul-crushing combined weight of poverty and parents who advise the two to keep their heads down and not dream too big are surely common experiences to many in India--I know they are here in the Southeastern U.S. The way Vimmi and Rakesh meet is pretty unique in my Hindi film-watching experience too: she's all alone and has to use the bathroom, but the toilets are in a dark corner of the railway station. He looks respectable/safe enough, I guess, and she asks him to escort her there and back. I had to admire her good sense. And later in the film, complications arise that, although campy and fun, also ring authentic in the emotional sense.
The musical numbers are adorable, quirky as the main characters and totally enjoyable as well. I particularly liked "Chup Chup Ke," the chorus of which has been sung over and over again in our house for the past couple of weeks. Of course, no review of Bunty aur Babli would be complete without mentioning Aishwarya Rai's totally fantastic item number, "Kajra Re:"
It's worth the price of a rental in and of itself. However, I love just about everything this movie has to offer. Rakesh's combination of sweet, considerate small-town boy and clever conman are irresistibly played by Abhi, and Rani's portrayal of dramatic, ingenious Vimmi is endearing. I so enjoyed how they consider each other true partners and equals. Plus, I might be in the minority here, but I for one enjoyed Big B's ACP Singh, along with the campy sound flourish that accompanied his pronouncements (was that a send-up of his masala days?). Bunty aur Babli is worth every penny, and then some.
On the trivia front: I didn't realize till long after I'd viewed both movies that BaB is also directed by Shaad Ali, the guy behind the camera for Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. Anyone else notice that the little boy who brings tea to Rakesh and the guy who serves chai to Rikki at Waterloo are both named Jajaan? Silly of me to get so excited about finally noticing that, but I did.