There’s something a little odd about watching a film set in the Christmas and New Year period in February (okay, so the festive period was only a month ago, but still, a month feels like a long time). But more odd – and perhaps welcoming – is seeing the character Rahul Kapoor grow up on screen.
Dharma Productions has given us this character – the romantic cool hero – in films since Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), when he was famously played by Shahrukh Khan. In Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Imran Khan dons the role of a 25-year-old Rahul Kapoor, who is a little bit geeky, reserved and socially awkward, but pleasant nonetheless. More delightful, zany and full of life, is Kareena Kapoor as Riana Braganza, who literally lights up the screen (a little like Kareena as Geet Dhillon in Jab We Met).
Rahul has been brought up by two rich and demanding conservative parents, played satirically by Boman Irani and Ratna Pathak, who have set up a life and career path for him in pseudo-strict ways. It comes as no surprise then that this is a major obstacle that Rahul has to overcome: he fittingly rebels against this upper middle class life map at a family dinner table where a future business and daughter-in-law deal is being set up.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
And why does the socially awkward Rahul rebel, and so passionately too? Because of Riana Braganza of course – who almost forces herself into his life. They become friends, and Rahul falls in love with her (a situation presented lovingly through a pastiche of the song “Koi Mil Gaya” from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai at the crucial interval moment). Alas, although Riana shows warmth, energy and an abundance of caring friendship towards Rahul, she isn’t in love with him. Are they just friends then, or will they fall in love, making for a happy and conventional Bollywood climax?
Dharma productions has over the past several years supported first time directors with scripts increasingly penned by writers who appear just as at home in urban India as they do in cosmopolitan cities of the West. As such, there are quite a few touching and contemporary moments in this film, filmed and given sound as part of a contemporary Bollywood that is increasingly vying for new audiences outside India and its regular diaspora territories. Riana is a hair stylist and cuts Rahul’s average hairdo to make him look trendy. But, more importantly, the haircut helps Rahul to start to look and feel better about himself. Both characters endure a period of unemployment, but a credit card inspired ideology ensures that the lush and expensive creature comforts of a latter day Bollywood film, set primarily in Las Vegas, are abundantly still on show through the mise-en-scène.
Annoyingly, this is the second Dharma release this year I’ve seen where the subtitles have been omitted from the songs (Agneepath being the first). No! What are you doing? The song lyrics are just as important a part as the dialogue in the film, and should be available for non-Hindi speakers. Come on Dharma Movies – sort this out, especially if you really are vying for new audiences for Bollywood cinema.
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is a charming and grown up film, worth seeing for Rahul’s development on screen (yes, we still get a soliloquy from him at the end – not really needed – just as we did when Shahrukh Khan also played this part in earlier films); and also for Kareena managing to look as radiant as ever, playing a character who has two false front teeth and a steel ball in one of her ankles. This is a friendship that permits love.
Rajinder Dudrah is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Manchester, U.K., and author of 'Bollywood: Sociology Goes to the Movies.’