Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

April 11, 2008


Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 6:43 pm

April 11, 2008

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Kajol, Sumeet Raghavan, Divya Dutta

Director: Ajay Devgan

Ajay Devgan could do with a crash course in scriptwriting. And while he’s at it, might be a good idea to fire his co-writers immediately. U, Me Aur Hum, Devgan’s directorial debut, is let down by a sloppy, slapdash screenplay, which — believe it or not — took four writers to come up with. First, they rob the basic premise of Nick Cassavetes’ mushy-but-inspiring romance The Notebook, and then Devgan and team go about reconstructing the saga, throwing in unnecessary melodrama and generous dollops of over-sentimentality.

Locking eyes with a pretty barmaid, it’s love at first sight for Devgan, who plays Ajay Mehra, a cool dude enjoying a luxury holiday with his bickering buddies on a cruise liner. Piya, the object of his affection — played by Kajol — soon finds herself reciprocating his feelings, and before you know it the couple is married. A little over a year later, Piya is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She blanks out periodically, can’t remember birthdays and anniversaries, and even ends up putting her baby’s life in danger. As it becomes clear her condition’s only getting worse, it’s up to Ajay now to make some important decisions. Narrated in flashback some twenty-five years later, U Me Aur Hum is a cheesy tale of enduring love in the face of impossible obstacles.

From the moment in, it becomes clear you have few complaints against Devgan’s directing skills — it’s his script sense that is in question here. Why rip off The Notebook in the first place? It’s not a great film by any standards, above-average at best. And hey, if you must steal, why not stick to this story that you obviously admire? Why unleash a bunch of hacks on it who strip it off the very spirit that makes it work? If you’ve seen The Notebook, you’ll agree with me when I say it’s a typical Bollywood film at heart — it’s got lovers who belong to different social classes, it’s got parental opposition, it’s got an epic sweep, and ultimately it has what I like to call a lump-in-the-throat ending. All entirely fitting ingredients for a masala Hindi movie. Yet, the so-called writers of U Me Aur Hum dump this perfectly workable road-map and create a rather lame one of their own.

Where The Notebook was a film that demonstrated enduring love, U Me Aur Hum is a film that simply talks about it — and talks about it a lot. In fact, the one thing you’ll remember about this film when you leave the cinema is all the yakking that goes on. There’s so much psychobabble about marriages and relationships, and all these stereotypes associated with love and companionship that you’re going to feel like you’re attending one of those marriage counseling sessions.

In the name of comedy, the dialogue of U Me Aur Hum is filled with painful puns and redundant rhymes. You’re expected to laugh at such silly lines like — Yeh phool deke fool karne ka idea achcha tha, or “I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it”. Funny? I didn’t think so. How about this one — “Leaving this cruise is like aborting a child in the seventh month.” Still not funny, right? What’s also rather offensive is the repeated use of Hindi swear words throughout the early half of the film. Or the tasteless references to masturbation, premature ejaculation and homosexuality. In fact, dialogue writer Ashwani Dhir comes up with a bouquet of some of the most inappropriate lines you’ve ever heard on screen. Try this — “Men are like mice. Always looking for a hole.”

When it’s not the dialogue that jars, it’s the acting. The abundantly talented Divya Dutta, cast in this film as an unhappily married wife, hams like an excited junior artiste who’s got her first speaking part. She plays the nagging spouse with such over-enthusiasm that your heart genuinely goes out to the poor guy playing her husband even though you know they’re just play-acting.

Then there’s the evidently untalented Karan Khanna, who gives the word ‘non-actor’ a whole new meaning. Playing one of Ajay’s close friends in the film, it doesn’t help that he’s cast as the kind of idiot that thinks a new born baby should be named F-dash-dash-K-E-R because it’s a name that could be quite cool by the time the baby grows up. And if all that’s not bad enough, they throw in a fat kid who turns up every now and then to give killer looks.

Even if U Me Aur Hum has its heart in the right place, even if it’s trying to make a noble point, it’s done so amateurishly — not to mention melodramatically — that it fails to touch a chord in you.

Is it really too much to ask for just a little common sense in a Bollywood film? How can you place a mischievous seductive song right after that supposedly emotional scene where the husband’s just been told his wife must be sent to a special-care facility?

Well, to some extent, it’s the leads whose credible performances outshine the shoddy script. Ajay Devgan oozes sincerity as the conflicted husband, but it’s Kajol who is really the emotional anchor of the film, dazzling you with her spontaneity, pumping life and blood into her character, making Piya a portrait of internalized pain, something even the script fails to do. Look out also for a refreshingly candid performance by Sumeet Raghavan as Ajay’s doctor buddy going through his own turbulent marriage graph.

Even if it doesn’t quite cut it as a quality entertainer, U Me Aur Hum does give evidence of Devgan’s sharp directing skills. If you’re prepared to overlook the unnecessarily excessive special effects shots and the ridiculous over-use of tight close-ups, you will notice the sheer inventiveness with which he handles the three best scenes in the film.

First, that one in which one after another a handful of friends break into a impromptu rendition of an evergreen Bollywood song at a house party. Then that excellent dramatic scene in which Piya inadvertently puts her child in harm’s way, fortunately rescued in time by her husband. And finally, the film’s last scene, that hopeful exchange between Ajay and Piya, laced with a tinge of humor. All pretty basic scenes on paper, they stand out because they’ve been directed so instinctively by Devgan.

So I’m going with two out of five for U Me Aur Hum, watch it if you must for the performances of its two leads, both Ajay and Kajol do not disappoint. As for the the film…well that’s another story!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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