Sunday, December 24, 2017

Qarib Qarib Singlle: Review

The last time Irrfan took a road trip with a woman he liked was Piku in 2015. He was so likeable in the film, so clearly the reason that acidic narrative didn’t curdle, that a retread of some sort was always on the cards. And sure enough, two years later, we get Qarib Qarib Singlle, which has nothing to do with Piku except that the actor’s once again travelling with a woman in need of some cheering up. Tanuja Chandra’s film removes the extra baggage of a third passenger, offering in its place Irrfan and Parvathy (Bangalore Days, Take Off), with a side helping of Irrfan.

At the receiving end of this charm offensive is Jaya (Parvathy), a 35-year-old manager in an insurance firm. Her husband died a decade ago; since then, she’s stayed away from romantic relationships, spending her free time video-chatting with her younger brother and baby- and cat-sitting for unappreciative friends. This changes when she comes across a man named Yogi (Irrfan) on a dating website. His hobbies are “poetry, poetry, poetry”, the triplicate assertion a warning that this isn’t someone who believes in using one word when you can easily use three.

Yogi arrives for their first meeting, in a coffee shop, wearing a bright red jacket and dark glasses. His conversation is, if anything, even less abashed than his sartorial style – he babbles on about lattes, poetry, jogging and the ugliness of the Indian male. Jaya barely gets a few words in edgeways, but she’s intrigued enough to meet this odd man again. He’s just as overwhelming on their next date, and on the one after that, but he clearly likes Jaya, and she’s starting to show signs of liking him too. Yogi then suggests something outrageous: trips to Rishikesh, Alwar and Gangtok to visit his three significant exes and see how they’ve fared since he last saw them. Even by romantic comedy standards, this a monumentally flimsy suggestion, but cautious, sensible Jaya – who hasn’t been in a serious relationship after her husband and still uses his name as her laptop password – somehow agrees.

Despite its preposterous premise, Qarib Qarib Singlle is often funny and sometimes rather touching. Both Jaya and Yogi are bent out of shape; she’s kept the world at a distance, while he can’t seem to let go of this image of himself as a dashing young poet. But as he keeps yammering away, she gradually opens up, even as they drop in unannounced on his former (now married) girlfriends, who, surprisingly, still have strong feelings for this cartoonish man.

Irrfan and Parvathy are an enjoyable pair, addressing each other as “Mister Yogi” and “Miss Jaya” (which gives it the sound of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee comedy), making half-exasperated, half-amused attempts to loosen up or quieten down the other. Parvathy’s slow relaxation is lovely to watch, though I wish the writers (Tanuja Chandra, Kamna Chandra, Gazal Dhaliwal) hadn’t included an extended comic sequence where she’s high on sleep meds. I also had an issue with a device that Chandra uses through the film: Parvathy looking straight at the camera and delivering asides to the audience. I’m not against a little fourth-wall breaking but its deployment here doesn’t match the straightforward tone of the film, and when it’s used for dramatic effect towards the end there’s no corresponding emotional tug.

Unlike Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Savdhan, two of the brighter comedies this year, Qarib doesn’t pack its final moments with incident. Instead, after taking the trouble of going to the mountains and finding someone for Jaya to meet, it just ends, pretty much the way you’d expect it to, as if the writers had run out of plot. As the credits rolled I realised this is probably the last we’ll see of Jaya and Yogi. Pity. It’s not just flawless films that have fascinating characters.

This review appeared in Mint.

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