Deepanjana Pal : Ladies, say a thanks to whatever number wave of feminism that we’re currently riding because our time may well be here.After Bobby Jasoos, in which Ali Fazal showed up almost exclusively to walk in slow-mo and make the romantic side plot with the film’s lead Vidya Balan crackle, we’ve got another film that’s directed largely at making estrogen levels surge.
Shashank Ghosh’s Khoobsurat presents us with Fawad Afzal Khan, who plays a character that exists only for the purpose of being eye candy. In fact, Ghosh’s decision to effectively make Khan’s Vikram Singh Rathore a sex object is a masterstroke that makes Khoobsurat one of the more enjoyable chick flicks that Bollywood has produced in a while.
Technically, the star of Khoobsurat, an Anil Kapoor production, is Sonam Kapoor. She has the most screen time and film revolves around her character, a physiotherapist named Milli Chakrabarty. Although the film borrows the title and characters from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Khoobsurat, Ghosh’s film is not a remake and if any film casts a shadow on it, it’s The Sound of Music.
Milli whirlwinds into the baroque Rathore palace and transforms their lives a bit like Maria did with the von Trapps. The real story, half-baked as it may be, is between Milli and Rathore Senior (Aamir Raza Husain), who apparently cannot walk and for some reason has chosen to sit in a vintage, turn-of-the-century, unmechanised wheelchair.
However, Milli and her physiotherapy skills are not what make Khoobsurat engaging. If anything, Milli’s blindly bright wardrobe and inane attempts at being chirpy and quirky are almost a turn-off. But just when you’re cursing yourself for having paid the price of a ticket, in struts Fawad Khan, in a Raghuvendra Rathore ensemble, as Vikram Singh Rathore.
Much like traditional Bollywood heroines, Khan is outfitted in beautiful and impractical costumes. Vikram (and stylist Raghuvendra Rathore’s) notion of casual is a tie with its knot loosened. He is almost always in bandhgalas and three-piece suits that do for him what corsets do for women: it makes him look elegant and rather dashing.
Every now and then, he wafts in for no reason, gives the camera a charmingly-raised eyebrow or two, and then wafts right out. Just as the stereotypical heroine who would nominally be attending college or holding down a job without doing any real work, Vikram supposedly runs a family business involving hotels. Apparently, running a hotel involves driving fancy cars, doodling on paper and organising meetings in picturesque locations.
Vikram’s real job in Khoobsurat is to be an Indian Mr. Darcy and Khan excels at that. He’s got the stiff upper lip, cool tones and that well-trimmed beard is a definite plus. Thanks to Khan, Ghosh achieves the impossible in Khoobsurat: post-interval, the film improves instead of sinking into any abyss of mediocrity. The camera and story focus on the Rathores in general and Vikram in particular, and the audience is happier for it. It’s no coincidence that this is also when Kapoor’s Milli retreats from the action.
In addition to being handsome and blessed with a lovely voice, Khan can also emote and is able to make a faked kiss look convincing enough to give the girls in the audience tingles. Unlike Parineeti Chopra and Aditya Roy Kapur in this week’s other release Daawat-e-Ishq, Khan and Kapoor have chemistry in Khoobsurat. The credit for this goes to Khan who could teach a course in how to ogle classily.
While Daawat-e-Ishq is a failed rom-com, Khoobsurat is a charming, old-fashioned romance that delights in silliness and has fun while making use of all the predictable tropes.
There’s a long tradition of women being reduced to sex objects in Bollywood films. They show up in scenes only to dazzle us with their beauty and play pretty much no part in the actual film, and end up with the hero at the end so that there is a happily-ever-after for audiences to take home.
For the second time in months, Bollywood has turned the tables to great effect by making a hero play the part that was traditionally reserved for women. We heartily approve. As heroines have argued over the years, it isn’t demeaning to be an important and beautiful prop when the character is written and performed well. With actors like Khan in the mix, there may yet be hope for the Indian romantic comedy.