Saturday, 26 April 2014

Places of the heart: "2 States"

The minor Bollywood hit 2 States is a yoof romance adapted from a bestselling novel that suggests someone's worked out how to give One Day a happier ending by crossing it with Meet the Parents. At the heart of Abhishek Varman's film, drawn from Chetan Bhagat's partly autobiographical 2 States: The Story of My Marriage, are two young lovers who meet at university, where they're shielded from the realities of the world: college spitfire Ananya (Alia Bhatt) and Krish (Arjun Kapoor), the doughty MBA student she belatedly rescues from the friend zone. We know the path of true love won't run entirely smooth from the fact a lovelorn Krish is recounting this romance in flashback from the therapist's couch, and trouble duly begins on graduation day, when the two families are first brought face-to-face: his arriving from Delhi in the North, and speaking Hindi; hers from Chennai in the South, and speaking Tamil.

Even a cursory glance would suggest the two clans have markedly more in common than they're prepared to concede - chiefly distant fathers, and status-obsessed mothers doing their very best to scupper any lasting union - and that Bhagat and Varman are merely rehashing a theme that's been around just about forever: the jokes about Punjabis being cultureless snobs and Tamils being backwards hicks are presumably about as old (and as accurate) as those about, say, Scotsmen being tight or men from Alabama who marry their cousins. Varman injects a few more contemporary notes, shooting on actual locations (the university looks like a place one might actually go to study, rather than a fashion-shoot location); he shows Krish and Ananya lying in a post-coital haze at one point, which seems vaguely daring in the context, and eventually works in some editorial sniping about the dowry system, with its outdated insistence that families from different castes see eye-to-eye before their offspring can marry. (Tell that to the Montagues and Capulets.)

Generally, 2 States isn't thinking outside the box so much as shuffling around within it, but the choices it makes while it's there, though familiar in many ways, are likable ones - which isn't always the case with these young-skewing Bollywood ventures: Varman and his performers at least avoid the rote idiocy of last year's Deepika vehicle Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, for one. If the initial suspicion is that the bestubbled, broad-shouldered, furrow-browed Kapoor could easily be switched with any other of the Abhishek Bachchan lookalikes presently skulking around Mumbai, he comes unexpectedly alive when busting funky chicken moves in the song sequences, and his dutiful sincerity gets you, just as it gets Ananya: the film recognises as much in making a big deal of the pre-intermission scene in which Krish proposes (and offers rings to) every last member of his beloved's family.

Next to him, the up-and-coming Bhatt displays an appealing directness that suggests a young woman very much of the same world you and I inhabit, rather than the cloud most Bollywood actresses appear to have floated down from. Ordinariness is the film's keyword, all told, which is why the story still feels personal in this telling, and not entirely processed: Varman grants that this boy might be a little dour and stiff, and that this girl might rise no higher than a job in the offices of Sunsilk - the haircare brand here receiving its most prominent push since a 1974 edition of the Woman's Weekly - but that this doesn't mean they're not right for each other, and that a movie shouldn't set out to tell their tale with a degree of honesty and an absence of condescension. It feels odd to write this about a 169-minute movie, but there's a modesty about 2 States that finally proves rather winning.

2 States is in cinemas nationwide.

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