Why Uday Chopra Is Right About ‘The Kissing Booth’ on Netflix

Formulaic and templated, ‘The Kissing Booth’ is one of the biggest success stories on Netflix. 

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A still from Netflix film, <i>The Kissing Booth</i>.

The other day, since I am fairly scholarly about the viewing habits of young adults and purely out of sociological curiosity, I watched what is being called a mini cultural pop phenomenon – a Netflix original film called The Kissing Booth. A high school romance about a young teenager, Elle who has never been kissed till she ends up in a relationship with the school’s resident hottie, Flynn. Only issue – she can’t let anyone know especially her bestie, who is Flynn’s younger brother, Lee. The thing is Elle and Lee have a ‘bro code’ and one of the rules is that the ‘bro’ is off limits (the ‘bro code’ is quite literal).

Ok. I confess. I lied. I didn’t lie about watching The Kissing Booth. That I really did – but it had nothing to do with sociological curiosity. I stumbled upon it without any preamble – started watching it and completely enjoyed it.
Poster of Netflix film, <i>The Kissing Booth</i>.
Poster of Netflix film, The Kissing Booth.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)

After a rather giddy two hours, I thought to myself – let this be my deep, dark secret especially after I checked for reviews and found that the average critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes was at 17%. Most of the reviews were downright dismissive – ‘amateur’ was the nicest thing anyone had said about a film that I thought was unpretentious and cute. I then spent a couple of days burdened with my dodgy cinematic taste, and as penance tried very hard to like the arthouse horror film, Hereditary. It didn’t work – bogged down by my guilty secret, I decided to take the route of self-deprecation. I put out a couple of defiant social media updates on my terrible taste in films citing The Kissing Booth as a prime example. And unwittingly found my redemption – everyone I knew who had watched the film had liked it. I investigated further – The Kissing Booth is one of the biggest success stories on Netflix. It was at a high of No 4 on IMDB and is currently at No 9.

Netflix has been quoted as saying that, “The Kissing Booth is maybe one of the most watched movies in the world’’. The lead pair, Jacob Elordi and Joey King who are also now a real-life couple (awww) are being touted as the new Liam and Miley.

Emboldened by these facts, I asked my 14-year-old niece if she had watched this film. She giggled, “I love that film. I watch bits of it every day”. She added approvingly, “You are the only normal old person I know”. That also might be because she doesn’t know Uday Chopra, who tweeted this a fortnight back.

Before we go further, a quick word on #MeetCute.

Meet Cute is ‘an amusing or charming first encounter between two characters that leads to a development of a romantic relationship between them’. It is a staple of rom-coms because that is where the sparks initially fly, and your appetite is whetted for a pleasant love story between two good looking leads.

And Uday Chopra is right – we don’t make enough rom-coms and we definitely don’t have enough #MeetCute moments. Not in Hollywood and definitely not in Bollywood. And it might be because as a friend told me dourly, ‘they are just not woke enough’. Being woke means you don’t have guilty pleasures. And a good old fashioned rom-com is a guilty pleasure – it is comfort food for the soul.

The Kissing Booth, the truth be told is not even a particularly good rom-com. But it gets many things right – a great looking lead pair with tons of chemistry and it takes its time to set up the process of falling in love. Read: Lots of melt in the knee moments. A love story works when it co-opts the audience into that process – making you invest in the happily ever after. I don’t remember the last love story in Hindi cinema or Hollywood in recent times that did that with any degree of success. I don’t remember them even trying as the rom-com gets relegated to becoming a forgotten genre. Banter, falling in love, falling out of love and the final airport dash to the happily-ever-after is far too passé. But then again – is it? The evidence suggests that there is still a huge audience for the rom-com. Which is why something as formulaic and templated and yet comforting as The Kissing Booth has been lapped up to the degree it has. It doesn’t matter if you are a young adult, or a millennial or just an ‘old person’ – nobody can resist the simple pleasures of watching people fall in love in a cute, familiar fashion.

A still from Netflix film, <i>The Kissing Booth</i>.
A still from Netflix film, The Kissing Booth.
(Photo courtesy: Netflix)
There is merit then in the tried and tested – and the path much travelled. It is time to invest back in the rom-com – get the tropes back and tweak the storytelling a tad, and we have a plan for world domination.

Right now, in Bollywood only Sonam Kapoor is trying with films like Khoobsurat and The Zoya Factor. There is space for a lot more.

That however does not mean Uday Chopra should make a sequel to Pyar Impossible. There is no space for that.

(Naomi Datta is a young adult in her head and follows the lead pair of The Kissing Booth on Instagram for her daily dose of cuteness. She tweets at nowme_datta.)

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