There seems to be an unwritten rule in Bollywood: if the broth exists, we must ensure that too many cooks do their best to spoil it.
What else could explain the constant slew of studio-driven misfires, promoted with all the enthusiasm money can buy but with major flaws that surely someone in the entire machinery must have thought about or pointed out at some stage of the filmmaking process?
Nikhil Advani, who helmed last week’s disastrous Hero, returns to theatres with Katti Batti, a film that reportedly brought tears to Aamir Khan’s eyes (admittedly no longer a novelty). While the direction in Hero was largely on autopilot, Katti Batti feels like a film that has actually been worked upon sincerely. Initially, at least.
Set in Mumbai and Delhi, the film is about the somewhat uptight Madhav or ‘Maddy’ (Imran Khan), who cannot fathom why his flighty live-in girlfriend of five years, Payal (or is it Tanu?), has left him suddenly. It opens interestingly, with a handheld, point-of-view sequence in which the two pretend to get married.
The first half of the film follows a structure similar to the one in Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel starrer (500) Days Of Summer (2009). So, as Maddy tries to figure out why Payal has broken off all links with him and basically disappeared into thin air, we’re shown flashbacks of incidents that occurred during their relationship. The film even has an equivalent of Chloë Grace Moretz’s Rachel in the form of young Mithila Palkar, who plays his domineering little sister.
Derivative it may be, but the first half has enough rhythm and flair to pass muster. There are a few neat transitions and an interesting, well-executed stop-motion montage during the song ‘Lip To Lip’. Ranaut doesn’t have much to do while Khan, who is at least well-cast here, does his level best to carry the film on his shoulders.
On the flipside, attempts at liveliness and humour — such as scenes set at Maddy’s office, involving his best friend, the unbelievably uninhibited office hottie, and a ridiculously theatrical boss — come across as forced and fall flat. One extended sequence, in which Maddy’s friends put on an elaborate show to throw his parents off his beer-drinking habit, plays out like an imaginary deleted scene from 3 Idiots. According to this movie, consuming a few bottles of beer produce the same effects as an ayahuasca trip.
The second half power-skis down a slippery slope as the melodrama becomes more pronounced, indicating the film’s four-hanky tearjerker aspirations quite clearly. The Advani we saw in Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) reappears and attempts to turn on the waterworks by bringing in a twist during the last half hour that is meant to be earth-shattering but, instead, comes across as preposterous and somewhat illogical. A number of characters in the film hide a crucial piece of information from Maddy. Yet, in hindsight, when you think about everything that has been depicted, the whole thing doesn’t seem to add up.
Ranaut, fresh off the recent accolades from Tanu Weds Manu Returns, is the better actor in this film, but remains handicapped by a role that doesn’t have enough depth. In Maddy’s case, we see his parents, friends, and workplace; in Payal’s case, we’re not even really sure what she does with her life, aside from a couple of throwaway lines referring to her constant job-hopping. It’s a familiar role for the National Award-winning actress, but despite getting more screen-time towards the final act, there just isn’t enough meat for her to sink her teeth into.
Khan gets a lot of the meat and despite turning in his best performance since Delhi Belly (2011), he remains handicapped by his own limitations as an actor. He isn’t really acting so much as playing a version of himself, but his affable charm makes it work to some extent.
In hindsight, Katti Batti, feels like a manipulated product. There are two different stories at odds here: one that attempts to investigate why a relationship went sour and another about two people dealing with a crisis that affects their relationship. They may sound like similar things, but they aren’t.