[Looking at all the positive reviews this film has got, I have a feeling I'm going to be lynched for this post. Never mind - at least it'll balance out all the times I get asked "HOW could you write good things about that dreadful book?! Did you have some kind of arrangement with the author?" The one thing this post should make clear is that there was no exchange of monies between the Devgans and me]
Ajay Devgan’s directorial debut U, Me aur Hum is one of the most grating and poorly written films I’ve seen in months. This is two bad movies for the price of one: the first half is a shrill, overwrought comedy full of insufferable characters (I yearned for the relative tastefulness of the Kader Khan-Shakti Kapoor tracks in 1980s films) and redeemed only by some nice cruise footage; then it changes tack midway to become an equally shrill, overwrought drama about the effect of Alzheimer’s on a sufferer and her loved ones. But predictably, having decided to take on a “serious” issue (perhaps because of the respectability tag), it simply cops out in the end.
The story begins with a young (and fabulously rich) psychiatrist named Ajay (Devgan) goofing about on a cruise vacation with four friends (two couples, whose tiresome shenanigans and vulgar jokes get an astonishing amount of screen time). When bar-girl Piya (Kajol) asks Ajay “Anything you desire, sir?” and he replies “Yes. You”, we must obediently accept the film’s word that “true love” has struck. (Shortly after this, Ajay jumps on to the bar to announce that all drinks are on him, and a bump-and-grind song sequence follows, featuring back-up dancers presumably hired from Devgan’s recent films like Cash.) He woos Piya in increasingly silly ways. She reciprocates. There is a misunderstanding. They part ways. She comes back to him. He’s waiting for her, with a house that’s done up entirely in white (her favourite colour) and a dog named Mr White, and they get married (I mean Ajay and Piya). Strangely, she fails to do the first thing any conscientious spouse would have done – that is, give marching orders to his quartet of moronic pals.
Then it turns out that Piya has Alzheimer’s, and on this note the Intermission sign appears: “You can go to the snack bar for your Dispirin now.”
U, Me aur Hum is consistently wrong-footed, its tone lurching (sometimes within the same scene) from unfunny screwball comedy to intense psychological horror to cutesy romance. (The bouncy song “Saheli jaisa Saiyyan”, incongruously deposited in the middle of a high-drama scene late in the film, exists for no reason other than to provide TV channels a standard romantic music video.) The screenplay is littered with convoluted faux-philosophical discussions (never use one sentence when you can use five, is the motto), homilies, spin-offs from corny Internet jokes and general vagueness. (“Dukh ki baat yeh hai ke isme khushi ki baat nahin hai,” says a doctor, making a bittersweet announcement.) No premium is placed on political correctness either: in Ajay’s office, his receptionist passes him the phone with the words “Doctor, someone wants to talk to you. Serious mental case lag raha hai”.
Personally, I don’t think this film deserves measured analysis – I would have been perfectly happy to do a jokey review recording some of the unkind thoughts that went through my mind during the cruise scenes (e.g. “The appearance of a deadly iceberg would conclusively prove the existence of God” or “Now would be a good time for the Jaws shark to leap out of the ocean and into this 12-storey boat”), or to speculate that Ajay and Kajol might be Clark Kent and Superman respectively, given the camera’s odd refusal to show them in the same frame in the ship scenes. But since U, Me aur Hum touches (however facilely) on a serious issue, and since many people believe that putting down such movies amounts to being “insensitive” (as if making fun of a badly made film were the same thing as making fun of Alzheimer’s), I feel almost obliged to make a few considered points. So here goes, and the hell with spoiler alerts:
- Given that the story is about a relationship deepening and maturing in the face of adversity, a strange thing happens in the last few scenes (which should be preserved in a film museum as the definitive word on paying lip service and then chickening out). After much soul-searching, Ajay has made the difficult decision to take Piya home and look after her himself, rather than leave her in a care facility. “I promised her that we would go on a cruise to celebrate our 25th anniversary,” he tells his friends, “and I intend to keep that promise.”
This is very heartwarming, but at this point the film (which has already spent oodles of time on buffoonery and annoying supporting characters) simply decides to wind up. For all the preaching about your responsibilities towards those you love, not the slightest effort is made to engage with the difficulties and adjustments that a couple living together in the shadow of such a disease must face (they're a nuclear family, he's a working man who needs to be out of the house most of the time, her condition has nearly resulted in the accidental death of their child, and she is subject to mood swings and hysteria). Instead, it fast-forwards more than two decades ahead to reassure us that this made-for-each-other couple did in fact manage that 25th anniversary cruise together. (In these scenes, I got the distinct impression that the anniversary is the only thing that really matters and that the intervening years of these characters’ lives are mere background detail.)
Further, the middle-aged Ajay has clearly made the most of a bad situation – as he tells fellow passengers listening to their love story, he gets to “patao” his wife afresh nearly every day (because she keeps forgetting who he is, or how they got together), and then there are those “bonus” days where she remembers everything and all is normal. When he finishes the story (to the moist-eyed applause of the other vacationers), it turns out that this was one of those bonus days: Piya, who had been listening to the story as if it was new to her, was only pretending to have forgotten him. Voila. What a warm, fuzzy way to wrap things up. Starry-eyed couples everywhere will be wishing that one of them gets Alzheimer's – it sounds so much more exciting than your regular relationship, which dies painfully within a few months since neither of the partners ever forgets anything.
- Technically speaking, there are moments that betray a lack of cinematic common sense. Take the lengthy sequence where Kajol places her baby in the bathtub with the water running, goes out of the room and then zones out – distracted by the sight of a lizard stalking an insect on the wall, she forgets about her infant, leaving him in mortal danger. This is intercut with shots of Ajay reaching home and making his way upstairs; the house attendant chatting with a friend at the door, unaware of what’s happening inside; the family dog barking loudly; the water level slowly rising above the baby’s head.
Viewed in isolation, this is actually a well-constructed sequence straight out of the how-to-do-suspense textbook. Built around the question “will the child be saved in time?”, it demands a certain emotional investment from the viewer, and the cross-cutting is skillfully enough done. But looked at in context it’s simply gratuitous and unnecessarily prolonged – because, you see, in the scene before this one, we have already seen the baby being brought to the hospital, treated and revived. The bathtub scene is a flashback that is shown after the doctor asks Ajay what happened. So there really wasn’t any suspense to build in the first place. It’s an example of a first-time director trying too hard to experiment (with chronology, in this case) and abandoning basic sense in the process.
But I’m getting way too analytical now. The eventual message of U, Me aur Hum, and it's one that's hard to argue with, is that life is basically a series of great cruises with a bit of Alzheimer’s thrown in to add some grimness to the mix. This means that Star Cruises, which is one of the film’s advertising partners, has got the best deal out of the project. (The worst deal is reserved for Devgan and Kajol’s real-life children, who will grow up to watch the most embarrassing home movie ever.)
P.S. Anyone interested in a list of the five scenes I actually liked in this film, feel free to email.
P.P.S. Over at Ultrabrown, a commenter describes what the Farrelly Brothers might have done with this material. Now that's one film I'd love to watch.