Cast: Irrfan Khan, Parvathy
Director: Tanuja Chandra
Aap-ne prodh shiksha ke bare mein toh suna hi hoga? I mean, adult education, where adult log are cradled gently and taught Ka, Kha, Ga… One, Two, Three? Qarib Qarib Singlle is a prodh love story where writer-director Tanuja Chandra takes on two 35-plus adults and walks them through the A, B, C of life, love, and love for life.
Already, given the choice of the age band of its lovers, it feels like a hatke film. In fact, in the broad brushstrokes that make up its two main characters, there are enough hatke details to entice us into thinking, hoping that QQS will be hatke all through. It’s not.
Its prodh people’s prem is platonic and swachch. Those double LLs in the film’s title are not a naughty allusion to some hanky-panky, as in vertical action, one-on-one. They are simply a promise of two singletons becoming a happy twosome.
The tinkering is cosmetic and on the surface.
Despite the choices it makes and the average age of its couple, at its core it’s conventional and very adolescent.
The film follows all the conventional rules of sanskari dating and romance, often to my great annoyance.
But Qarib Qarib Singlle is also charming as hell because Irrfan Khan and Parvathy make the best unlikeliest pair ever and that makes the film — essentially a long date where we know what’s going to happen eventually —entertaining and fun.
Irrfan Khan has been on a journey unravelling and then helping the self-discovery of a woman before (Piku). Here too he conducts ishq tameez se, but full mazze le-le ke.
Qarib Qarib Singlle begins after the first instalment of life of Jaya (Parvathy) and Yogi (Irrfan Khan) is over. They’ve been through one set of relationships/marriage, and are now lolling around in life’s fallow bits, waiting for life to begin again... or not.
The film’s title sequence is devoted to showing what being a single woman means — it’s a life where lizards stare down from the ceiling, the dhobi/milkman always bajaao the bell at the wrong time, and acquaintances feel entitled to use and insult you.
The film shows, in cute and compelling but, more importantly, slightly wistful detail how sad a single woman’s life is, how desperately incomplete she is, without even a peek into what a single man’s life may be like, or an aside about the joys and freedoms of being on your own.
So, then, Jaya’s life is neatly split between being a bechari to her friends and family, and being a bitch to office colleagues.
Tired of being punched in the face, repeatedly but figuratively, by friends who are unable to define or introduce her without mentioning the lack of a man in her life, she logs on to a dating site.
Enter Yogi, a chemical engineer who writes poetry, likes to run, is fond of mangoes and has all the time in the world to enjoy a slow walk, a long, desultory chat, and keeps himself entertained by laughing at his own lame jokes.
Jaya, a South Indian who sells insurance policies, dresses like a smart, 35-year-old independent, working woman. Yogi’s oily looking and makes rather scary sartorial choices.
Jaya is English-speaking, sophisticated, more educated, but all this is either disapproved of or kind of irrelevant in the world that now gets created by Yogi’s presence. These things, in his carefree, North Indian world, are laughed at.
Qarib Qarib Singlle disapproved of Jaya and her attitude to life from the start. Now she is seen and framed as a slightly cussed, closed minded, not cool woman, whereas he’s the free spirit who keeps life at an arm’s length, observing, watching, taking his time to decide whether it’s really worth his attention or presence.
The film is so skewed in Yogi’s favour that it gives her germ phobia, a knuckle-cracking habit, and an addiction to spelling pills, whereas he’s presented as the font of chill pills.
I mean, consider this: Jaya, who drives her own car, struggles to manage her home. She also gets told off by her mother, brother, friends, is used by friends and neighbours, and even suffers snide remarks by parlour aunties — about lack of sex, a man, a life.
Yogi on the other hand seems completely in control of his life with Dillu the driver at the wheel of his Merc, and nothing is said about where he’s been getting action — translation, he gets laid.
I mean, what more screams “come take care of me”.
It’s to the director and Irrfan Khan’s credit that all this is done nicely — in a tone that seems as if it’s real, and it helps that Yogi is tuned into other people’s needs, especially Jaya’s.
Quiet, Internet savvy Jaya finds voluble Yogi annoying, strange. He in turn finds her lovely, appealing, ethereal.
Though she’s irritated with him, Yogi the good natured but talkative North Indian raees gently takes charge.
He’s insistent, persistent and pushes her, crudely but cutely, to keep meeting him and very soon they are off on a trip — to Rishikesh, Jaipur, Gangtok.
This trip is a strangely, badly engineered ruse that is a result of a boast about past epic romances that left the dumped one devastated.
A product of shoddy writing, all that this trip throws up are some mild personality flaws: she’s veg, he’s non-veg; he often misses the bus, literally. But that’s because he floats through life, sometimes while gazing at the stars, sometimes with his head in the water blowing bubbles, whereas she tries to swim fast, from point A to B, using all sorts of strokes.
Obviously, his character drives the plot — and her moods.
The episodes that follow then are contrived, written badly and inconsequential except to make the point that Jaya made at the very the beginning — People move on, the past is past…
Director Tanuja Chandra’s film — the story’s been written by her mother Kamna Chandra, dialogue are by Gazal Dhaliwal, and the screenplay’s been co-written by Tanuja and Gazal — is both, adorable and annoying.
It pretends to be liberated, evolved, mature by taking on adults with a past, but all it’s interested in is to help Jaya find a mate.
The film is also flawed in its structure, plot details, screenplay. During the long trip that the two undertake together, we learn nothing about their past relationships, of real, emotional complications about second inning. All we get are silly, stock scenes — including one where she’s drunk and gets all touch-feely — that eat up a lot of time.
There are no real conversations. In fact the film seems scared of any intimate moments.
And despite a big ensemble of supporting actors, no other character comes alive.
If Jaya and Yogi had just stayed in Bandra and sipped Latte while exchanging more nuggets about the joys of mangoes and pakodas, Qarib Qarib Singlle would have been a better, greater film.
Yet Qarib Qarib Singlle works in most parts because sitting inside this annoying set up is a heart, pulsating and excited at beginning life afresh.
And because its lead pair is beautifully mismatched and yet in sync.
Poised and self-possessed, Parvathy, of Take Off and Charlie fame, is lovely and inhabits her character with confidence and a measure of ease that’s very appealing and, well, sexy.
Though she’s mostly in control in scenes, she also overacts and in a few scenes is all over the place. I’d put that down to convoluted writing and bad dialogue.
Her Jaya is the sweet, warm foil to crazy but charming Yogi.
If Qarib Qarib Singlle finds its anchor in Jaya, it draws its power and mojo and the heady promise of romance from Irrfan Khan.
Though Irrfan Khan’s acting now is made up of predictable but winsome mannerism — especially when he’s playing voluble characters — his ability to slip in a mumbled aside/comment/insult under the table, only for our benefit, always win us over. Always....