Tanu Weds Manu Returns review: This movie could make Kangana Ranaut the female Khan of Bollywood
The reason people want to watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the reason there are great box office expectations of this film and the reason you sit through its two hours is Kangana Ranaut
By and large, press shows tend to be boring events. Not true for Tanu Weds Manu Returns.
The sequel to the surprise hit Tanu Weds Manu was packed — with reviewers, people who had worked on the film, friends of the production and possibly even people who had walked out of some other screening or into this one by mistake.
A few minutes before the screening began, I learnt that the person sitting next to me had a sore throat because he'd drunk cold chhaas. He then burped and proceeded to conclude that the chhaas had also unsettled his tummy. This wasn't told to me, but loudly, to someone on the phone. "Nahi nahi, boys' night out haiji," he continued, as his companion showed up with popcorn. "Picture dekhne aaye hai." ("No, no, it's a boys' night out. We've come to see a movie.")
Two North Indian men in their 40s; with popcorn. Me, without a weapon, in my 30s. Us, watching a movie together, our elbows nudging and their phones ringing. And to think people say cinema holds a mirror to reality.
My companions' faith in cinema's ability to depict reality, however, remained unshaken. As Tanu Weds Manu Returns unfolded, on numerous occasions, the two men agreed that life, and married life in particular, is exactly like what was being shown on screen. Fittingly for two middle-aged men on a boys' night out, they clapped and cheered at all the bits in which marriage is presented as the tentative status quo between a cantankerous woman and a long-suffering man.
But they also whooped when Kangana Ranaut's Tanu maaro-ed dialogues to cut people (usually men) down to size. They loved her just as much when she was Kusum, who is sweet-natured and effective with karate chops, long jumps and hockey sticks.
By the end of the two-hour film, even though we hadn't spoken a word to each other, I felt I knew so much about my companions that they could well be my buddies. And so, as the end credits started rolling, I turned to them, beamed and asked, "So if you had to choose between those Kusum and Tanu, whom would you pick?"
They looked a little taken aback. I beamed wider.
"Ki farak penda?" one gentleman replied. "Sab same hi to hai." ("What difference does it make? They're the same.")
"Kangana," said the other, beaming.
There it was. The reason people want to watch Tanu Weds Manu Returns, the reason there are great box office expectations of this film and the reason you sit through its two hours is Kangana Ranaut. Queen showcased just how talented she is, but if Tanu Weds Manu Returns does as well as it is expected to, then Ranaut will be the female equivalent of the Khans of Bollywood. She can act in films that are thorough disappointments, but she sells them to you with such charm and style that you don't really care that she and the stories she's telling deserve better.
Four years after their wedding, Tanu (Ranaut) and Manu's (Madhavan) marriage is on the rocks. This is why the two of them go to a mental asylum for marriage counselling. Apparently that's how they do it in the UK. The consultation is held in a massive, grey, dimly-lit room. You half expect Batman to emerge from one of the shadowy corners, but no, there are just Hindi-speaking, British psychiatrists who don't know the meaning of "jhand" and lock Manu up when he loses his temper.
Yes, they lock him up because he yells at Tanu. Because you know how it is with men's rights. Constantly being trampled, day in and day out by a system that's just sitting there, getting conned by limpid-eyed women who are either evil or don't know they're playing with fire.
Eventually Manu gets out of that prison-like asylum, with help from Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal). He's livid at Tanu, who has gone home to Kanpur and is raising eyebrows over there. It's to Ranaut's credit that we don't dismiss Tanu's behaviour as simply juvenile and callous. No one in the film seems to understand that Tanu's antics — whether it's meeting people with only a towel wrapped around her slim form or flirting with ex-boyfriends — are her way of dealing with how miserable she is. But sitting in the audience, watching her few moments of wordless melancholia, the audience picks up on Tanu's angst.
For reasons we don't find out, Tanu isn't happy in her marriage. Perhaps she's bored? Maybe she feels stifled? Are she and Manu actually incompatible despite their attraction? Neither the director nor the writer of Tanu Weds Manu Returns cares. They'd much rather fill the film with over-the-top comic moments in which Pappi proves, repeatedly, that he's an idiot.
While Tanu is raising Kanpur's eyebrows, Manu chances upon Kusum (Ranaut's second role), a college-going Haryanvi athlete. He's struck by how she resembles Tanu. She takes to Manu the way people approach an abandoned puppy: with tenderness and affection. With Tanu's beauty and attitude, it's easy to see why people would fall for her. There's no such obvious logic for Kusum's infatuation with Manu, who is played by Madhavan as large and lifeless. Is Kusum attracted to Manu because he's older, more successful and kind? Does he embody a way out of the conservative, modest life she leads? Maybe she's just dazzled by the idea that there is a man other than her brother who actually treats women like human beings.
So that the audience doesn't pay attention to the creep factor of the age-gap between Manu and Kusum, as well as the thoroughly dubious reasons for Manu wanting to marry her, Tanu Weds Manu Returns instead dives headlong into pointless plot twists that are basically intended to kill time. You can't have a 90-minute Hindi film, so we wander into three weddings in the second half and watch a ridiculous kidnap take place. This kidnap victim conveniently disappears and no one seems to notice. Not even her Sardarji brother, who followed her in a convoy of Pajeros. Instead, everyone gets involved in Kusum and Manu's wedding.
What's frustrating about Tanu Weds Manu Returns is that director Anand L Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma picked some subjects that are rarely looked at — what happens after the glittering "the end" of a love story? What is the impact of the convention that marriage is an annoyance that both husbands and wives must tolerate, simply because being alone is not a socially-accepted option? What is a woman to do when there's pressure to have a child but biology isn't cooperating with that plan?
But after raising these questions or at least inching towards them, Tanu Weds Manu Returns turns away from anything other than contrived humour. The climax is thoroughly predictable, which is a blazing disappointment because the premise of the film is refreshing. Not a single issue has been explored and neither have any questions been answered. It's a little unnerving to think that my companions thought Tanu Weds Manu Returns was realistic because that doesn't suggest much happiness or companionship in their marital lives. Leaving aside the depiction of marriage, there's little logic or realism in the film, particularly in the way the families react to Tanu, Manu and their confused love lives. By the time you're nearing the end, you've got to wonder what was the point of making the film.
Answer: the talented Ms Ranaut.
Tanu Weds Manu Returns has Ranaut uttering dialogues that are guaranteed to make the audience erupt in appreciative applause. For instance, when she learns Manu is about to get married to Kusum even though he is yet to get divorced, Tanu says to him, "Humne kahaan thodi bewafai ki, aap toh badchalan ho gaye". ("I was just dabbling with betrayal, but you turned immoral.") Ranaut is hilarious as both the eccentric Tanu and the gutsy Kusum. She is able to make the double role work beautifully so that you never confuse the two women and end up caring for both of them. Her swagger as Tanu will make you feel a little weak around the knees. The grit she displays as Kusum will make your heart swell.
And yet, for all the magic that is Ranaut, Tanu Weds Manu Returns is a blathering mess. It's as lazy as most of bad Bollywood. Resting upon Ranaut's talent and appeal, Rai and Sharma figure they need nothing more than picturise a few catchy songs. Why bother with a story that actually makes sense? There's no need. Keep it stupid, put in a few pro-woman slogans because that's what sells these days, and let Ranaut's popularity do the rest.
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