It takes courage and tremendous amount at that to take a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film and whitewash it to suit today’s multiplex vibes. It goes against the very levels of mood that Hrishida operated in. If you are taking into account today’s class differences and that while Mukherjee told the stories of his audience, today they would like to see a more exaggerated projection of their own self-worth that the multiplex cinema of the last decade has trained them for. As for Khoobsurat in its own right, it isn’t tone deaf. It is projected as a Disney princess story and operates within those tropes and for that some amount of fantasy is par for the course. Of course the comparisons to Rekha’s Khoobsurat are moot. That’s a height that cannot be caressed. But at least this Sonam Kapoor in and as Sonam Kapoor vehicle is mostly inoffensive.
On paper it is a nice hook to hang the old film onto. It is also fairly well realized. The disciplined family of Dina Pathak is hard to find in today’s living rooms so what do you do? You take a royal family that still operates within protocol. There is dinner at 8 PM sharp. No one is allowed to open their mouths during dinner. Well, except for the obvious purpose. This gives way to some of Shashanka Ghosh’s best moments. Early on he switches between shots of dinner time in the royal household and the household of Dr. Mrinalini ‘Milli’ Chakravarty (Sonam Kapoor) with her parents and brother. There is casual everyday conversation. There is even a pat on the back for the cook’s chicken. The royalty however are grim, serious and deal with their servants in the most authoritative and least affecting manner. There is no conversation apart from orders and admonishments. There is another moment involving a drunken feast with the servants when Milli is let in on the family past that springs her into action. These small moments are Ghosh’s strong points.
The romance between Milli and Vikram Rathore (Fawad Khan) is predictable and takes a familiar trajectory. It takes precedence over everything else in the film and that’s a real bummer. The older film keeps this in the background while the other family issues are slowly resolved. Ratna Pathak, an obvious casting choice as the matron is terribly underused. Kirron Kher playing Milli’s mother and again obviously named Manju is terribly overused. Both of them get their best moments only towards the end and it is a case of too little too late by then.
This is probably the one hundred and twenty ninth film where Sonam Kapoor is playing herself. She isn’t bad. Her best performances so far have been in Delhi-6, Raanjhanaa and Aisha (where the casting was fresh and worked). There was a time during the early Deepika Padukone days when Sonam was the better actress though Deepika and Katrina were ruling the roost. This film again plays straight into her hands. It’s a film that symbolizes haute couture. The i’s and t’s may not be dotted and crossed on the script but on screen, the look and feel is. It’s all taffeta lining and cuts. You cannot find a better antithesis to the sensibilities of Hrishikesh Mukherjee. When Vikram Rathore (Fawad Khan) crashes on the couch (or the equivalent of that activity) of a royal palace in drunken stupor (people in this film do all the right things when inebriated), his tie is almost intact and does not let him go. But all this leads to an end where His Royal Highness comes down to earth and mingles with his subjects, getting down and dirty with them, quite literally. It’s an image Ghosh was probably going for right from the beginning and it works.
(An edited version of this was first published in The New Indian Express)