Neither of these movies was as painful as I was expecting, but I'm still having as much fun considering a combination of their names as a title for this post as I did watching either. Luv and Hate. I Hate Your Luv. I Hate Your Raashee. I Luv Your Story. Luv: A Story. What's Your Story? And, most importantly, I H8 How U Foolz Spell Ur Moovees.
Anyway. I Hate Luv Storys didn't come to my cinema when it released and I couldn't have cared less. I very much dislike Sonam Kapoor based on Saawariya and Delhi-6 and thought "Oh dear me" when Filmi Girl said she had turned it off after 10 minutes. But Netflix Instant kept trying to get me to watch it, so one cold and snowy afternoon over the December holidays I gave in. I made it through the whole film and have very little to say for my efforts. It's so rare that I'm interested in the romantic bumblings of 20somethings in ironic t-shirts, and there was nothing otherwise appealing about either lead to make up for their foolishness. Even when they managed to convince me that they actually loved each other, I couldn't see why they possibly would - or care that they did. Sonam did nothing to improve my opinion of her and Imran was not nearly as endearing or lovable as he was on Koffee with Karan, which I suspect we can chalk up to the material.
Even the film-world setting was mostly a snooze. I did appreciate the focus on the backstage crew rather than actors, dancers, or even musicians and was glad to see a female boss, even if she was someone who seemed too easily flustered and of an age very unlikely to have sufficient experience for the job she was in. Also amusing were some of the comments on extravagant, oversized filmi houses, which is one of my pet research projects that I have yet to post about but love collecting screen caps in support of. The film-within-the-film's director (Samir Soni) raves about one of the characters' homes thus:
"It's beautiful! Look look...there is a staircase inside the house...
and the staircase has molding too!" SQUEEEEE! Architectural froo-froo! Now that is funny. I also enjoyed his attitude about socioeconomic realities, and I couldn't quite tell if he was supposed to be a master of marketing or a blissfully ignorant dimwit inhabiting a world formed wholly by lush song picturizations. "These people are not rich, but they shouldn't be too poor either," he explains. "Just right."
The most interesting question raised by I Hate Luv Storys is exactly how far up producer Karan Johar's bum director/writer Punit Malhotra was trying to climb. If he had kept the film references to about 15% Karan Johar films, they would have seemed more like actual good-humored self-aware writing and less like lead-footed unctuousness.
To be honest, I watched What's Your Raashee? because Fairy Filmi Ending suggested it for a watchalong and I thought it might be an amusing craptacular dodecahedron of ridiculousness - I mean, what kind of lunatic casts Priyanka Chopra in TWELVE roles in one film? But you know what? She wasn't bad! I didn't notice her doing much with her voice (except perhaps for the last version, which I won't name so as not to spoil things), but there was at least one impressive example of using mostly posture to create a character, as well as holding her face in different ways to project different personalities. It's only fair to give a lot of the credit to two sets of behind-the-scenes crew. First, the writers (director Ashutosh Gowariker, Naushil Mehta, and Amit Mistry, based on a novel by Madhu Rye) wisely made a few of her 12 roles little more than poses was and kept all of them short and one-dimensional. Their character sketches were very effectively presented by what must have been a huge amount of work and creativity by the wardrobe and makeup departments, who really made each of her characters look very different, sometimes down to eyebrows and I think perhaps fake teeth to change the shape of her lower face.
All of which is to say that I think Priyanka was able to carry these roles off because a significant proportion of each of them could be treated as modeling assignments, which should be up her alley. I don't mean to unfairly downplay what she actually did, but with a particular look for each character, complete with physical attributes and accessories, she certainly had a great start for making each woman distinct.
After I watched this, I remembered Amrita saying on our most recent Masala Zindabad podcast that Gowariker seems to have gotten bogged down by Lagaan into making films that speak to the Indian national character and that What's Your Raashee? was a look at the state of contemporary Indain womanhood. That idea did not occur to me at all while actually watching the film, I suppose because it wasn't the sort of visually noticeable tour that, say, 70s songs tend to have, with a village girl, a bharatanatyam dancer, a spangly sequined vamp, etc. But I think her point holds up, and it's interesting to me that the spectrum is seen through the eyes of a foreign-returned man, as though the writers really were trying to be ethnographic with an outsider-turned-participant-observer discovering that every Indian woman has something to offer, whether it is a desire to serve her country (the doctor), an artistic or creative side (several characters are performers of some kind), wealth (the rich industrial family), traditional knowledge (the astrologer), ambition (the wannabe model), principle (the exceptionally forthright one with a past her family wishes she would hide), etc.
More amazing to me, though, was that the male/outsider is not unreasonable in his judgment of any of them and he really does try to get to know each of them for who they are, at least in the short amount the structure of the story allows. He seems to want to do right by each of them, as well as stick to his own values, and that in itself makes this a noteworthy film. Hell, we even get a woman asking why it shouldn't sometimes be the case that the man follows after the woman's career choices! The film also presents the interesting question of what we would see in other people if they all looked the same. Of course, here they all look like Priyanka Chopra, but still - it's a point we should all consider in our image-driven world.
Harman Baweja was pretty likable in his role, far more so than his unconvincing turn as icky Karan in Love Story 2050, though Yogesh as an individual is very clearly not the point of What's Your Rashee? Being a blandly pleasant on-ramp into the spectrum of female characters seemed to suit him well enough. I also give the film points for being accurate about Chicago, down to the correct typeface on the University of Chicago sweatshirt that Harman wears all around Mumbai (though who packs a hooded sweatshirt for a trip to Mumbai?). As a lifelong Illinoisian, the only thing that made me want to jab somebody with a miniature Sears Tower was the talk about Chicago as the center of modeling in the United States. Ummm...no. Here in the midwest, we like to eat. Is Priyanka destined to play models in films that know eff-all about modeling?
Also annoying: the smooth jazz opening song and James Bond titles-esque introductory segments to each zodiac sign that featured Piryanka in a spandex bodysuit slinking around with a symbol appropriate to each sign.
"Pal Pal Dil Jisko Dhoonde"
These had nothing to do with the story or characterizations and I wish they weren't there at all. A simple bit of text would have worked just fine and been less distracting. I don't think the cartoon-y look of the title on the film's poster works either, even when it features as the cover of a book Yogesh casually picks up that then, for no truly sensible reason, dictates the structure of the story.
Even with that much to recommend it on paper, What's Your Raashee? is just too damn long. Knowing there will be twelve Priyankas means you can count down the minimum amount of story left, and after about 150 minutes I lost steam and was worried the remaining women would get far more time on screen than I had energy for. I'm not sure what I would cut - probably the antics with the side characters and some of the songs. Actually, trimming the concept might be smarter - find some sort of system of sorting people that has only 7 categories, say. We can be thankful Gowariker hasn't tackled What's Your Myers-Briggs? Though it certainly did not leave me wanting more, once this movie ended, I realized that I actually liked it, and it has provided me plenty to think about in the two days since I saw it. Its relatively respectful treatment of female characters and acknowledgment of some sort of diversity, however filmified, makes it a standout in my film-viewing experience, and because I found those amazing feats in a place I least expected them, it's also a lesson in keeping an open mind.
[Note from Editor Self - so much for "mini."]