Cast: Parvathy Thiruvothu,Irrfan,Siddharth Menon,Pushtiie Shakti,Neha Dhupia,Luke Kenny,Isha Sharvani,Navneet Nishan,Brijendra Kala Director: Tanuja Chandra
A conservative young woman, widowed early in life and hanging on to the memory of her late husband, spends years allowing life to revolve around work and married friends who take her for granted. On a whim one day, she puts up her profile on a dating website. Jaya Shashidharan (played by Parvathy) is a successful insurance professional staying alone in her Mumbai flat while her younger brother — the only person she seems truly close to — studies abroad. She meets poet cum inventor Yogendra Kumar Dhirendranath Prajapati a.k.a. Yogi (Irrfan) via the site. On another whim, she decides to go on a cross-country trip with him to meet his ex-girlfriends and check if they still carry a torch for him as he claims they do.
(Possible spoilers ahead)
No one is more surprised by her uncharacteristic impetuousness than she herself. Dating is not her scene. It is clear that at some sub-conscious level she wants to break free of her own sobriety, but it is an old habit that is hard to shake off. Her confusion over her life-long sedateness can be the only explanation for why she takes off on a journey with a virtual stranger and takes other risks in this story that even the average adventurous Indian woman would not. It also explains why she spends so much of this expedition regretting being on it. Yogi is everything she is not — unguarded, sure of what he wants, speaking his mind, constantly laughing at his own poor jokes, so sociable that even a ride on the wrong train turns into a fun diversion. She has the appearance of knowing her mind, but does not. She says one thing, while her heart wants something else.
Most of what I have told you is already contained in the trailer of Qarib Qarib Singlle (Almost Single). Despite the sense of humour in some of the couple’s initial interactions, and the undoubted charisma of the lead stars, the film does not have much more to offer beyond the pleasures of that trailer. There is a kernel of an idea in there that could have been taken somewhere, but it does not come together as a cohesive, credible whole.
Froth and frolic notwithstanding, writer-director Tanuja Chandra makes a point here, although it is unclear whether that was her intention. In one scene, Yogi half-mockingly expresses admiration for Jaya’s feminism. Yet, the song and dance that is made about her lack of clarity regarding what she wants from him, treads the well-worn path of suggesting that behind all their bluster, there is nothing more that female feminists want than the comfort of tradition and a man. This silly stereotypical belief is implied and stated routinely in real life by those whose superficial understanding is that men and relationships with men are, theoretically, anathema to women feminists.
It is possible that Chandra did not intend to insinuate any of this, but the clichéd characterisation of Jaya and Yogi, no different from a standard Mills & Boon romance, ends up doing precisely that — not spelt out in black and white, but by implication.
Besides, Qarib Qarib Singlle’s lead actors Parvathy and Irrfan do not click as a couple on screen. It does not help that this supposedly off-mainstream film from a seemingly thinking filmmaker displays the same ageist sexism that we see in hard-core commercial Hindi cinema, in which 50-something male stars routinely play younger men and star with women half their age. The Net tells me that Irrfan is 50 and that baby-faced, chubby-cheeked Parvathy is 29, but in the film, Yogi is 40 (really?) while Jaya is 35 — an adjustment that has obviously been made to justify the casting. I guess it would be too much to ask this gender-prejudiced industry to pick a 40 to 50-year-old woman for a 50-year-old man, but Qarib Qarib Singllewould have been another film, and very likely a far more interesting one, if Chandra had gone down that path.
If Irrfan hit it off beautifully with Nimrat Kaur in The Lunchbox despite their age gap, it was because the film made no bones about being an older-man-younger-woman romance. If there were sparks between him and Deepika Padukone in Piku despite their evidently contrasting personalities, it was because their characters were positioned as an odd couple who were brought together by circumstances not of their choice, unlike here. Parvathy’s Jaya does not come across as a person who would naturally take to Irrfan’s Yogi, not merely because he is considerably older (although that would be a factor), not merely because they are chalk and cheese (though that may be a factor too), but especially considering that some of his behaviour towards her at first is creepy in its intrusiveness – the way he sneaks a peek at one of her online passwords at their maiden encounter, the manner in which he procures her cell number. Yet, before we can buy into their awkward pairing, they are off on the road together. It is all meant to be very cool and modern of course, it is just not convincing – more the sort of stuff too many married folk think all singletons do, too many older people think all youngsters do, and those who are not sure of their own cool quotient think cool people do.
On the technical front, considering that it is a road film, Qarib Qarib Singlle (QQS) fails to fully cash in on the picturesque locations it travels through, including Rishikesh and Gangtok, a stretch on the heritage train Fairy Queen and later on the Ganga. Must you dwarf the splendour around your protagonists to maintain a focus on them? A word of praise for two other departments though: Parvathy’s hair and make-up artist Ridhima Sharma has highlighted the actor’s prettiness without dolling her up; while Maria Tharakan and Kirti Kolwankar keep Jaya’s wardrobe attractive in a muted fashion even as they jazz up Yogi to amusing effect without turning him into a cartoon.
On the final balance sheet then, QQS is fun in bits and pieces mostly in the first half, but conflicted about what it wants to say and, therefore, tedious beyond a point. Parvathy – one of Mollywood’s most respected artistes, who has notched up a triumph in Take Off just this year – makes her Bollywood debut with this film. The wonderful-as-always Irrfan has the advantage of a colourful character here, but Parvathy, playing the comparatively dull Jaya, sinks her teeth into the role and delivers a performance that is worthy of way more than the written material at hand. A salaam too to her fluency in a language far removed from her mother tongue – she speaks Hindi with ease and a charming trace of a Malayalam accent, the effect enhanced by the hilarious smattering of Malayalam words that dialogue writer Gazal Dhaliwal has woven into Jaya’s lines.
Individually, Parvathy and Irrfan are sweet in QQS. Sadly, that is not enough.