Bachna Ae Haseeno (Beware, O Beautiful Ones) presents a sort of conundrum as far as reviewing goes. While I have to admire the efforts to which Aditya Chopra went to break out of the Hindi plotbox, its execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. There's the miscasting of Minissha Lamba and Deepika Padukone, the weird spacing of the songs, and some total compromises in the resolutions. Then again, there's a guy who's forced to pay for his playboy wrongs (a rarity in the Hindi cinema I've seen thus far), some genuinely funny scenes, good music and standout performances by Ranbir Kapoor and Bipasha Basu. All in all, I'm glad I saw it and I'll probably see it again.
The film starts out with Raj (Ranbir) confessing his sins to the viewer. He's hurt people and now he's paying for it. Cue flashback!
First up: Mahi (Minissha), a Punjabi girl who's on kind of a senior tour on Eurorail when Raj meets her. She's about to go home and get married, although she dreams of finding DDLJ-style love in Switzerland. Raj, along with his geeky friends on the prowl for a quick hook-up, zooms in on her immediately and makes the most of his name and other similarities to DDLJ. They have a cute song, "Aahista Aahista," which means "Slowly Slowly" according to the subtitles and prompted us to note that at this point they've been acquainted about 48 hours. (Side note: I don't think Minissha can dance based on what I saw here, because they restrict her to a wavy-arm thing like when you stick your flattened palm out of a car window while you're on the freeway.) When they reconnect with their friends down the road, Raj lets his pals think that Mahi put out for him, while she's dreaming of true love. The betrayal tears her up and leaves him mildly regretful, but not regretful enough to explain himself.
There ya have it. Scummy but not entirely out of character for a callow youth. Next up comes the real kharmic doozy: Radhika (Bips). In 2002 she's Raj's live-in girlfriend. (Second side note: This movie is possibly the most open Hindi film I've seen about premarital sex and its place in Indian, not NRI, metropolitan society. I've got no idea if it's an accurate depiction but at least it's there.) Raj is a stud when it comes to game programming, and apparently is like 70% responsible for Halo 3's existence. He gets a job offer or a promotion or something to Australia and expects to dump Radhika by the wayside--after all, she's a modern girl in search of a modeling career! She'll understand! Except she doesn't, and turns out to be very traditional in terms of her goals. Instead of Prufrocking it and manning up that "that's not what I want, at all," Raj tap-dances around the truth and ends up betraying her in a truly despicable way. Not that he cares; he's too busy toasting his career on the jet to Sydney. Douchebag.
But, after a few years, then comes Gayatri (Deepika), a fascinating character who would have been better played by almost anyone else except for maybe Rakhi Sawant or something. She goes to business school by day, drives a cab by night, and works as a part-time cashier in a grocery store too. In her copious spare time she does martial arts. (Side note the third: if your hockey stick is in the trunk, you won't be able to get to it in time should it prove necessary. Apparently that business acumen doesn't extend to self-preservation acumen.) Also, she doesn't believe in marriage as an institution. It just gets in the way of everything. They lip-sync the absolutely lovely "Khuda Jaane" to each other and then Raj, unable to believe that any woman doesn't really want marriage, sticks his neck out. And finds out that having your heart broken sucks! Surprise! Filled with regret for his previous ways, he sets off on a journey of repentance.
Things that I liked about the story: Raj really is a jerk, not just a misunderstood guy who's hiding a heart of gold. We also see his development into a man with a heart instead of a lad with a black book, which is awesome. I liked how Gayatri pointed out all the disadvantages marriage presents to a modern woman with career plans, and how she took care of herself.
And I liked how Radhika really, really makes Raj pay when he shows up uninvited. I'm not into revenge usually but this was the sort I could enjoy observing. And I liked how Aditya Chopra took his Raj character and made him into the real thing instead of the filmi thing (he seems really into deconstructing Raj lately, which I think should totally be the title of his autobiography--shadow writer available right here, Aditya-ji! Call me!)--no guy who acts like that is worth having, and very few of them change like Raj in DDLJ.
Unfortunately, I can't discuss my problems with the plot without some great big
so turn away now and scroll to the END SPOILERS part if you don't want to know.
I thought Mahi forgave Raj way too easily, and also held on way too long to her heartbreak over his betrayal. I mean, sure, he sucked, but who lets some dick from a 3-day acquaintance a decade ago affect their entire marriage? Kunal Kapoor, however, is absolutely adorable as her sexy Sardar spouse and made that whole interval enjoyable. (Side note the fourth: who on earth thinks Halo 3 is appropriate for an eight-year-old?)
And I also HATED, HATED that he ends up with Gayatri in the end. It was so filmi and utterly untrue to her character and the story. She should have stuck to her guns. And why should she apologize for hurting him when she was never anything but honest about her goals and beliefs? So stupid, and it made me want to throw spitwads at the screen, which is kind of my normal reaction to Deepika anyway but in this case it was the betrayal of her character that made me feel catty.
Bipasha and Ranbir are stellar in their roles, and they have great chemistry together. That scene in the elevator practically made me pass out. The scene in "Small-Town Girl" when she makes him dance is definitely worth watching even if you hate the movie. Raj's friend, whose name I can't find, was also a treat--very funny without being overly campy. The music is outstanding and I love all the songs.
However, Minissha, despite being only in her early 20's, has a very mature face (she reminds me of young Susan Sarandon) and was utterly unconvincing as an 18-year-old. She looked way better as the mom in her 30's. Also, though this isn't her fault, her clothes don't help--they're pretty fugly. And, of course... Deepika. Oh, Deepika Deepikadeepika. Her idea of acting is to choose a slide from a PowerPoint presentation of emotional expressions and superimpose it on her face. That probably works well for modeling, not so much for acting. And I HATE that one of the most interesting characters in the film was wasted on her. Amrita Rao would've been better suited to it; it's a pity she turned it down.
Still, the fact that I cared enough about the film to recast it in my head means that I ended up liking it better than I expected. It's worth a shot if you're looking for a very modern timepass. (Thanks, Nicki, for giving it to me!)