You have to hand it to Karan Johar. He is almost walking the talk, and every film coming out of the Dharma stable is directed by a newcomer. This newcomer is, more often than not, one of many assistant directors to have worked with the man himself over the years. Johar is taking his chances. Their faith in him is being rewarded. And gradually, our sporadic faith in him is being rewarded too.
So, we have a situation where for every I Hate Luv Stories, we get a Wake Up Sid. For every remake of a remake of Agneepath, we have an Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, and for every My Name Is Khan, we have... My Name is Khan. Sin and Penance, Sin and Penance. There is always going to be the odd unbearable effort, but let's treat that as collateral damage.
It is hard to not notice a vague long-term plan here, and for better or worse, we're seeing young filmmakers confidently wielding their batons over projects that seem to be based in anywhere but India. We're not complaining, not at all. This is what critics live for - to see their prayers answered, to find a sparkling little gem between all those rough hard-edged black stones.
Shakun Batra, the director, is a familiar face. He may not like it, but he is regularly recognized as the lanky nerdy Pappu in the peppy Pappu Can't Dance Saala from Imran Khan's debut film Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na. It may have worked in the man's favour, though, because looks (or in his case, his screen impression) can clearly be very deceiving. Batra knows his craft, and not simply as a debutant, but as an educated film student who has grown up admiring legendary (Western) filmmakers and their unique styles. Some influences are hard to miss, and it doesn't really matter who and where his style stems from, because Batra's voice is heard. Clearly. In his own country. In Bollywood.
Down the line, maybe, debutants will do well to take a leaf out of his book and be influenced by the 'Batra frames' or the Batra slow tracking shots.
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is, in more ways than one, an average story - an average romantic comedy. It is not meant to blow us away. It will not shock and awe, or titillate us. To put it in the film's own sensible philosophy, it is a perfectly average concoction of cinematic elements that strives to be neither too flashy, nor too arty. Average. And Perfect.
As far as contemporary romances go, in an age where several confused desi youngsters are settled abroad, this is as good as it gets. We may have always tried emulating our Hollywood counterparts to achieve a degree of storytelling wit and technical efficiency to make a regular light-hearted romcom seem delightfully breezy - and here, with his film, we have outdone ourselves. It takes many dishonest failures (overwhelming commercial successes, in our land), of course, but even Delhi Belly arrived after 10 Golmaals and 4 Housefulls.
The humour is subtle, there is a little story in every frame (starting with the hilarious family vacation photos on the walls of Rahul's family home on Peddar Road), and dialogue is used to the minimum to achieve what is needed. Batra, quite obviously, has 90% of his work done on paper, with each transition, cut and fade planned to serve a purpose in that particular scenario. What he achieves with Imran's silence, his tight-assedness and (purposeful) expressionless, is something that most directors before him have failed to do. It has a lot to do with the writing, as it did, with Delhi Belly. Imran is, very evidently, a director's actor, and his fate will always lie on the paper he reads before accepting a film. He chose well here, and his ever-present sincerity is used as his strength by Batra and co., carving out a perfectly uptight character that Shahid strived to be in Jab We Met.
We've seen Kareena play Riana atleast twice before - her role as Geet in another visionary director Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met is a desi variation of this one - and she succeeds, every single time. It could be, because she isn't required to exaggerate her character too much - ironically the perfect antithesis to what she had previously done in Karan Johar films. Batra's refreshing take on Geet is perfectly suited to the environment she lives in, but you do tend to wonder why most Indian characters living abroad are such loners. Do they not have a gang of their own? Friends? Colleagues? Drinking buddies?
On the flip side, there are always shades of the typical Bandra Girl in her, without being too obviously Catholic. Her family back home in Mumbai compliments her perfectly, and everything she has done thus far begins to make much more sense. Her chemistry with Imran is surprisingly good, with the difference in age cleverly used as part of the script.
There is no overdose of loud music, and Trivedi's lilting tunes do just enough to serve as useful transitions from one phase to another.
Batra's portrayal (cinematography, production design et al) of Vegas and then Mumbai oozes visual prowess that most veterans seem to be missing - not at one point does the location overwhelm you, unlike most YRF and Dharma extravaganzas. His storytelling peaks with certain scenes - with Boman's tie-fastening on his son's neck while explaining to him the relevance of a meeting - the metaphorical pick of the whole lot. As far as casting supporting characters go, it is difficult to find any fault with even the Japanese CEO dudes who gleefully reject Rahul in a job interview.
Inevitably, Batra will be compared - in a healthy way - to another shining star in the Dharma camp, Ayan Mukerjee. This Pappu can dance too, and how. The comparison is justified, but in most minds, this rivalry will turn inconsequential as soon as the climax is over. Without giving too much away, depending on what kind of person you are, you may find yourself doing a silent fist-pump for Batra - thanking him for not giving in to formulaic methods.
Fans of 500 Days Of Summer will be forgiven for wanting to revisit the wonderfully-structured Hollywood 'romcom' while watching this film.
And as far as real life goes, such climaxes are perfectly ordinary. If you ever harbored feelings for your best friend (of the opposite sex), you'd know all too well.
- Reel Reptile