Please be aware that I go a little more in detail into the plot than I usually do, but only minor spoilers for things that happen pre-interval.
While I am really grateful that there is a movie theater showing Indian films near to where I live, it is a little frustrating that they generally only screen Hindi language films, along with the occasional Tamil film – usually either a Vikram or Rajini film. Although I haven’t had to sit through as many this year, Bollywood in the last ten years or so has been suffering from a Hum Tum hangover. You know what I’m talking about – the NRI romance, conveyor of tiny mini-skirts, impossibly huge apartments, product placement, and no concerns other than “love.” Maybe it’s just me but one of the reasons I got so frustrated with Hollywood film, especially the romantic comedies, is this idea that romantic love is the most important thing ever and if one doesn’t find and marry one’s TRUE LOVE than one is doomed to eternal spinsterhood and reruns of Sex and the City. Well, that’s bullshit.
Thank God for films like Mr. Perfect which, despite its Australian setting, upends the romance-driven narrative into something much more meaningful and gives us an entertaining film in the process.
Mr. Perfect is the story of Vicky. As a young child, he was told that he should be willing to compromise his own goals in order to live a happy and harmonious life. After a disastrous cricket game, in which Vicky is forced by his father to let young Priya bowl even though she is terrible, Vicky decides that from this day forward, he will never compromise on anything ever again.
[This is the scene during which I excitedly live-tweeted: HO SHIT! Prabhas just told Prakash Raaj that he had an "old attitude" & then put on his shades and strutted off the golf course.
Fast forward 25-ish years and Vicky is now the impossibly buff and handsome Young Rebel Star Prabhas, who apparently never compromised a day on his personal grooming habits and gym routine (for which we are all grateful.) He lives in Australia with his gang of friends and together they have developed a video game that they are trying to sell. Vicky is called home to India for a couple of weeks to attend his sister's wedding... and to check out a prospective bride for himself. The bride-to-be is one Doctor Priya (the delightful Kajal Agarwal), who takes one look at the insufferably proud Vicky and decides that he is NOT for her. Or is he?
Sparks, inevitably, do fly but there are further complications - like free-spirited, Australian girl Maggie (Taapsee) - who throws a monkey wrench in this love story.
Although Mr. Perfect has the basic set-up of an NRI romance film, the substance goes much deeper, exploring the idea of male-female relationships in the “modern” era and what the place of the “self” is in a marriage. Mr. Perfect breaks the NRI romance mold early on, showing that Vicky’s selfish nature was solidified well before he moved to Australia; his refusal to compromise in life just happens to fit the me-centered Western world and the opening hero song sends pre-epiphany Vicky’s message: “Do what you want and screw everybody else.” And all through the first half of the film, even as he is falling in love with Dr. Priya, Vicky remains self-centered.
The first big moment for Vicky comes just before the interval. Doctor Priya is ready to commit to marriage with Vicky and he thinks that he might be ready, too, but a fateful phone call from one of his buddies stops him in his tracks. This buddy is divorcing his wife because she demanded too many sacrifices from him and he’s miserable. They were incompatible. Now, here’s Vicky’s big moment - he’s stops the engagement not because he was unhappy with Doctor Priya but he realizes that she has been sacrificing for him and he loves her enough that he doesn’t want her to be unhappy. Vicky takes his first step back from self-interest, even if he is still seeing ‘happiness’ through the filter of ‘self-interest.’
Post-interval, we get the entrance of Maggie. Far from the stereotypical (usually coded as non-Indian) ditzy bikini babe that fills this role in your typical NRI romance, Maggie is a fierce chick with a take-no-prisoners attitude towards life. She doesn’t particularly care about what her family thinks about her nor does she care what the world in general thinks about her - choosing to wear T-shirts with saucy slogans and denims isntead of designer duds and thigh-high miniskirts.
Vicky and Maggie are drawn to each other because they both like the same things. That’s it. They both take pride in doing what they want, when they want. But Vicky finds it harder than he thought to dismiss the opinion of Maggie’s family - especially since he (coincidentally) just signed a big contract with her dad. Gradually, he begins to understand that when you put the feelings of others ahead of your own self-interest, it can create harmony and peace around you. Vicky learns this. The guy. The guy learns that, sometimes, in order to be happy, you must consider the feelings of the people around you and not just act like a little king all the time.
The film is tied up with the rekindled romance of Vicky and Doctor Priya. Vicky grows enough in the second half of the film to catch up to where Doctor Priya had been an hour before. Maggie just didn’t learn her life lesson in time but there is hope for her down the road.
A few other observations:
Vicky’s gang of friends had a (normal) girl in it. Do you know how happy this made me? Girls are people, too, and we can hang out in gangs of friends and join start up companies just fine, thank you very much.
Prabhas and Kajal Agarwal share a wonderful chemistry and look fantastic together. I’ve long been a fan of Prabhas’s lanky good-natured performances. Plus, he always has a slightly dangerous edge to him, as if not even designer clothes can tame the beast within. I think Prabhas took some flack for his dialogue delivery but as a subtitles reader I can’t comment on that. All I know is that he was the perfect Mr. Perfect - slightly cold, but understanding that the coldness comes from a disinterest in other people, not a place of cruelness.
As for Kajal, she was really overshadowed by the megawatt power of Ram Charan Teja in Magadheera but, since then, I’ve grown really fond of her playful heroine persona. She is gorgeous, of course, but it’s not a fake beauty. She seems very much like the girl-next-door... if the girl next door was a doctor/supermodel (like in Kambakht Ishq). Besides, any heroine who can humanize Ajay Devgn, as she did in Singham, is worth her weight in gold. As Doctor Priya, she hits the right mixture of girlish and womanly - she’s no insipid fool but she does let herself get carried away with gags. And don’t forget that she’s a doctor. DOCTOR Priya.
I’d never seen Taapsee in anything before but I really enjoyed her spunky performance. She reminded me a bit of Kangana before Kangana lost all that weight, fell in with Sanju and Ajay, and got lip fillers. Maybe it was just the curly-wurly hair.
Overall, I really enjoyed Mr. Perfect - and a lot more than I was expecting to, given the set-up. As I watch more and more South Indian films, I come to realize that once you find a hero you love, you can be pretty safe in sticking with his films. Prabhas is one of those heroes for me. His untamed quality gives a sharp edge to roles that would be incredibly soppy in the hands of somebody like Siddharth. While he isn’t as good an actor as heroes like Suriya or Vikram, I always feel like Prabhas is giving 110% on screen. Even in the most ridiculous scenes, Prabhas is committed. In this way, he reminds me a little of a young(er) Akshay Kumar - never letting the hair gel affect his performances.