Sometimes you read a movie’s disclaimer and think, “Perhaps they’ve made an effort,” and then the film calls you gullible in 15 different languages over the course of a couple of hours. Let’s start off by talking about Ayushmann Khurrana’s previous work.
Consider Doctor G, a film that might not have performed brilliantly when it came to numbers but had an earnesty to. Consider An Action Hero, an almost artistic medley of action and satire. Then there is Dream Girl 2.
Khurrana’s character Karam first entered our collective consciousness in Dream Girl, as a man who could easily imitate a feminine voice with a rather sultry lilt that had people swooning over his alter ego Pooja. Out of opportunities, Karam joins a phone sex hotline and in this spiritual sequel, he goes a step further and becomes Pooja and starts working as a dancer in a bar.
We’re asked to believe that Pooja’s effect, previously limited to phone calls, will easily transcend to real life as well. That is something I am more than willing to believe because I am not someone who believes that femininity and masculinity must always exist in binaries; destined to always be separate from the other.
With this in mind, the film’s first half is almost enjoyable. Most of the jokes land while others don’t. That doesn’t impact the film’s effect a lot. If the second half was even slightly more taut, it would’ve still been a better film. Considering the fact that the first half presents a premise that almost makes you curious about where the film could go from there, the shoddy second half seems like a disservice.
Karam and his girlfriend Pari (Ananya Panday) are on the cusp of marriage but like a 90s villain, Pari’s father emerges to tell him he is not good enough for his daughter. He presents a list of demands – something along the lines of ‘get a job, earn 25 lakh, have a proper house of your own’. The only thing missing is that this isn’t happening in an extravagant bungalow and he doesn’t throw an empty bag at Karam’s feet.
If that wasn’t enough, Karam’s father Jagjit (Annu Kapoor) takes loans like this film takes artistic liberties. With loans piling up and his girlfriend’s father’s demands hanging above him like a sword, Karam decides to find a get-rich-quick scheme. Aided by his best friend Smiley (Manjot Singh), he ends up employed at a bar run by Sona (Vijay Raaz).
All of this still has the makings of an enjoyable film. Khurrana makes an attempt to embody Pooja and is almost believable despite the fact that the earnesty the actor usually brings to his roles seems absent. He is stunning though, as Pooja. I have to give him that.
Panday is at her best in the film, even if the script doesn’t give her much to do. I find it difficult to harp on about ‘accents’ being perfect so I won’t. As almost a spectator in the film, Panday does enough as Pari for us to be more invested in her character than the film asks us to be.
Surprisingly, there is still more to the film. Smiley wants to marry Sakina and her father (Paresh Rawal) has a condition of his own (and it’s not the fact that it’s an interfaith marriage). Sakina can only get married after her brother Shah Rukh (Abhishek Banerjee). If you’re someone who doesn’t live under a rock, the gag is immediately obvious.
Karam must now become a psychiatrist who can ‘sing and dance’ Shah Rukh (not Khan) out of his “depression” that was seemingly caused by a break up. Somehow, in this chaos, Pooja ends up married to Shah Rukh. Cue every single gender and sexuality gag possible making its way into director Raaj Shaandilyaa’s film.
“Gender change!” scream random characters in the film in a world where the sheer act of presenting as anything other than the sex assigned at birth puts you in danger. This is another issue with Dream Girl 2, it is seemingly set in a dreamland. In a land where the female experience is limited to clothing and nazakat.
We’ve had enough of this cinema in the 80s and 90s; of the female experience being reduced to gags and affections of men. Of punching down on every possible character just to say things like ‘love is love’ is the last five minutes.
But let's keep all of this aside. The film’s biggest letdown is its screenplay. The film has very subtle commentary on interfaith marriages, on the expectations put on women in marriages, on the lack of acceptance queer people get from their families, but it is all overshadowed by the sheer amount of incredulous comedy resting on the premise of, ‘Oh look, it’s a man pretending to be a woman’.
There's actually an effort to write a queer character that doesn't play into the stereotypes previously set in Indian cinema. The person isn't terrifying or exaggerated but this effort too, gets lost.
In attempting to do so much, the film starts to forget its own subplots. For instance, a pregnancy test falls off a balcony and sets off a chain of comic events but what happened to the person who was actually pregnant?
If this is a film that is attempting to recreate the nostalgia of the 90s (which I believe is what is happening), it almost succeeds. But ‘nostalgia’ isn’t easy to create and iconic cinema tropes aren’t easy to recreate. Above all, they require a strong vision and sensibility that is absent from this film. For a crowd that believes the world has become ‘too woke’, this film holds a lot to laugh at but even they would agree it lacks the charm of the first Dream Girl.
This is a film that will perhaps have people asking women and trans people why they can’t ‘take a joke’. It’s also a film that makes you wonder why it’s these very people who are often the butt of these jokes.