There is a scene in 2011's 'Tanu Weds Manu', where Kangana Ranaut's character Tanu asks R Madhavan's Manu why he loves her. Hindi movies tend to romanticise objectification, and most viewers would've expected something along the lines of "Jab tum hasti ho, to aisa lagta hai jaisey [insert metaphor/feeling here]."
But Manu is honest. He acknowledges that he has been a geeky, over-doted-upon only son who never had much contact with women and never really learnt how to woo them. He admits that he was lonely and only consented to an arranged marriage because of parental pressure. Because of all these factors, when he saw her pretty face, he immediately fell in love.
'Tanu Weds Manu Returns', the sequel to that surprise hit, never hits a note as honest as the above example, even as it attempts to cash in on Ranaut's post-'Queen' glow. This time, she has a double role: one, as Tanuja Trivedi -- the self-centered, immature drama-queen who doesn't really seem to have evolved over four years of marriage (perhaps the opposite, in fact); and the second as Kusum aka Datto, a coarse-but-plucky Haryanvi college girl who sports a pixie cut and aspires to be a successful, national-level athlete.
Ranaut, a two-time National Award winning actress, shines in both roles, particularly the latter that requires her to speak in a thick Haryanvi dialect (duly nailed). As does Deepak Dobriyal, reprising his role as Manu's loyal companion Pappi, who again gets some of the film's best lines. In fact, a good portion of 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns' is redeemed somewhat by its performances -- the remainder of the cast is also quite competent, including the ever-dependable Rajesh Sharma as Kusum's progressive brother -- and some moments of wit.
The rest of the film, however, is a holy, illogical mess.
Caution: the following three paragraphs contain spoilers.
"In fact, a good portion of 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns' is redeemed somewhat by its performances -- the remainder of the cast is also quite competent, including the ever-dependable Rajesh Sharma as Kusum's progressive brother -- and some moments of wit."
Consider the setup itself. We're in a mental institution in London, where a Hindi-speaking doctor attempts to counsel the now-married Tanu and Manu. In four years, they've finally realised what the audience already knew at the end of the previous film: she's too wild and he's too sober, and they have almost nothing in common. Why are they at an institution that looks like something out of 'Shutter Island' instead of, you know, a normal doctor's office? No idea.
Bollywood's penchant for reducing the science of psychiatry to a puerile 'paagalon ka doctor' stereotype is visible here and, sure enough, men in white coats swoop in soon to take Manu away for simply getting agitated while talking about his wayward wife. And then we wonder why mental illness isn't taken seriously in India.
Our heroine spends a few days in London on her own feeling upset before returning to her hometown, Kanpur, to the triumphant strains of 'Sadi Galli' (the super-hit song from the first movie). She doesn't stop, however, to maybe get her husband out of the institution -- instead, she asks (orders) Pappi (Dobriyal) to fly over all the way to London to do the honours, presumably so the film could have the opportunity of staging a 'funny' scene involving a Kanpuriya atop a London tour bus.
"Ironically, for a film that's already being appreciated by some for its smart script, this one is a strong case for that age-old commercial cinema chestnut: leave your brains behind at home and just enjoy the movie, stupid."
What I've described so far are merely the first 10 minutes of the movie. There is a lot that happens afterwards, but the basic takeaway from this sequel is this: the best way to get back at your wife for abandoning you in a mental institution where you may or may not have received electroconvulsive therapy is, apparently, to fall in love with someone you have even less in common with just because she looks exactly like her.
'Tanu Weds Manu Returns' is also, strangely enough, a really regressive film for one that tries so hard to be progressive. Sure, Tanu continues to drink freely (to the point of abuse, honestly) and Kusum is empowered enough to defend herself against a possible stalker. In a forced moment, Kusum's brother finds time to give an anti-female-foeticide speech even as members of their family prepare themselves for an honour-kiling. As for the film itself, despite the number of male characters, it is very clearly an acting showcase for Ranaut, whose talents are considerable.
But what's the point of any of this if you're going to trivialise the entire concept of love by reducing your principal female characters to a set of qualities? As in the first movie, the biggest problem with 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns' is the complete lack of insight into what makes the lead pair -- or anyone, really -- fall in love with each other. According to the film, Manu is an intelligent, sensible guy, but his actions defy logic. By the time the proceedings roll towards an end, the film is firmly from his point-of-view, and both Kanganas exist only to show that there are basically two kinds of women: hysterical and self-centered; and sober and self-sacrificial.
'Tanu Weds Manu Returns' does have a few moments that make you laugh out loud, most of them belonging to Dobriyal, who even salvages a terribly over-the-top scene in which he is suddenly asked to lecture medical students at a Delhi college. However, its problems were too weighty for me, at least, to ignore. It creates half-baked characters that are hard to even identify with, let alone root for. A well-conceived scene, in which Manu and Pappi have a drink with the former's father (KK Raina) while his mother (Dipti Mishra) rants away, typewriter-like, in the background would have been a hoot had it not basically reduced a marriage partner to 'just someone you have to tolerate, with alcohol if possible'.
Ironically, for a film that's already being appreciated by some for its smart script, this one is a strong case for that age-old commercial cinema chestnut: leave your brains behind at home and just enjoy the movie, stupid. It's true, of course. Actually thinking about what a movie is saying -- instead of how it's saying it -- is tremendously injurious to enjoyment.