What’s Your Raashee?... a big Mercury retrograde!
Imagine yourself at your own wedding. Your family and friends are here, but the focus is on who’s in debt to whom, who’s paying for what, who’s been lied to and who’s been lying. There’s a lot of drama, but it’s not necessarily happy, and people are preoccupied rather than engrossed in the celebration. And the pandit goes on and on when he could have edited his remarks for more impact, so the people who really want to share your fun become distracted and bored as time goes on. At the end of the day, would you be glad or sad?
That’s the feeling left after Ashutosh Gowarikar’s What’s Your Raashee? The film has color and movement, but the emotional core is missing and there’s a lot of distracting extras that largely divert from the main story.
Saari film’s tensions are laid out rather prosaically in the first five minutes. Nanaji’s decided to give all his land to Yogesh Patel (Harman Baweja), his grandson in the US, because he’s the only family member who’s not self-centered. Meanwhile, back in India, Yogesh’s dad is consulting the astrologer about how to pay his other son’s considerable gambling debts. The jyotishii surprises them all by predicting that Yogesh’s fate is to be married by the end of the month, and at the ceremony he’ll come into great wealth. Then grandpa calls, and they find out about Yogesh’s gift. Ka-ching!
True to grandpa’s depiction of their self-serving natures, the family hatches a plan to trick Yogesh back to India, get him married quickly, and use the money he doesn’t yet know he has to get them out of the fix they’re in. It’s a grim co-dependent family, and Yogesh is nothing if not an enabler.
The decision he makes on his own is to streamline the process of finding a bride by meeting one woman from each raashee, with the idea that by sampling the astrological spectrum of possible personalities, he’ll have a better chance of falling in love at first sight, which is his self-serving goal. He wants a love marriage out of all this.
And somewhere along the way, perhaps in the name of symmetry, there are 13 songs in the film, one for each raashee/woman, and a final one that combines them all. Ideally, the songs move the film forward and provide some insights into the characters. Instead, these often slow the film down by pausing the narrative for a repetitive message. The most egregious example, the Cancer song “Bikhri Bikhri,” cuts between Baweja and Chopra standing still staring at each other. The higher energy ones, like “Aaja Lehraate” (for Gemini), don’t uplift. The dancing is just not up to snuff here with tired and slow moves, and the “You’ve been served” energy is very subdued. The cinematography is also a bit languid, and sometimes seems more suited to a TV soap opera than a big-screen story, which requires a different intensity.
The Gemini/Kajal segment is a good indicator of Baweja’s contribution to the film. Chopra’s Kajal character is a peppy college student, with a personality matched only by her bright, modern, skimpy clothes and large hair. As they talk after the big dance-off, she tries to get to Yogesh’s romantic core, asking him to act as if he were proposing to the woman he loves. Yogesh, who could take the opportunity to sell himself in his desperation to get married, is instead wooden and uptight. Despite his earlier pretensions to true love, he doesn’t seem to have any imagination about what the feeling would really be like. Welcome to Baweja throughout the film – a bit of a drip. While Chopra is clearly working hard to bring each different personality to life, he sleepwalks through his role, lacking charisma or much personality. The biggest reaction we get out of him is when he’s confused or overwhelmed, which is often.
Chopra’s star shines here, and perhaps brighter when contrasted with Baweja. Her avatars are not fully developed characters, partly because they are standing in for a star sign, partly because functionally they each get only a small bit of screen time. Still, Chopra is clearly working to make them distinct, and for the most part she succeeds, with a little help from styling and some outrageous wigs. It must be frustrating to focus so hard on the craft, though, while the lecherous camera focuses on the curves of her back, which get a lot of attention. Chopra gets some interesting roles and perhaps someday we will get to see her dig into them without so much emphasis on her as eye candy (“Aaja Lehraate” may remind you of Billu’s (2009) “Khudaya Khair/You Get Me Rockin’ & Reeling” for its soft-core dancing, which will probably either delight or creep you out).
However, with the exception of a couple of cringeworthy film moments, for the most part the film is neither exciting nor dramatic. There are a few laugh-out-loud jokes, including one when a woman who’s convinced she knows Yogesh from a past life asks to take a picture of him to remember the moment. He balks, saying “You remember a lot anyway.” The Pisces song, “Sau Janam,” is a knowing homage to film songs from the ‘80’s, complete with the huge green valley vista swaying out below the couple at the edge of a cliff and the voice of Udit Narayan.
Background music and a couple extraneous subplots seem like holdovers from films of a decade ago or more – they are played overly broad, loud and predictable. Ostensibly these elements make films play better to “the masses,” and I’d submit that even the masses have moved to a different film style by now. These dated gimmicks, without an ironic wink of parody (à la Om Shanti Om), seem lost in time. The other featured characters, consisting largely of the Patel clan, are predictable stock roles, and the talents of people who are largely drawn from television serials and Gowarikar’s other films are spent on one-note personalities.
It’s despair-inducing to come to a film, especially one from a competent director, with high hopes and see the well-intentioned work of mostly talented people circle the drain. With a tighter script, more consistent story logic, and better (and perhaps fewer) songs, this film could have gone the distance, and perhaps saved a few thousand feet of film!