Tuesday 26 October 2021

Young fathers: "Honsla Rakh"

The presence of middling romcom
Honsla Rakh in the current UK Top 10 can be put down to its leading man Diljit Dosanjh, beturbanned prince of Punjabi cinema, and one of surprisingly few contemporary movie stars who might even be recognisable in silhouette form. 2019's Hindi comedy Good Newwz - one of Bollywood's last major hits before lockdown - indicated Dosanjh was entering the fatherhood stage of his career; Honsla Rakh is effectively his About A Boy, albeit with a semi-clever structural hitch that invites our hero to take a second shot at finding domestic bliss after the first comes to all but naught. (The film's subtitles translate the title as Be Patient; other sources suggest it's closer to Keep Your Spirits Up, but you get the picture.) Dosanjh's Yanky Singh is a restaurateur by day and a party animal by night who lives in one of those improbable movie mansions on the leafy outskirts of Vancouver with Honsla (Shinda Grewal), the young son he's raised since winning a custody battle with his ex. In the first half, Yanky's chance reunion at an airport with said ex (Shehnaz Kaur Gill, dressed like she's heading to an awards ceremony) cues a long flashback to how everybody got here, and we understand just why the film has been titled as it has. In the second half, Yanky attempts to move on with upright yoga teacher Jasmine (Sonam Bajwa), with the kid - who's now reached a Noah Jupe level of precocity - deployed as a weapon so secret our hero consciously omits to inform his new flame he is, in fact, a father. Dramatic tension, moderate farce and sporadic chuckles ensue.

Dosanjh is credited as producer as well as star, and Yanky Singh has evidently been seized upon as a potential transitional role: he gets to act the dashing young blade in the opening nightclub number, lining up women like shots, before creeping back into Yanky's mansion in the early hours and spending the rest of the first half up to his elbows in Pampers and formula. (One good, goofy sight gag early on: Yanky tries wearing a mask of a woman's face to reassure the newborn while feeding, starting with the mother's own, before graduating to Scarlett Johansson and Gal Gadot.) Yet it's a showcase built on flimsy foundations, and the longer one sits with them, the flimsier they seem. I'm not sure director Amarjit Singh Saron and writer Rakesh Dhawan (who penned the Chal Mera Putts) have troubled to do much research into the specificities of Canadian custody arrangements, the adoption system, childcare provision, or even what people wear when boarding intercontinental flights. A lot, then, depends on Dosanjh's easy charm, and in fairness, the star does know how to milk a laugh from basic business: humming to himself while walking into a restaurant, or lobbing his phone number in Bajwa's general direction. (In a momentary subversion of Indian cinema norms, Jasmine initially has the persistent Yanky arrested for stalking - but he still goes back to interfere with the running of her yoga class.) 

The problem is that charm has to stretch a long way here. Good Newwz recruited Dosanjh to play something like a mixed doubles match with capable colleagues; though he has some funny-sweet scenes with Grewal, Honsla Rakh mostly finds him going solo for 145 minutes, and stuck in the same mode for much of it - that of the big kid who barely seems more mature than the child he's raising. (Only the gods know how the judge ruled in his favour.) Like its protagonist, this male-authored film also manages to be clumsy, sometimes careless around its women. A couple of fatshaming non-jokes would be ungallant in any circumstances, but they play as especially misjudged in a film that regards women as babymakers. Kaur Gill is such an interestingly melancholy screen presence you wonder if the film will properly broach the sadness of that first, failed relationship at some point, but no: she's shunted offscreen to make room for Yanky's quest for renewed happiness, and only recalled amid the chaos of the wedding finale, at which she arrives dressed like she's popping to ASDA. At the time of writing, this broadly amiable yet immediately forgettable fluff boasts a 9.1 user rating on IMDb - higher not only than Good Newwz, but also The Godfather Part II, GoodFellas and The Seven Samurai, which suggests either its audience are cock-a-hoop to be back at the Cineworld, or that someone's had a go at the algorithm. Either way, in time, that will surely come down. Be patient.

Honsla Rakh is now playing in selected cinemas.

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