It has been an agonisingly bad year for Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions (Kalank, SOTY 2, Drive) and the last week of 2019 doesn’t seem to be bringing any Christmas cheer, despite the studio releasing a film actually titled ‘Good Newwz’ (With that spelling, can any news really be good?).
In the production house’s latest offering, directed by Raj Mehta with a screenplay by Jyoti Kapoor and Rishabh Sharma, two couples attempting to bear a child through in vitro fertilisation, fall victim to medical negligence after visiting the same fertility clinic because they share a last name: Batra.
One is a posh, living-in-a-Bombay-high-rise-with-a-sea-view couple, Varun (Akshay Kumar) and Deepti (Kareena Kapoor), the other, a bombastic, moneyed pair from Chandigarh, Honey (Diljit Dosanjh) and Monika (Kiara Advani). The latter move to the same apartment complex as Akshay-Kareena after they realise there has been a sperm swap: Deepti is pregnant with Honey’s sperm while Monika has been inseminated with Varun’s.
Despite its ostensibly noble intention of mainstreaming discourse around alternate methods of conception, Good Newwz is a deeply conservative film that ultimately reaffirms the traditional construct of an Indian family. It wears a chic Dharma jacket but underneath its superficial wokeness lie layers of patriarchal ideas coded in archaic notions of masculinity, bloodlines and dynasty.
It’s also a film that pretends to satirise gender stereotypes but ends up legitimising the same constructs it thinks it’s critiquing. On the surface, it’s a ‘comedy of errors’ where fart jokes abound and the term ‘slip disk’ confused with ‘slip dick’ is an acceptable joke. But for all its tawdry humour that the makers will defend as ‘harmless,’ this is a shoddy, Sajid Khan-esque film in Aki Narula attire. The sea-facing, Windermere abode is a smokescreen that can’t cloak the fact that these boomers are only pretending to be woke.
In a film about the complications of pregnancy, the men hijack the conversation, often getting into arguments about genetic superiority and expanding their own biological lineage because of course, impregnation is the ultimate form of male achievement.
And what’s with the film’s woefully discomforting anti-adoption stance? At least in two instances, when Deepti proffers the idea that adoption is a relatively simpler procedure (as compared to IVF), she’s countered by arguments such as “but your child is your child, no?”
If mainstreaming conversation around an unconventional way of conceiving comes at the cost of stigmatising a different form of parenting, you’ve effectively cancelled out your own message. Individual choice cannot be a counter to that when your narrative makes its position clear without offering the clarity of how both options are fine.
If these aren’t shocking enough (for a movie made in 2019), there’s a sneaky anti-abortion position that emerges, straight out of the doctor’s office. Tisca Chopra, who plays one of the medical officers supervising the two pregnancies, compares abortion with murder, a patently false equivalence. At a time when religious conservatism is the dominant political narrative with women still fighting for abortion rights, this pro-life argument is a right-wing fantasy, the kind that sends a toothy smile across the faces of white Republican men and Indian patriarchs alike.
And yet, these creative decisions, quite out of place in a supposedly progressive drama, remain unchallenged within the film’s universe. At one point, a doc even says that “being pregnant is a blessing for any woman.”
Umm, okayyy then.
So, to those who’d argue, ‘but it’s a comedy ya’, well, humour is often the safe haven for internalised prejudices, where conservatism comes disguised in easily-digestible capsules that do more harm than good.
Being politically correct isn’t killing comedy, it’s simply holding it to higher standards where a low-hanging fruit such as Kumar’s character making classist jokes about Advani mispronouncing ‘flush’ for ‘flesh’ and ‘hawners’ for ‘honours’ is lazy, creatively bankrupt, and well, not funny anymore (given that he laughs at that joke more than anyone).
Sure, depict a character who’s culturally insensitive and an elitist prick but one two-minute, token monologue by his wife cannot be a defence of him ‘realising his insensitivity.’ That’s a cheap, cop-out way of escaping the responsibility of writing a sharp screenplay that allows a character to traverse an arc through introspection, actions and dialogue.
And as was evident from the trailers, the film amps up all the imaginable stereotypes Bollywood is notorious for: since one set of Batras are Punjabis from Chandigarh, they obviously have to look like they moonlight as circus performers. They wear outlandish, blindingly blingy clothes, and are bumbling idiots from the ‘peasant state’.
The Bombay Batras are, of course, shown to be sophisticated. But the women in this film are always nagging, while men get into bar fights. The soon-to-be-mother reads books on pregnancy while the man reads Márquez. The only response the man has after the pregnancy is finalised is “I can go to work, right?” (paternity leaves be damned). The woman doctor is, obviously, sexualised, with Kumar making sleazy passes at her that are supposed to be, I don’t know, ‘cute?’
Even aesthetically, the film’s garishness works against it. Some frames are offensive to the eyes while the background score has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Given the consistency with which Dharma delivers well-mounted productions, Good Newwz looks cheaply assembled, hurriedly written and lazily performed, almost like a melodramatic stage production.
Kumar and Kapoor seem like they are ‘performing’ the role of a couple. Their fights don’t evoke a sense of concern in the viewer but reveal the contrived nature of the writing. Advani and Dosanjh are one-dimensional props used for laughs.
For a film ostensibly about a vulnerable time in a couple’s life, Good Newwz fails to evoke any genuine warmth, heartfelt emotions or vulnerability in the viewer.
It’s hollow, empty and a terrible advertisement for a German car company (you’ll find out why if you watch it).