There is a beautiful moment in 2 States between Krish (Arjun Kapoor) and his mother (Amrita Singh) after a routine altercation with Krish’s father (Ronit Roy in an irredeemable role). His father has just smashed a whiskey glass and when the mother and son are coming to terms with the aftermath, Krish suggests that maybe she shouldn’t have cleaned up the glass pieces, his father could have learned a lesson or two from cutting his feet in the shards. And Amrita Singh – in the performance of the film – says without missing a beat – what if you had cut your feet in them? That this is routine is something we find out only later in one of the few nice touches in this middling adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States directed by Abhishek Varman.
The way the blossoming relationship between Ananya (Alia Bhatt) and Krish is written has a bit of pragmatism and a bit of the filmy. It is a tightrope the film tries to deal with in its entire run and often unsuccessfully at that. It hits the right notes when the irony of the sparkling nature of a Tamilian (or should I say Madrasi?) and the somewhat closed nature of the Punjabi is underlined. She’d rather have the tandoori chicken than the hostel mess sambar (and asks for alcohol in a dry state). He is fine with the sambar and is ready to give up the only good thing there – the rasagulla. It hits you when his mother comes down for his graduation with a tall set of sweets all packed for him and he complains.
There are aesthetic and treatment problems abound in 2 States. Gujarat and Delhi are shown as is but with Chennai, we are in a studio like setting. There is a whitewashed quality to this part of the film that never seems right. Rarely do families eat on a banana leaf everyday! You could put that down to a special day when they have a Punjabi guest in their home but none of them really behave like he’s welcome. What looks like the Koyambedu flower market is crisp and clean and all customers are dressed like they are attending a wedding. It’s a classic Bollywood mistake and it is unbelievable it happens even in 2014. A good thing though is that the Tamil Brahmin family speaks Hindi the normal way non-Hindi speakers do. They are not Mithun Chakraborty from Agneepath. It is detailed enough to subtly note that they pronounce ka and kha the same way. Baby steps!
It maybe due to the writing or due to the performances but once the families come into the picture it is their story that is more interesting than the Krish-Ananya union. The denouement too comes together far too easily and there is a feeling that the film’s two best performers have been shortchanged. Amrita Singh gets the best lines and gets a meaty role that she sinks her teeth into. But in the end it’s as if she had no say at all. Alia Bhatt proves that Highway was no fluke. This is Krish’s story and everything is from his perspective as he narrates to a shrink but the aftertaste of a film devoid of Ananya’s perspective is bitter. Ronit Roy doesn’t smile throughout the film, even in occasions where he’s allowed to and walks away with the most awkward hug offered and received on screen. Splendid from the seniors.
2 States doesn’t really join that impressive list (3 Idiots, Kai Po Che) of Chetan Bhagat novels that were better realized on screen transcending their original material. It has its moments. But the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)