Movie review: One By Two does to rom-coms what Alok Nath did to sanskar
One By Two has a few great ideas and can boast of better aesthetics than what Bollywood usually churns out, but it ends up being a victim of its own imagined cleverness.
What is it about the Hindi film industry that turns good, smart ideas into standardised candyfloss non-sequiturs? Could it be the air at Versova, a café- filled suburb of Mumbai that is home to many scriptwriters, directors and actors? Or is it the food at Shreejee’s, an Udupi joint in Oshiwara famed for being a ‘struggler’ hangout?
When we have answers to the above questions, we will perhaps figure out why One By Two, an attempt at a contemporary Indian rom-com, takes itself so seriously that it ends up being a self-parody.
Sample the following two scenes:
Scene 1: It's the day that Amit (Abhay Deol) is to say yes to marrying a good, ‘healthy-looking’ girl his mother (Rati Agnihotri) has picked up for him. The nagging mother bursts into the room to find Amit in only in a vest and boxers. She orders him to put on a sherwani and then come out to meet the girl’s family. Amit responds in the manner of Macaulay Culkin from Michael Jackson’s ‘Black Or White’ video: dragging an electric guitar and an amp out into the living room, thus shocking all those gathered.
Scene 2: Amit has just gotten closure and secured a moral victory over his ex, who had been resolutely rejecting his pleas to give their relationship another chance. Now that he's popular and she needs him, she tells him that she wants to come home, to Amit. This time, Amit says no and then proceeds to put on blue-framed wayfarers before walking away. This scene is not set in daylight.
Both the above scenes are performed straight off the bat, without any trace of irony. It’s as though Devika Bhagat, who makes her directorial debut with this film, treated her script the way Alok Nath allegedly treats his sanskaar. There are many such scenes and ideas in One By Two that must have looked good on paper – a heavily-loaded conversation about sh*t, a sequence of pass-the-parcel with a hard drive, a weird cover of the Nirma washing powder jingle – but fail to translate on screen all because Bhagat's script treats them so earnestly, it stops being clever.
This is a pity because this is a film that starts off rather beautifully, with a split-screen montage showing the two central characters’ lives set to a lilting jazz tune – an ode to relationships in upper-middle-class Bombay. Amit is a vanilla software engineer, while lithe-limbed Samara Patel (Preeti Desai, Deol’s real-life girlfriend) is a dancer. While Amit is hung up over his ex Radhika (Geetika Tyagi), Samara seems unable to maintain real relationships with anyone but her alcoholic mother (*yawn* Lilette Dubey). The story follows the paths Amit and Samara take.
One By Two's glossy aesthetic is obviously borrowed from American TV shows and Hollywood rom-coms as is the film's simplistic approach to emotions. For example, at one point, following an argument, Samara jumps into a pool and screams out underwater. Not only is this a painful cliché, it also doesn’t appear either credible or convincing. Amit comes across as a mixture of Ted from How I Met Your Mother and Joseph Gordon-Levitt from 500 Days Of Summer, only whinier. Deol does his best and has a couple of moments here and there, but is ultimately ineffective because of his character's motivations (or lack thereof) are vague at best. Desai — speaking in a mixture of Hindi, Gujarati and English with a north-England accent -- looks great but appears self-conscious in scenes where real acting and emoting are required (the confrontation scene with her and Dubey is particularly painful to watch).
As Amit’s best friends Anika and Mihir, Preethika Chawla and Tahir Bhasin do a great job of adding levity to One By Two. They're also the two characters who seem completely credible. Bhasin, in particular, seems to be the only actor who realises he needs to rise above the inadequacies of the script and does so admirably. I suppose one must also hand it to Bhagat for ensuring that the film never becomes a melodrama, since that is rare for Bollywood.
One By Two has a few great ideas and can boast of better aesthetics than what Bollywood usually churns out, but it ends up being a victim of its own imagined cleverness. It is a film that’s so infernally convinced it is better than other films in that genre, it ends up becoming worse. Part of the magic of watching a film lies in not immediately being able to figure out why a particular scene exists – a well-written scene should be like a smoke-screen that entertains the viewer while shielding the makers’ intentions. Much of One By Two, unfortunately, is a puppet show where the strings are always visible. One could blame Bhagat, but I’d rather blame Versova.
(Suprateek Chatterjee is editor of Visual Disobedience, a community for emerging indie artists, and a freelance writer. In his spare time, he likes to compose music with his electro-rock band Vega Massive and his Twitter handle is @SupraMario.)
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