Sunday 5 January 2020

Misconception: "Good Newwz"

Very much a tale of two Indias in the multiplex as we start the year. Given the images on the nightly news, I can understand why audiences weren't all that committed to cheering the further adventures of Salman Khan's brawny hero-cop Chulbul Pandey in last month's Dabangg 3, and that was before the reviews came in. (For the first time since the career-extending success of 2015's Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Khan appears to have misread the room.) As trailed by its frankly terrifying-looking poster (and the egregious misspelling of the title), Raj Mehta's Good Newwz has evidently been pitched as brain-in-neutral escapism, the kind of high-energy nonsense that might just retain some value in helping an audience forgetting the world is on fire for two-and-a-bit hours. At the very least, this is a project geared more towards conception than destruction, and new life rather than a reassertion of the old ways Chulbul Pandey might represent: a starry sex comedy with half an eye to jollying India's newly moneyed middle classes through the tricky, sensitive if not outright taboo issue of in vitro fertilisation, Mehta's film may just remind Western viewers of last July's rightly acclaimed romantic drama Only You, albeit Only You if it had shovelled down several bags of sugar and inhaled half a tank of helium before showing up on our screens.

Others might have been drawn here by a shrewd tag-teaming of stars representing different generations. Kareena Kapoor Khan plays Deepti, an entertainment journo striving to conceive as she bypasses 40, Akshay Kumar her car salesman other half Varun, who'd rather watch the cricket than perform his husbandly duties, and generally appears far less invested in the whole babymaking project; Diljit Dosanjh and Kiara Advani are Honey and Monika, doofi in matching leisurewear whose chances of conception are a good deal higher for still being in their twenties. That these couples share not just the same fertility clinic but the same surname should be indication enough of the direction the plot is heading in, and Batra doesn't exactly stretch himself to produce a fresh batch of artificial insemination gags. Yes, the ovulating Deepti's transformation into a purring sex kitten is played for giggles; yes, there's a comedy doctor (Adil Hussain) who deploys a decidedly circuitous way of explaining the ins and outs of the IVF process (though the impromptu prayer meetings he convenes while Deepti sits in the stirrups constitute a novelty); and, yes, we're once more reminded of the grim business of the masturbatorium, here accessorised with sperm-themed wallpaper. I suspect you'll have witnessed the muddling of actual semen in at least one makeweight Hollywood vehicle for either Ryan Reynolds or Jason Bateman; Good Newwz's USP, in as much as anyone might consider it a selling point, is that you won't have seen it done this bright or this loud. I've resisted saying this, for what will become obvious reasons, but this is a comedy with spunk.

For starters, it's far better played than any Western equivalent, though you almost don't notice until the final act, when you realise you care about the future happiness of these goofballs. The senior leads have grown on me after many years of resistance, and Kumar in particular now displays a grey-templed weariness that humanises him: it's as if he, too, has grown tired of the submoronic schtick with which he made his name, and has at last decided to act his 52 years. The midlife crisis material involving Deepti and Varun is just beginning to feel a little long in the tooth when the kids show up, and of course we laugh when it's revealed that Honey and Monika are gym instructors whose first musical number together takes place in and around a Zumba class. (I gave it bonus points for the bejewelled boombox.) Mehta does a pretty good job of marshalling the couples' disparate energies, and in among the broad-brush business, he fashions a fun, lightly pointed contrast: in one exam room, the responsible adults who may just be too old to procreate, next door the fertile bubbleheads most of us wouldn't trust to keep a hamster alive for a week. As the youngsters insinuate themselves into their elders' lives, the relentless boundary-crossing threatens to become exhausting - the kids' propensity for malapropism (flubbing "sperm" as "spam", for example, and "flush" as "flesh") is a somewhat wheezing running joke - but the terms of pregnancy lend Mehta and his fellow writers a useful structure to abide by: it's a farce with the smarts to keep all the appointments set for it by its plot.

Is Good Newwz any more substantial than that? (Perhaps more crucially: does it even need to be?) I'd be hard-pressed to pounce upon a ball of fluff and tinsel such as this and spin it as representative of some "New India", doubly so at a moment when the very idea of India is being renegotiated so fractiously in the streets. That said, the handling is a bit more relaxed than any comparable project might have been ten or twenty years ago. The film never entirely rules out the option of abortion as one way out of the sticky mess the characters get themselves into (which makes it a more progressive proposition than Juno, to cite but one Western babycom), and Mehta even raises the issue of transgender parenting in passing (via a nurse who outlines a case not dissimilar to that the documentarist Jeanie Finlay followed in last year's Seahorse) without succumbing to the Hindi mainstream's usual fit of the vapours around all things trans. At a forceful push, which is really all it comes down to, Good Newwz might be regarded as existing on the outer fringes of that recent cycle of Indian films exploring alternative models of cohabitation and propagation, movies that insist there's no longer just the one standardised way of going forth and multiplying. Beyond that, it makes for reasonably diverting entertainment, a fun night out - although I also feel obliged to note, for any couples out there weighing up the pros and cons of IVF, that Mehta's film provides no substitute whatsoever for a full clinical consultation.

Good Newwz is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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