Rani Mukherji playing Neetu Singh - now that is a match made in heaven.*
The rest of this movie seemed to require me to buy into a concept I just flat-out refuse to accept: the god who brings particular people together is equally willing to make them suffer - and this is the same god that characters say they are motivated to find and want to see in each other. You want to unite with the qualities of someone who bumps off your fiancé and father before you can be "happy"? No thanks. That's just really mean and twisted. Yeah, god made sure that Taani and Surinder eventually figured out how to love each other - or in Taani's case, maybe just to accept the kind of love that was on offer - but god also felt the need to put them through a heck of a lot before they got there. I can understand how one could interpret the concept of god as it played out in the love story as not so much literally divine and more a recognition of another person's kindness, care-taking, positive outlook, etc. But personally I felt much of the lingo and its setting, especially the symbolism of the multi-culti "Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai," was religious and theist. With Taani's big revelation occurring at the Golden Temple after saying a direct-address prayer to god, I couldn't really see it any other way. While watching, this led me to snark about whether Aditya Chopra is thus equating himself with god, since he's the actual writer of this story. But either way, whoever this "god" is, god doesn't mind people being miserable, hai na?
In addition to wondering whether the kind of godliness that the movie showed was something to value in a relationship, I also found parts of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi regressive in some of the ways I feel about DDLJ. My feminist hackles went way up when an emotional and rattled Taani prays "Please show me god too," then looks up to see Surinder in fuzzy focus, then squints and he becomes clear, and the song says "I see my god in you, I don't know what to do. I can't help but bow before you" and touches his feet. I wrote VOMIT in my notes. And when she corrects the dance competition announcer that their names are "Mr. and Mrs. Surinder Sahni," I wrote it again. Their age difference makes it all the more creepy, as though Surinder becomes a stand-in for her father.
The movie also suffers from what I uncreatively call a Really Stupid Idea (also seen in films like Shaadi Se Pehle and Chori Chori Chupke Chupke). Surinder very sweetly wants Taani to understand that he loves her just as she is - a wonderful idea, well played in stories like Bridget Jones's Diary - and to enjoy a love that blossoms slowly and sweetly - also a lovely idea - but then puts a lot of energy into trying to show her "his" love by acting like someone he very much isn't and plotting to force her hand, as it were. That hypocrisy aside, trying to build a relationship on such a fundamental lie is ridiculous. And how did she not notice? Granted one might not go around trying to figure out if one's dance partner is one's husband, but Shahrukh Khan's nose is so distinctive. (Though maybe that's a sign of how little attention Taani paid to Surinder, how little impact he made on her - i.e., if she can't tell that's a duplicate, she must not know the original very well.)
One last gripe: more proper SRK dancing, please! I realize the script wouldn't really allow it, but it's hard not to resent the waste of talent, especially given the setting. Who says "Let's have a movie with dance lessons, dance practice, a dance competition, and movie-related fantasy sequences and star SRK in the whole thing! In fact, let's give him two characters! But - and here's where our plan is really unique - not let him use his full range in any of them!"?
Here's what I did like. Anushka Sharma was charming and has a sweet, captivating smile. I'll look forward to her next project. Shahrukh's dancing ability may have been squandered, but his skills at projecting empathetic dorkiness and social insecurity made Surinder quite endearing when his lines weren't making me want to slap him. The wardrobe and makeup department made excellent choices and must have worked very well with SRK to use such simple tools - baggy shirt and pants, middle-aged man sneakers, flat hair - to help create the very distinct Surinder and Raj. "Haule Haule" was an adorable blend of Surinder's reality and fantasy and felt to me exactly the way Surinder would dream. As lost and confused as she was - and fair enough, given what she's been through - Taani was no weakling. My favorite moment from her was her deft and sensible pin-pop of Surinder's humorously irrelevant notion of "macho." Amritsar shone too - and I squealed with delight when I recognized one of the exterior shots and a verbal reference. (Khalsa College was the exterior of the site of the dance class,
and towards the end Surinder invites Taani to a movie at the Rialto, which was not far from where I stayed in 2006 and was showing Phir Hera Pheri when I walked by.)
In addition to Surinder's original wish to let love come softly, I even like the movie's tag line "There is an extraordinary love story in every ordinary jodi." It feels like an invitation to explore down those back lanes and bustling streets, to see what stories lurk in the people you pass everyday, to find something interesting and moving where you least expect it. If Chopra had stuck to those things, I would have liked this much more. Too bad the script veered off into senseless and forced.
* Lara Dutta as Helen? Not so much.