The audience for Luv Ranjan’s latest movie Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 — and it will be a fairly substantial one judging by the hoots and applause heard at its press screening — will be divided into two parts: people who love it and people who agree with this review.
The segment of people who love it will be divided into two parts: men who don’t have healthy relationships with women and women who have low self-esteem.
Whoa, wait, isn’t that too much of a generalisation? You’re right. My bad. Although, if Ranjan can make two whole movies based on facile generalisations, why can’t I make it once in a measly film review that roughly 0.001% of its target audience is going to read?
So here we have a sequel to 2011’s surprise hit Pyaar Ka Punchnama, in the same manner that The Hangover 2 is a sequel to The Hangover. There’s a format that you need to populate with characters and situations and — voila! — you have an instant crowd-pleaser. There's even a repeat of that wildly popular monologue from the first film.
This time around, the spitfire talents of Divyendu Sharma, who was one of the few good things about the first film, are missing. His duties are taken up by debutant Sunny Singh, who also sports a likeable screen presence and is quite funny in a few scenes. His character, Chauka, is the whiner of the group, constantly complaining about the injustices exacted on him by his best buddies/roommates Gogo (Kartik Aaryan, playing a much more ‘macho’ role this time) and rich kid Thakur (Omkar Kapoor, appearing for the first time in this series).
Amongst the women, Nushrat Bharucha and Sonalli Seygall (I expect she’ll be ‘Sonaalee Seagull’ in Pyaar Ka Punchnama 3) reappear as different characters, Ruchika and Supriya, while Ishita Raj joins the cast as Kusum.
The film progresses like a sine wave, alternating scenes of male-bonding with generalisations about women and relationships. Our three heroes, living their idyllic lives in a bachelor pad that is very obviously a set, fall in love with three women on the very same day. Gogo meets Ruchika (‘Chickoo’ is her nickname) at a sundowner party where she displays great short-term memory by remembering the number he dictated orally to her before walking away with a jerk-smirk. Thakur drools over Kusum working out in his gym, following which she asks him to come over to her place (note to inspired dude-bros: this will probably NOT work in real life). Meanwhile, Chauka meets Supriya at family wedding where he falls in love with her over a few dances (this one, admittedly, is a lot more believable).
Later, however, everything goes downhill. It turns out an immature, spoilt girl named ‘Chickoo’ is immature and spoilt. Gasp. Who knew? Kusum, on the other hand, seems much more smart and mature. However, she has a chip on her shoulder about the salary she earns and is bad with money. Meanwhile, Supriya is great except she’s too chicken to tell her dad (Sharat Saxena) about her relationship with Chauka.
Ishita Raj and Omkar Kapoor in a still from 'Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2'
The problem with Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2, aside from its Bollywood trappings, is its refusal to let nuance enter the picture at any point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making a movie about three relationships gone wrong from a male perspective. The problem is that Ranjan refuses to acknowledge that the men are anything but perfect, and keeps pushing forth the idea that women are selfish and manipulative schemers who only want to control the men in their lives. For instance, a sub-plot about Gogo being jealous of Ruchika’s male best friend, paints him as being absolutely 100% justified, while Ruchika’s perspective is invalidated because by then we’ve already been told — repeatedly — that she’s a shallow, self-centred Barbie doll masquerading as a human being.
Granted, there are moments of truth here and there, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t identify with at least a couple of situations depicted in this movie. But Ranjan doesn’t shade those moments with any perspective — his palette only comes with black and white. Relationships are hard for both sides and, yes, as a man, there have been times where I’ve thrown up my hands in frustration and said, “God, what do you want from me?” But in real life, you get some semblance of an answer that makes you realise that you're dealing with another flesh-and-blood person, with emotions, expectations, and a different perspective. In the Pyaar Ka Punchnama movies, the answer always boils down to “Ladkiyon ki toh jaat hi kameeni hoti hai”.
I have no doubt that this movie will do well at the box-office, which means that we can expect this to turn into a franchise that employs lesser-known, largely mediocre actors and uses misogyny as its Khan. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, that’s one small step for Lokhandwala’s economy, and one giant leap backward for womankind (not to mention cinema).