Synopsis – A comedy film starring Ayushmann Khurrana as a cross-gender actor whose female voice impersonation attracts male attention.
My Take – If there is one actor who has been on a roll consistently for the past two years, it has to be Ayushmann Khurrana undoubtedly as the man’s talent clearly has no boundaries. As an actor Khurrana has staked his career on playing unorthodox leading men, and has tackled sperm donation, erectile dysfunction, faked blindness and forced marriage, all along upending the expectations from the average screen hero.
After taking a serious turn in the brilliant Article 15 a few months ago, with his latest release, he is out to provide us a dose of laughter and leaving us in splits. While this is not the first time in Bollywood that someone is portraying as a cross-dresser, this film stands out when it resorts to comedy to delineate cross dresser, but without hitting your morality.
Although the film is determined to be lightweight and misses the opportunity to play the lead’s gender-bending for anything more than giggles, Khurrana fleetingly suggests that there is something more at stake here than a man who can do what women do, only better. His manic energy and believable middle class persona are in full-throttle mode here, and they steer the film through its uncomfortable portions.
While the film’s plot gets progressively bonkers, the film’s humor and a top-notch performance by its leading man carry the film through.
The story follows Karamveer Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana), who since childhood possessed a unique talent of speaking in a soothing and assuring woman’s voice. A talent which started off as the pretend voice of the mother of his best friend Smiley (Manjot Singh), it was quickly followed by being delegated to playing female oriented roles like Sita, Radha and Draupadi in local devotional plays, role which he continues to play even during his mid-20s, much to the chagrin of his widowed father, Jagjeet Singh (Annu Kapoor).
However, Karam’s biggest failing remains in his inability to find a job despite possessive various educational degrees. Deep in his father’s debts, which includes mortgages on their home and store, Karam desperately convinces Mauji (Rajesh Sharma), who runs a shady adult hotline where women sweet-talk with lonely men, behind an electric and hardware store, to hire him.
Becoming Pooja, Karam quickly uses his seductive voice to win a host of customers, like a constable (Vijay Raaz), an ardent teenager (Raj Bhansali), a misandrist editor (Nidhi Bisht) and a buffalo-rearing virgin (Abhishek Banerjee), with a promise to become every lonely male (and female) caller’s dream girl. While in the outside world, Karam falls in love and is successful in wooing Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha), but pretty soon finds himself juggling his love life and alter-ego Pooja’s phone life.
Whoever said you don’t need to take your brain with you while going to watch a comedy film, think again. This one is a far cry from run-of-the-mill comedies that try hard to tickle your funny bone but in vain. The film hits the bull’s eye being the laugh riot it was touted to be. Director Raaj Shaandilyaa, who has also written the dialogues and screenplay, comes with experience of writing scripts for several television comedians and comedy shows. For a debut film, the direction is commendable.
The film’s strongest part isn’t its story or it’s contrived messaging but the dialogues and how rooted they are in the film’s milieu. Every time the film’s pace drops, a new set-up, which may not necessarily take the story forward as much as contribute to the existing chaos, emerges and gets the laughs.
It doesn’t try to be too clever or layered; rather, it is self-assured and safe in its wittiness, knowing that it will get the laughs as long as the actor’s timing is right. And well, it does the trick. The audience was cracking up, as if on cue. The film also successfully breaks the established set of rules and proves that a comedy film can be made without dirty sexist.
Special mention for the ‘Mahabharata’ scene, where Draupadi’s situation gets compared to the #MeToo movement.
The film works best when it just wants to be a silly film with dark satirical undertones. But when it attempts to pass a broad commentary on loneliness, the results aren’t very flattering. The director doesn’t have to spell out what the film is about. The very idea of a mainstream hero playing a part where he isn’t bashing up baddies or saving the heroine but is playing a role such as this one is subversive and challenges existing notions of how masculinity is depicted in Hindi cinema.
However, some plot turns are so painfully contrived, and built on incredible coincidences, that you can do nothing but eye-roll. A character in the film, Roma, “becomes” a lesbian after three break-ups, and also sings in a man’s voice at one point in the film. Then the film relentlessly fat shames a peripheral character. There’s one extended gag centered on Muslims which, even though well-intentioned, feels odd and after a while stretched.
Nevertheless, the very fact that the film stars Bollywood’s self-professed ‘poster boy for taboo subjects’, the most bankable star in recent times, and also now a National-Award winning actor, the film deserves a watch. Ayushmann Khurrana once again deserves applause for effortlessly pulling off this tough act proving once again why he continues to scale heights.
Each time he talks in the voice of Pooja, you actually pinch yourself to believe it’s really him. The film gives Ayushmann ample space and scope to perform. It’s him who leads the narrative and weaves the whole plot bit by bit. The ease with which he switches on and off from his character is just excellent.
The gorgeous Nushrat Bharucha is also very good here. Finally coming out of the title of Punchnama girl, it is good to see her doing something different. The supporting cast is a stellar line-up. Annu Kapoor once again comes out as a legendary performer. His bond with Ayushmann will remind you of their camaraderie in Vicky Donor.
Manjot Singh is also hilarious, and shares excellent chemistry with Ayushmann, in the form of a friendship that gives the film its emotional anchor. Both actors feed off each other’s terrific comic timing and are delightful to watch.
Vijay Raaz, Abhishek Banerjee and Nidhi Bisht also pitch in memorable performances, while Raj Bhansali and Rajesh Sharma are also good. On the whole, ‘Dream Girl’ is a quirky and crazy comedy that deserves a watch for its genuinely hilarious jokes and Ayushmann’s laudable performance.
Directed – Raaj Shaandilyaa
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 132 minutes