Like most of us 90s kids, Shashank Khaitan is enamored by the 90s Bollywood. For better or worse. You grow up with it and it is ingrained in your system. Even today the hilarious reviews of 90s Hindi films keeps the Internet going. Khaitan’s film is an update on the most successful and most representative of all those 90s mainstream films – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. But he doesn’t want to let go of other references either. There is Maine Pyar Kiya (we hear the song just before the girl’s dad gives Humpty (Varun Dhawan) an ultimatum) which is filed under 1989 but really ushered in the ethos that will follow in the 90s. There is of course DDLJ and the dialogues from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Shah Rukh K’hans wide open stance mentioned and performed (gloriously by Alia Bhatt who hits a hat-trick with this one).
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania is written within a universe that is built upon cliches that characterized the films of that decade. But there is life and a lot of vigor when cliches are done well. And Khaitan’s film stands testimony to that. This is also resuscitated by the lead characters and the overall stellar performances. There are little deviations from the script that also light up this film that’s more real than the original. If Raj goes into the bad books by pilfering beer cans from Baldev Singh’s shop, Humpty ends up in the bad books of Kavya’s (Alia Bhatt) uncle by literally having him on the ropes. But this takes greater significance in the most offhand manner when it is laughed off by Kavya’s father (Ashutosh Rana in a performance reminding you of his early film career) and that’s the moment we know this is 2014 and not 1995. These lovingly written characters, leads and the spark between them helps this film to rise above its material. Alia Bhatt plays her Kavya Pratap Singh with a feistiness representative of both her full name and the patakha tattoo she loves to show off. She effortlessly imparts the attitude and vulnerability that’s demanded of her character and she’s no Simran. She will not wait for her dad to let her go. Kavya takes her chances and deals with the consequences later. Humpty Sharma is no pushover either. While Raj gets beaten up at the very end, Humpty is dealt the blows almost at the very beginning. Varun Dhawan has a glint in his eye as the playboy and pursuer that’s instantly likeable. The way he spins his father’s inspiration to name him after Rakesh Sharma the cosmonaut to flirt with a girl is a classic. He also has tears in his eyes at the end of DDLJ. Looks like Student of the Year leads were great students after all.
The first half is all about an almost MacGuffin lehenga and a more detailed love story than DDLJ. Some of the sentimental moments could have been done away with – they just don’t gel with the larger tone of the film – like Humpty’s dad and friends being oh so good to the cause of his love but the fire between the leads burns bright throughout. But just like its inspiration, the latter portion is where the film aims higher and gets almost everything right. This is not a straightforward challenge like Raj had – to be the good boy and win over Simran’s family. Humpty Sharma has a bigger task of making his love triumph. All the odds stack up against him and he has to beat perfection to even have a chance. Here too there is a scene in the railway station where they don’t hop onto the train but get down and have a talk in Humpty’s words – man to man. There is something about this scene that harks back to a different film with different sensibilities and made with much more restraint – Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year – where Rocket Singh in an everything-to-lose state lectures his ex-boss on business and numbers and people. Humpty Sharma does something similar in a more louder way – for he’s in Ambala – and lectures on love and people and relationships to Mr. Singh. The scene is almost a film within the film – the theme in a bottle – with the best performers and best characters lined up (missing only Humpty’s two buddies who are great fun except one is there in spirit) and playing off each other so well.
The audience of 2014 may feed on movie reviews tailor made for fun and ridicule (and what’s not to love there?) and they even have the never ending stream of 90s films to continue on that path till end of time. But Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania extracts the essence from these very films and gives you a version after careful triage and numerous bug fixes. And here too, what’s not to love?
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)