** Lots of spoilers ahead. I strongly recommend watching the movie first.
Let me get the hyperbole out of the way. Kangana is a bonafide movie star. Her dual role might go on to become one of the most iconic double roles in indian film history. Kangana struts her stuff so breathtakingly in the movie, you are left agape at the confidence, the talent and the swagger. The last time a female performance that chewed everything around her was Kareena in JWM, but Kangana went a step ahead and just took my breath away.
Returning to the movie at hand. This might be the first movie that integrates the double role gimmick in its very theme to the point that it feels a very organic part of the film. TWMR has all the ‘realistic’ and ‘authentic flavors’ trappings of our multiplex movie era, but it has that larger than life ‘filmy’ blood running wild through its veins. Its like RNBDJ on steroids. It takes the ‘placeholder’ theory of RNBDJ and runs wild with it going into bizarre territories and asking really uncomfortable questions about perception of a person’s identity. Is the other person just a placeholder for few archetypes? How much of your appearance constitutes your identity? Can two people with same behavioral be perceived as same identity? These might look basic questions because truly, they are very BASIC questions regarding perception of human identity.
What’s the ‘placeholder’ theory? There are few qualities, few behavioral traits that we like. When we find a person with these traits we fall in love with them. But for some reasons things don’t work out, and we find someone else with the same traits, we will fall in love again. The opposite person is nothing but a place holder, a container. Any container with few things we like, we start liking it. It never is about the actual person. Here I’m still being a bit high-brow and talking about traits, but many times the opposite person just has to be the opposite sex. Recall Manu’s candid confession in TWM where he acknowledges that he has been a lonely, who never had much contact with women and the only option was arranged marriage. So at this point you bring any decent looking (this caveat is not always true) female and our Manu is done. It’s as simple as – he has a void in his life, and he needs a female to fill this void. That’s it. All other nuances we add are nothing but embellishments.
TWMR explores this theory by introducing a Tanu look alike, Datto. Manu, who is currently on the edge of his troubled marriage, sees Datto and falls for her (Initially he thinks it is Tanu in disguise trying to woo him – wish fulfillment). The bizzare part here is the ease with which he falls for her, and almost starts believing its his wife re-incarnated minus the edge (read imperfections). Within no time he is at Datto’s big brothers door step asking for her hand. The casual handling of this part is almost WTF. Anand Rai (director) and Himanshu Sharma (writer) could have easily fallen flat at this point, but amidst all this ‘placeholder’ going-ons, they flesh out Kusum as a strong and distinct character. She might be a placeholder for Manu, but for us the audience, she is a really likeable character with a very distinct identity. On top of all this, she falls for Manu too – again a placeholder of an urban gentle well-educated guy for an innocent village girl. And the Tanu-Manu circle completes when we come to know that Raja Awasthi (Tanu’s ex-lover) has also found Datto after 4 years of girl-hunting, just because she looks like Tanu.
It is obvious that appearance assumes the most important part of perception of an identity. TWMR, doesn’t break any new ground here, but the honest belief and conviction of the characters that they will get what they seek through appearance in spite knowing otherwise, is heart-breaking. At the end of the day this is just one more coping-up mechanism but the contrast of context – Raja lost out on Tanu and still yearns for her, while Manu, exasperated of Tanu, wants her to come running to him and apologize – gives it a poignant touch.
In all this, you might ask, where is Tanu? Her coping up mechanism is altogether different. She is the wild child. Her coping up involves hooking up with all ex-lovers, drinking and dancing, while deep within wanting to let go and get back with Manu. Once she comes to know of Manu’s remarriage plan, she channels all the quintessential hindi film ‘aashiq’ traits of self-pitying drinking, ‘mehbooba ki shaadi mein haat batayenge, nachenge aur saat phere dekhke hi jaayenge’. And also will make sure Manu watches her burn (sun raha hai na tu, ro raha hoon main – it’s not about just crying, it’s about letting the person know that you are crying).
TWMR also finds time to get feminism into the whole mix. Along with the aforementioned reference of Tanu being turned into a ‘aashiq’, the movie has a full sub-plot created so that a gender equality speech can be delivered by Rajesh Sharma’s character. Another not-so-preachy speech is given by Datto, which in my opinion are the most pertinent and progressive words I’ve heard from a hindi movie with respect to feminism. It might be easily interpreted as anti-feminist. When Tanu humiliates Datto on her lack of class (clothes, language), Datto hits back saying, that Tanu has till date lived and enjoyed on her Dad’s and husbands’ money and doesn’t have the mettle to earn money on her own, compared to herself, who is self-sufficient based on a sports quota admission in college. Its instantly biting as well as insightful on our cultural patriarchy. And Like all great hard-core commercial Indian movies, in TWMR too, all crowd pleasing dialogues, monologues are backed by solid dramatic power of the scenes by themselves, which make it easy for audience to be blinded by the drama and not snigger at the monologues.
Recalling Tanu Weds Manu, I still remember rooting for Raja Awasthi to get the girl over Manu. Manu has to be the most weak-spined of leading men in movies. He has simply no real conviction, he just goes with the flow, slave to his misguided whims, always indecisive, in short the everyday urban beta male. He needs the women to be in control, he needs a Deepika Padukone or a Kangana Ranaut to hold the reins. His false courage and helplessness towards the end of the movie is really off-putting. Watching such a character amongst strong ones (Raja, Tanu, Datto) is a real downer. Which brings me to the end of TWMR. I was instantly very disappointed. But I really can’t think of any other way the movie could have ended without a false note. And I’m sure writer-director too felt bad for Datto, and that’s why gave that rollicking last moment to her – ‘who dekh kabootar!!’
PS: After a long time, I was completely swept by a song in a hindi movie. Great build-up, great choreography and watching kangana have a good time had me smiling throughout the song. It felt like seeing a good ol’ hindi pickchur after a long time.