Tanu Weds Manu, Anand L Rai’s much-liked rom-com that released in 2011, managed to break quite a few, if not all, shackles when it comes to predictable love stories. But, Tanu, the feisty, unconventional protagonist of the 2011 film is somewhat underwhelming and repressed in this sequel. Equally cut to size, barring a few kilos that he seems to have gained, is Manu (played by R Madhavan), the inconspicuous and ‘boring’ hero. The task of seeing through this rather ‘forced’ sequel is assigned to Kangana’s double avatar, Kusum aka ‘Datto’, the Haryanvi athlete studying at Delhi University who happens to be Tanu’s doppelganger.
Tanu Weds Manu Returns flatters to deceive right from the beginning. Starting four years after the marriage of the unlikely couple Tanu and Manu, the film initially ignites hopes of looking into the subject of post-marital discord with doses of earthy humor. When Tanu leaves behind Manu in a mental asylum in London and comes back to her den in Kanpur, you shift a little in your seat quietly telling yourself – okay, let the madness begin. However, right after the first half an hour and well till the end of the film, Tanu Weds Manu Returns makes you question the logic, the rationale of the supposed dissonance between the lead couple and their means to overcome it. So, it is rather unfathomable when Tanu who returns to Kanpur with same swagger and rowdy spirit that had made her stand out, miraculously melts down towards the end and almost surrenders herself in order to get back in Manu’s life. So much for her free spirit, unconventional ways, in-your-face attitude and walking in slow motion to Move on, Move On? Was the sequel made to somewhat tame or to show Tanu her true place?
On the other side of the spectrum is Manu’s character, which becomes worryingly one-dimensional, his motives become disturbingly unclear and there are stages in the film when you almost want to take decisions on his behalf – because, you know he is screwing it up big time! Manu’s character in this film, unlike in the prequel, is shockingly underwritten and his chemistry with both Tanu and Kusum is left rather untapped.
But, all is not unwell with Tanu Weds Manu Returns. All through the film’s 2-hour runtime, you are treated with some fine, humorous writing courtesy of Himanshu Sharma, who also wrote Rai’s previous films – Tanu Weds Manu and Raanjhanaa. That the writer has a penchant for earthy humor and whistle-worthy/crowd-pleasing one-liners was very much on display in Raanjhana, where he almost managed to make stalking acceptable with his superior writing. Here as well, you have glimpses of his talent, mostly displayed via hilarious lines delivered by a brilliant Deepak Dobriyal who reprises his role of Manu’s confidant and best friend, Pappi.
Another actor who gets the share of some fine writing is Mohammad Zeeshan Ayub as Chintu, a character that defines himself as ‘kandha’ or shoulder to Tanu whose heart’s been freshly broken. Chintu’s character is not just funny but is also very well-defined in terms of small town sensibilities and mannerisms. But, the biggest show stealer is Kangana Ranaut’s portrayal of a young Haryanvi athlete with short hair and slightly bulging teeth (hence, the nickname ‘Datto’). She is as believable and lovely as Datto that you almost root for her towards the climax despite knowing in your heart that the film is going to travel the predictable path. The way Kangana pulls of thick Haryanvi accent, body language and mannerisms of a young student cum athlete is truly remarkable. The film never caricaturizes her character or the overall Haryanvi connection, except for a brief sequence where you are preached about female empowerment and how everyone should let the women have some freedom of choice! Fake feminism, eh?
Interestingly, while Kangana pulls off the double role superbly, it’s her original character of Tanu that somehow gets overshadowed in the process. The blame for the same mostly lies at the writer’s door that who has not done justice to Tanu’s part except for some repetitive insinuations towards her being flirtatious, strong-headed and sometime almost cynical. R Madhavan, the greatest representative of common Indian lover – the one who is a little plump, ages ‘normally’, wears glasses, has a boring job, but is a sweetheart from inside – is suitably restrained, understated yet charming as Manu but is undone by the monotony of his character. That Madhavan is a brilliant actor is showcased on more than one occasion where the actor steals a scene or two without speaking a single word. His shy looks, roving eyes, conceived emotions, believable behavior are all at display but that solid meat at the center is missing.
The film’s soundtrack is not as memorable as its prequel’s; except for the ‘Swagger’ song that’s clearly the USP. The background score and cinematography are well-oiled to capture the small town milieu. Ditto for editing, this is crisp and smart, ensuring that you never real check your watch!
Tanu Weds Manu Returns would have been a brilliant standalone film but is a little underwhelming as a sequel. You may end up liking the film but you somehow do not empathize with or root for its principal characters – Tanu and Manu – which is quite strange. In fact, all your sympathies are directed towards Kusum, who ends up being a sacrificial lamb in what is nothing more than frivolous and undefined post marital discord between Tanu & Manu. Add to this, the several untied knots in this supposed love triangle. For instance – while you can understand Manu being drawn towards Kusum as she heavily resembles his wife, you somewhat keep asking yourself this question about Kusum eventually reciprocating Manu’s feeling– why would a young college athlete fall for a 40-year old, almost-fat, divorced man who initially stalked her liked a goon?
All in all, points to the makers for trying because rarely does Bollywood go beyond the standard template of ‘happily ever after’. Tanu Weds Manu Returns is that rare mainstream Hindi film that tries to dispel the myth of ‘all is well that ends well’ but eventually falls prey to the same predictable temptation of setting everything right at the end. The film is brave, ridiculous, funny, empowering, and powerless – all at the same time. Like how love is.
Watch it because Kangana Ranaut is in form, there are some genuine laughs and madness. You will most likely come out of the theatre with a smile on your face but you will realize that the charm of the original Tanu and Manu has eroded. May be that’s what happens when you are married off for four years.
Rating: *** Three out of Five (Good)