Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (Ali Abbas Zafar, 2011)
Mere Brother Ki Dulhan tells the story of Indian-based Kush (Imran Khan), who is tasked with finding a bride for his London-based brother Luv (Ali Zafar). The girl he chooses – Dimple (Katrina Kaif) is perfect because she is a little unconventional – wilder than most Indian girls, she'll fit into life in London perfectly. The problem? Before Luv arrives for the wedding, Kush and Dimple fall in love. Now they have to figure out a way to halt the impending nuptials and end up together, without resorting to the filmi standby of running away together.
Basically the first thing you learn about genre in film studies is that watching a genre film is essentially like an exercise in ticking off a list of the elements that comprise that particular genre. Action films have car chases and explosions, corruption and redemption; romantic films have boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back; obviously I'm waaaay simplifying things but you get my drift.
There's a formula and certain things that are always included – so the pleasure in a genre flick is partly in the recognition of those familiar elements, but also in recognising how the same elements are put together in a new way, or enhanced so that the familiar feels fresh and exciting and new.
I started thinking about the pleasures of genre as soon as the title song in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan kicked in: a song that sees Imran Khan pay tribute to the three key Khans in Bollywood: Shahrukh, Salman and uncle Aamir;
as well as shouting out to a couple of the big Bollywood romantic film tropes like running to reunite with a love on a train
and emoting arms outstretched to the sky.
These elements are all familiar from having seen them before: yet seeing these moments recreated in the opening song I was PSYCHED for the rest of the film – because I simultaneously felt the thrill of recognition: “yes! I know that reference!” and as if I was seeing these moments for the first time – Imran Khan bringing his own goofy, likeable charm to the hero role. Later on in the film another filmi icon will play its part: the Taj Mahal, along with several other checkboxes for a Bollywood romance being ticked: lovers attempting to run away, clashes between cultural and generational traditions causing problems, preparations for a big glitzy wedding going ahead because of fears for "reputations" involved...
What I'm leading up to saying is this: on paper, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan reads like nothing especially original – which is why, I think, in the lead-up to its release, I was less than excited for it – it was hardly even on my radar. On the surface, MBKD seems like just another Hindi romantic comedy with the same elements as pretty much every Hindi romantic comedy that has preceded it: boy meets girl, falls in love, there's a hurdle they have to conquer to be together (tradition/parents/society). We already know the journey from A to B (and if you don't know that romantic comedies are characterised by their happy endings, then you must never have seen one) – but it's in the fine details and embellishments on the journey along the way that the film lies.
I've mentioned it plenty of times before, but I'll say it again – one of the things I love the most in Bollywood films is when they are abundant with filmi references and commentary. It can be overt sometimes, hyper-aware and over the top, taken to the point that characters break the fourth wall and address the audience; or it can be more naturally incorporated in the filmi universe created onscreen – which is the case with Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. The characters in this film either work in Bollywood (Imran Khan's character, Kush, is an Assistant Film Director), or, like the rest of us, are fully pop-culture aware and saturated, speaking to each other in famous film-quotes as shorthand, referencing films and filmstars in their everyday conversations...and fantasies: Ali Zafar's character, Luv, drunkenly sees a resemblance between his fiancee Dimple (Katrina Kaif) and a film hoarding for Mughal-E-Azam featuring the beautiful Madhubala:
Which brings me to the elephant in the room: Katrina Kaif. I've never written much about her on the blog before because, to be honest, I've never been greatly enamoured of her. As in: previously, I mostly couldn't stand her. This is the second film this year that I have LOVED her. (Believe me, I never EVER thought I would write that). MBKD really is Katrina's film (after all, it is named for her character) and reveals her, after her natural wildchild hippy turn in ZNMD, to be a talented comic actress.
I think the thing is that I've never really bought Katrina Kaif when she's in a role that requires her to be a sultry siren or sell her “sexiness” too hard; in MBKD (and in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, also this year) she comes across for much of the time as far more natural and relaxed, and far more likeable for it. I would much rather see Katrina channel her goofy side – which she apparently does pretty well – and see her like this:
because that is far more sexy than any gyrating scantily clad choreography she can learn.
The whole reason I even watched this film in the first place, given I wasn't initially psyched for it, was for Imran Khan. I can't help it, I am a super fan of the guy. I HATED him in Delhi Belly though, and MBKD helped me figure out why: what I like most about Imran is his sincerity. He can't really dance that well (and he has admitted as much in interviews) but damn if he doesn't throw himself into every sequence. I love it when he's playing a goofy, lovestruck guy who actually emotes (so, the opposite of his character in Delhi Belly) – Kush waggles his eyebrows sardonically in song; reveals to his friends inadvertently how much he loves Dimple because his face is like an open book, will dress up in silly outfits and do Dimple's bidding because he loves her.
I like Hindi movies because nobody is scared to show their emotions and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan ticks this box (not just with Imran but he's my favourite); I realise now that the complete lack of emotion in Delhi Belly was part of why I hated it so much.
To dismiss MBKD as an ordinary romantic comedy would be to do it a great disservice. MBKD is a great pleasure to watch - greater than the sum of its parts: a likeable, talented set of leads; fantastic, well-picturised songs; a satisfying ending that ticks the elemental boxes in slightly unexpected fashion. It is a mass entertainer with pure heart and plenty, PLENTY of filmi soul.