Director: Aki Ali
Cast: Tabu, Ajay Devgn, Rakul Preet Singh
De De Pyaar De opens to an unreasonable meet-cute. A 50-year-old financier in London meets a 26-year-old woman at a friend’s bachelor party. She drinks and passes out in his apartment, and wakes up the next day on his bed, naked. She thanks him for the “last night” although she remembers nothing of it. He winks and replies that he isn’t the kind of man who sleeps with drunk women. She is stunned – ‘who wouldn’t want to sleep with a drunk hot girl’– and is instantly smitten with him. No question is raised on the disappearance of her clothing.
Written by Luv Ranjan and directed by debutante Aki Ali, the film is centred on this couple’s half-hearted love story, delineated using stock scenarios and tropes. The film obsesses over the age gap between the lead couple, Ashish and Aisha (Ajay Devgn and Rakul Preet Singh), for a long time. Soon, as fate would have it, the couple begin a courtship. When Aisha lays the subject of marriage on the table, Ashish starts feeling the jitters. Turns out the man has a muddled up past where he abandoned his wife and two toddlers in India 18 years ago to migrate to London.
De De Pyaar De transforms into an awkward love-triangle and an emotional drama about moving on in life and coming to terms with the burdens of one’s parents in its latter half. In a film industry where actresses in their twenties are regularly paired with male superstars past their 50s, this age conundrum at the heart of the film shouldn’t constitute any confusion. And mainstream film industries in India and abroad have, many times before, come up with films that declare solidarity with men who want to court women half their age (it becomes an unspeakable abomination when a woman past/approaching her menopause does it). De De Pyaar De has a similar motive, but it has its moments — albeit hidden beneath a pile of sexist jokes — thanks to Tabu who appears as Manju, Ashish’s former wife.
Aisha and Ashish aren’t particularly interesting people to pay attention to. She uses her youth and good looks as a trump card and an instrument of self-defence in all kinds of situations life throws at her. She likes to say, “I am hot” and “I love alcohol” a lot, as though these are the things that define her. He is a brooding man with tired eyes, and nothing much else.
That said, Devgn’s portrayal of the character doesn’t slip into a terrain of goofiness, he plays it like a foil to Preet’s over-the-top effervescence. He plays cool in a different way, replacing energetic with level-headed.
On the outside, there isn’t anything that stands between Ashish and Aisha from having a future together. They live in a liberal Western city which doesn’t look down upon couples with a noticeable age difference. So the film manufactures a barricade. Ashish, guilt-ridden for being a bad husband and an ever-absent father, decides that he should reconcile with his estranged wife and children before he enters a marriage again. Without giving any heads up to the family members, he and Aisha turn up at the family’s door one day. The motley bunch in the household – a set of amiable, but foul-mouthed parents, a no-nonsense wife, and children, now in their twenties, who have gotten used to his absence – grow uncomfortable with his sudden reappearance. Repressed emotions blow up into bitter confrontations. And you are subjected to painfully contrived comic scenes, like the one where the family members force Ashish to act as Manju’s brother in front of the daughter’s boyfriend and his father.
It is hard to take Aisha seriously, despite the unconventional life-choices that she makes, because she is largely portrayed as a run-of-mill ‘hot property’. Her stay in London is, apparently, on a student visa. She finished college a year ago, and now, is waitressing at a local bar. There are a couple of instances in the film where she moves into/out of houses, and a medium-sized suitcase seems to be her only possession. Yet, never in the film she repeats outfits. Manju runs a successful home-stay business, and she single-handedly brought up the two children after Ashish left the scene. In spite of having a great character CV in hand, the film unreasonably puts her in a cat-fight with the much-younger Aisha. The women are made to insult each other in the language of patriarchy, comparing each other with cars and indulging in a verbal battle over the man’s love.
The film’s casual dismissal of conventional middle-class family values makes for some interesting moments. When the daughter and her boyfriend declare at a family get-together that they want to move in together before the wedding, the elders don’t flare up, but sit down and talk about it. There is a tasteful restraint in the way the film handles these sequences. There is also a brief plot-track of a guest at her homestay (Jimmy Shergill who has become an expert at puling off similar roles) making feeble attempts at flirting with Manju. She and the family members share knowing glances with each other, and her reactions are a delight to watch.
In the film’s finest moment, Manju addresses Ashish ‘Yaar’, like he is a long-lost friend, and confesses to him that she’s exhausted from being the sole provider, as he listens in dismay and guilt. This scene slyly liberates the male protagonist from the cruelties he committed to his partner, but it has a bright side – it gives the film’s best performer the space she deserves. Tabu’s performance is a testament to how good actors can erase the bad taste of mediocre writing and filmmaking to a great extent. She, in this scene, brings aboard an emotional depth the rest of the film is unable to conjure up.
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