Monday, December 12, 2011

Ladies VS Ricky Bahl or Me VS Yash Raj Films




"Kya karoon oh ladies... Main hoon aadat se majboor."
- Aadat Se Majboor, Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, 2011

As the title card flashed up on Ranveer Singh’s abs announcing the interval for Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, I thought to myself, “I don’t understand why this has gotten such negative buzz.” And then the second half started and everything became clear. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that Ladies VS Ricky Bahl is half a genuinely charming film and half a supremely mediocre one.



Things start promisingly enough in Delhi, where we meet the adorable Dimpy (Parineeti Chopra, yes, the one who is Priyanka Chopra’s cousin) who is getting ready for a night out on the town. She and her gaggle of girlfriends preen and primp and cover their cleavage to aunty-approved levels before getting into the car to head off to their friend’s sangeet... or so they tell Dimpy’s parents! Driving to the sangeet, a motorbike pulls up alongside the car. Dimpy stops; pulls off her top and skirt to reveal a sparkly tanktop and denims; and hops on the back of the bike. “Why don’t you take off your helmet?” she asks the man riding the motorbike. “It’s not time,” he replies. A few seconds later the bike pulls into a shopping mall and the man pulls off his helmet to reveal Ranveer Singh in all his glory! He and Parineeti go into a song-dance about how great it is to be young and free.

It’s a classic hero entrance for Ranveer - an entrance he deserves and an entrance he carries off with the perfect amount of swagger. In that moment, Ranveer Singh becomes The Hero. Of course, since this is a story about a conman, we know his relationship with Dimpy is not to last. And it doesn’t. The Hero, nicknamed “Bloody Kamina” by his victims moves onto Mumbai where he meets businesswoman Raina (Dipannita Sharma) and soon parts her from her cash. The difference between Raina and the Bloody Kamina’s other victims? Raina wants to get even. Raina joins forces with Dimpy and another lady who has been fleeced, the demure Saira (Aditi Sharma) and the three hatch a plan to con the con artist out of his cash.

They enlist the help of a salesgirl named Ishika (Anushka Sharma), whose mission is to pose as an heiress and string the Bloody Kamina along until he is parted from all the ladies’ cash. I’m sure you can see where this is headed and you are correct.

On paper, the story works perfectly well - con artist is conned by victims and learns a life lesson. The problem with Ladies VS Ricky Bahl is in the plotting, which tries to shoehorn in both a romance and character growth from the Bloody Kamina into the last 45 minutes of the film without giving either development room to breathe. The narrative is so focused on moving through the steps of the ladies revenge plot that the Bloody Kamina is never given a chance to reveal himself as more than a handsome cipher. In fact, the Bloody Kamina gets very little screentime at all in the second half of the film, with much of the action focusing on Ishika and the ladies instead. No hero could have made the character work under these circumstances.

I wonder what the thought process was in scripting the film. Did the director not trust Ranveer to handle a solo narrative arc? To give us an emotional pay off, the way the film should have unfolded would be to have a flashback to the Bloody Kamina as a young man getting into con artistry right before the interval to give us some context for the character. Then, instead of focusing on Ishkia only, the action should bounce between Ishika AND the Bloody Kamina for the second act, so we can see his thought processes, too. Alternately, if the focus was to be solely on the “cons” or tricks that were being played, and spare us the unearned romance. Keep the tone light and have the film end with the Bloody Kamina returning the money to the ladies on his own, maybe throwing a wink to the camera, leaving room open for a sequel.

The mediocre second half is not entirely the script’s fault. A good portion of the blame also lies with Anushka Sharma who gives a performance to rival Deepika Padukone or Priyanka Chopra at their wooden plank worst. Her pin-thin figure made me wonder if she was acting bitchy from starving herself while her lack of both chemistry and scenes with Ranveer made me question whether the rumors of her hating his guts now were true. Whatever the reason, the result was that Anushka’s greatest contribution to the film was wearing the Aditya Chorpa trademark pervy bikini for a full 15 seconds. The focus on her lyrca-covered bum was a nice change from the sour expression she was wearing for the rest of the film.

If the second half of film is a big waste of space, the first half has a lot really working for it. For one thing - Ranveer Singh, who is just a supernova of charm and energy. Somebody rescue this kid from Yash Raj because he is made for better things than Imran Khan’s leftovers and roles Neil Nitin Mukesh mistakenly thinks he is too good for. Ranveer plays at least four different roles during the first half, not counting the calculating conartist when he’s “off camera” so-to-speak and the myriad of roles we get to glimpse in the title track montages. Every one is distinct; the kid has talent. My favorite of the mini-roles was his simple village boy who travels to the big city of Lucknow to sell his mother’s handmade cloth. With a couple of tender glances and lies, he managed to con me and his on-screen prey.

The three titular “ladies” of Ladies VS Ricky Bahl were also extremely charming. Parineeti Chopra is a firecracker. She played Dimpy with exactly the right amount of spoiled brat and hilarious loudmouth. We all have friends like that, right? Plus, it was quite a treat to see a figure onscreen that was, well, untouched by the Yash Raj rigid diet rules. Dipannita Sharma was also wonderful as savvy businesswoman Raina. I liked her no-nonsense character and I like how in charge she was of her own fate. Dipannita was perfectly believable as an executive - not something that happens too often in film world, where female executives are either ball busting harpies waiting for romance or ditzy incompetents waiting for romance. Aditi Sharma as Saira wasn’t given as much scope as the other two but her character had the one worthwhile emotional narrative in the entire film - one I won’t spoil for you - but she is the only person that undergoes believable growth.

Leaving aside the mess of a script, the aesthetics of the film are quite enjoyable. The background score, in particular, is extremely well done. There is a 60s-style marimba riff that plays whenever the Bloody Kamina does something slick and con-artisty that made me very happy, indeed. The songs were fun and well-placed, with the possible exception of Anushka’s solo song. The set decoration was fantastic. Dimpy’s father’s office was a bling-filled delight; Saira’s shop was a sea of color; Raina’s office was as sterile as any office park. And the casting director did a great job with the smaller roles - Dimpy’s parents and friends, Raina’s boss, the random IT guy, Saira’s father-in-law... all were very much appreciated by me.

What else can I say about this film? It’s a mess but worth catching on video, as long as you tune out and spend time surfing the Internet or chatting during the second half. It reminded me in a lot of ways of Bachna Ae Haseeno - another film built with a half-baked romance and sequential storytelling that hinged on a charismatic male lead. The big difference there was that Ranbir Kapoor was never let out of our sight while large swathes of time went by in Ladies VS Ricky Bahl with no Ranveer. I could forgive a half-baked romance and wooden performance from Dippy in Bachna because Ranbir was so charming and he was given room for character growth. Ranveer was not given the same opportunity in Ladies
and the film suffers for it.

Despite the flop stench that has already begun to radiate from this film, I certainly wouldn't write off Ranveer or director Manish Sharma just yet. Producer Aditya Chopra and screenwriter Devika Bhagat, on the other hand... they have a lot to answer for.

(One last thing worth mentioning were two shout-outs to one of my favorite films... Tashan! Could it be a nod to Vicky Acharya, who is directing Yash Raj’s Dhoom 3 next year?)

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I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

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