Both of us had our respective epiphanic moments during Dream Girl in a span of a few minutes of each other. Onscreen, Mahi Rajput (Nushrat Bharucha putting up a brave performance in a part that’s half-baked at best) hugs Karamveer Singh (Ayushmann Khurrana) and realizes it’s a festival that day, causing them to break into the Radhe Radhe dance sequence. And during that performance, for the briefest of moments, Khurrana’s expressions and moves borrow from the dance meister himself: Govinda. Offscreen, as I watched the proceedings with increasingly flagging interest, I got mine. What this movie needed was the whacky, self-deprecating, energetic, and snappy comic timing of Govinda—the irony of it being based out Gokul not lost entirely on me—to rescue it from the middling script that it was mired into. In another day and age, probably.
It’s not that Khurrana isn’t good here. Far from it. He’s absolutely superb as the small-town bloke wanting to break out of his father’s loan-shark tank and live the good life; and despite his character’s protestations about his supreme talent to reproduce a woman’s voice, getting into the ‘call business’ of chatting up callers who’re looking for some telephonic gratification. The actor does a sterling job of enacting his chat sobriquet Pooja, and in dealing with all the consequences that inevitably—and predictably—follow. (But as he’s strolling through his career’s purple patch, this could be as good a time as any to evaluate the danger of falling into the template of the small-town-hero-aspiring-for-gold.) As his father Jagjeet Singh, Annu Kapoor is terrific in a performance that’s subdued, even as his character plots a graph of emotional ups and downs, all tinged with fun.
But it’s the fun that’s forced and heavy-footed, making Dream Girl more a faded shadow of what it aspires to be. And that’s exactly what is perplexing and disappointing—despite a cast that’s high on acting chops, the movie falls flat and then painfully drags to its finish line. Painful despite director Raaj Shaandilyaa—co-writing with Nirmaan D. Singh and Niket Pandey—pulling out all stops and tricks from the hat of comedy—including the line-up of callers falling for Pooja, each one trying to revive their emasculated or non-existent love lives, and then getting all crossed up and mixed up. Where this could have been reason for guffaws galore, all the movie can muster is a chuckle here and a titter there.
And that’s because the gags are in carousel mode and the director and his writers don’t quite know when to get off. Which means that after a while, they run out of gas leaving Dream Girl to sputter and spit, and finally sign off with a messaging that’s mentioned in passing earlier. As a climactic fodder for thought, Karam’s lecture on loneliness in these superficially connected times sounds gauche and forced, as if that’s the only reason why the callers call in. There’s something that’s to be said and shown for sexual gratification in anonymity and that ought to have been one of the layers in the story, for isn’t that one of the drivers for such an arrangement? But the director chooses to play it safe, making the calls a comic prop—at one point, I was scared if Khurrana would do an agony aunt-cum-lonely hearts’ club a la Vidya Balan‘s RJ turns in Lage Raho Munnabhai and Tumhari Sulu; come to think of it, that’s exactly how his character’s composited—making you moan for Pooja chérie, accompanied not with passion but an eye-roll.
The movie also misses another high point in its narrative: while Khurrana’s turn as Radha, Draupadi, and other female mythological characters onstage is revered, praised, and looked up to, the crowd seeks surreptitious pleasure in his Pooja; that irony is lost on the director and his writers. If Dream Girl still reaches muster, but barely, it’s because of the actors circling the plot. Abhishek Banerjee as Mahinder Rajput gets in a touch of innocent goofiness (though that was exploited to the hilt in the nervous riot Stree), while Manjot Singh as Karam’s BFF is superb, his timing swift and slick. Nidhi Bisht as the hard-nosed, misandric, lesbian editor rises above her cliched role and Rajesh Sharma is good as the profit-seeking, greedy Mauji. But it is Vijay Raaz as Rajpal Kirar, the wannabe-poet-but-in-reality-cop-on-the-beat who levitates the screen with his presence. He’s part-slapstick, part-riot as he moves inside the frame with a zesty punch. Note his scene where he confronts his wife (Neha Saraf) over gifts she’s gotten, and then slides onto the bed into the embryo position—it’s timing at its best.
In this hit-and-miss enterprise, you fish for scenes that stand out—in terms of comic lightness or drama ponderance—and you mostly come up with crumbs of hope. But there’s a drinking scene between Ayushmann Khurrana and Manjot Singh on the rooftop at night, and then they glance down to see Annu Kapoor sleeping peacefully on the cot. Khurrana’s Karam looks at his father lovingly and ruminates about all the sacrifices he’s made, quietly and unhesitatingly, and all alone. In that movingly wakeful scene do you realize that watching your loved ones as they traverse dreamland makes them look so vulnerable—never mind howsoever irritating they otherwise may be—you want to go give them a protective hug. The rest of Dream Girl, however, sleepwalks around 865/1 Gokul.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Dream Girl is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for mildly adult themes.
Director Raaj Shaandilyaa Time 2h 12 min
Writers Raaj Shaandilyaa, Nirmaan D. Singh, Niket Pandey
Stars Ayushmann Khurrana, Nushrat Bharucha, Vijay Raaz, Annu Kapoor, Manjot Singh
Genres Comedy, Romance