(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)
Meri Pyaari Bindu is the quintessential debut film of a romantic. Written by Suprotim Sengupta and directed by Akshay Roy, it is a love letter and a nostalgic photo album crafted by both of them to something they truly believe in. Like any self-respecting, seemingly autobiographical debut film, the lead – Ayushmann Khurrana as Abhimanyu – shares last name (and initials) with the director. It is not the boy-meets-girl romance that they are after. The film is absolutely about that on the outside but what they build a memory of and sing, write and dance about, is cinema. There are mix-tapes, Hindi film references from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and posters of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Pyaasa. Framed postcards from Italy (the film begins with a direct homage to La Dolce Vita) adorn Abhimanyu’s room while the film itself is adorned by living, breathing versions of Kolkata, Mumbai and Goa.
Bindu (Parineeti Chopra playing a role that almost every 20-something actress has played in a rom-com from a young male director) is cinema. Cinema is Bindu. Bindu waltzes – quite literally – into 10-ish years old Abhi’s life and her first act is to hang a pair of headphones over him. Is it Abhi’s first realization that he is into cinema? Isn’t that roughly the age when a lot of us realize our love for cinema, music or any art but struggle to understand or define the feeling in absolute terms? Bindu and Abhi become neighbors, childhood buddies, best friends from school to college. They spend almost every waking hour together. The film works as boy-fascinated-by-girl-who-exists-only-in-dreams story too and it is a far more grown-up version of the same but Meri Pyaari Bindu becomes a different beast when we treat Bindu as cinema or as Abhi’s muse of a different kind. What is cinema if not dreams coming alive on screen. Belonging to the last generation that had only Doordarshan for entertainment, Bindu even becomes a Tyler Durden sort of figure in Abhi’s life who helps him and accompanies him in watching Chitrahaar.
There is a disarming honesty – from Roy and Sengupta – in creating this subversion of romantic drama as we know it. They present their relationship with Hindi films, warts and all, remarkably stripped off irony. There is a tendency, specially of late, to look back at things we loved as children with more than a tinge of embarrassment. To look at them with trained eyes, freshly adopted ideologies (and when placed in proper context, there is nothing wrong with that). The pair (both, the film’s couple and writer-director) would have none of that. Even the matured adult Abhi would say, “Kanchi? Hoga tumse pyaara kaun wala?” with admiration in his eyes. Abhi and Bindu don’t have their tongues anywhere near the cheeks when singing and dancing to a number that reflects Bappi Lahiri.
But then, as always, life happens. Bindu moves away. Abhi has to make a livelihood. At some point, an obsession creates space for disillusionment. Cinema mutates. Bindu was once close, almost like another home. Bindu is now in Australia. She then goes to France. Films expand in scale. Abhi is at first discomfited but the vagaries of adulthood keep him busy. They meet again just before mid-2000s in Goa and connect. The post-Dil Chahta Hai world of Hindi cinema is here. Something happens in Bindu’s life that brings them together like before. His mundane post-MBA life lights up again. Is it Roy and Sengupta expressing relief in entering the multiplex age, escaping the dreadful 90s? Earlier in the film, Abhi describes some songs (or is it Bindu?) as a dhun that just won’t leave the ears and are stuck for life. Bindu becomes such an ear worm that even if Abhi tries, he cannot leave behind. Bindu too mutates. She is ever-changing and capricious. Abhi tries to make peace with it but he cannot, so he channels all his energy into writing.
That’s ultimately where Abhi’s love for Bindu gets wrapped in irony. He writes pulp horror with titles like Chudail Ki Choli and Awara Dhoban. The man who once literally enacted Mere Sapnon Ki Rani and Silsila is asked by his publisher to not try to be Gulzar. His roommate watches Big Boss that he despises so much because his past heroes like Rahul Roy of Aashiqui are reduced to laughing stocks for TRPs, in a world where Doordarshan is not the only thing on TV. He’d rather spend time with memories of Bindu instead of today’s pop culture (and his girlfriend) at home. Even the film he wants to watch with Bindu is Om Shanti Om – something that celebrates a bygone era of cinema, nostalgic for a forgotten brand of fans and filmmakers. When he is sick of all his books, he returns to his roots to write a love story. His manuscript flies helter-skelter in the breeze the way Bindu used to make his exam papers flutter all over the classroom. Abhi finally gets Bindu and their affection for each other even when they are distant. Meri Pyaari Bindu becomes less of a love story and more of a wall to hang frames, yearbooks and memories of Hindi cinema for Roy and Sengupta. That’s why the film ends in song. A song like the evocative Maana Ke Hum Yaar Nahin that celebrates R.D Burman in composition and arrangement. Flute and sarangi accompanying Bindu in her elements.