Friday, July 24, 2015

Tanu Weds Manu Returns—Of Having A Heart Of Gold

Anand L. Rai's Tanu Weds Manu Returns begins by showing us the video recording of the wedding of Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and Manu (Madhavan), the point at which the first film Tanu Weds Manu had ended. If one has ever seen a recording of a wedding ceremony of an acquaintance, he can say this is exactly how garish these recordings are in reality. The bride poses coyly by resting her face on her hands, and the pictures of the smiling groom rotate around her. There are children who grab ice-cream scoops with their bare hands. There is a lecherous drunk uncle who is hitting on his own 'samdhan' with a shamelessness that would make Alok Nath of Aaj Hamare Dil Me from Hum Aapke Hain Koun squirm. The groom's friends delighting the attendees with their breakdance moves. It is these wonderful details that the video and the film captures splendidly.
The song Sun Sahiba Sun from Ram Teri Ganga Maili plays in the background, and it is only later during the ending moments of the film will the importance of this song be reaffirmed. It is Manu's wedding with Tanu's look alike Datto (Kangana, again). Manu's first wife Tanu is dancing to the beats of Ghani Bawri in her husband's wedding to another woman. I have not seen Ram Teri Ganga Maili completely but the plot synopsis tells us that Ganga (Mandakini) dances at the wedding reception of her own husband Narendra (Rajiv Kapoor) on Ek Radha Ek Meera. Few seconds later, the film shows us a poster of Pakeezah, and again, it highlights the significance of Tanu dancing in Manu's wedding. In Pakeezah, too, the courtesan Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari) danced at the wedding reception of her lover Salim (Raj Kumar). It seems that our Ghani Bawri Tanu takes inspiration from the reel-life heroines. After all, only a filmy person would say, "Abhi to humein aur zaleel hona hai," to express her pain. 
It is now four years later. Tanu and Manu are standing in front of a mental asylum in a cold London suburb surrounded by bare trees, which symbolize the barren joyless state of their own, almost on the verge of ending, marriage. Their marriage seems to have hit the rocks, and they go in for marriage counseling at St. Benedict's Mental Asylum in Twickenham, a place that looks as dreary as it could be. Manu is forcefully put in the asylum, and Tanu comes back to Kanpur. She tries to rekindle her love with Raja (Jimmy Shergill). Manu is released by Pappi (Deepak Dobriyal), and he goes back to his home. He goes to Delhi for a lecture and sees Datto, who looks like his wife Tanu. He follows her and thinks that he is in love with Datto, though he is actually in love with a better version of Tanu. He decides to get married to her, but as we all know, to make matters complicated, Tanu returns to his life.
Coldness in marriage
In all honesty, I never liked the first film much. I was not convinced that Tanu actually loves Manu. There was no strong justification that led me to believe that she is head over heels in love with him like he was with her. Even with Raja, she only agreed to get married because she wanted to be a rebel and marry a guy who is not liked by her father. She does not care much about boyfriends and said that they come and go, and on being asked then, why did she get a tattoo of Raja's name, she said it is only a surname and she can always find someone else with the same name. She has sexual relationships with anyone, even the neighborhood rickshaw wala. In fact, she said that she can even like girls, especially those that her father does not like. She is a person who does not care much about love. When her parents agree to get her married to Raja, granting her wish, she, then, changes her mind and wants to get married to Manu. That is why the thought of Tanu in love seems laughable. Tanu and Manu are totally opposite to each other, as Pappi Bhaisahab says. "Aap band darwaza, bhabhi khuli hawaa. Yaar, arhar ki daal me ajinomoto pad hi nahi sakta hai.

It is also worth noting the similarities between Tanu Weds Manu, and Jab We Met. Both of them had a similar plotline. A flibbertigibbet and a rebellious heroine in love with another man; where a humble man comes into her life and helps her meet the man she loves, but she eventually realizes that she does not love whom she thought she did. There are many resemblances in the characters of Tanu and Geet, and that of Manu and Aditya. But Jab We Met had a proper justification of the change of heart of Geet where Anshuman's treatment of Geet made her miserable, and she realized that Aditya is the one for her. In Tanu Weds Manu, we never know the reason for Tanu's sudden change of heart.
Tanu and Manu's marriage was doomed from the beginning, and it is exactly what happens in the second film. She gets bored of him. He thinks she has bipolar disorder. She accuses him that he is getting out of shape, and he responds that he was not Hrithik Roshan even before their wedding. But, I found Tanu Weds Manu Returns much better than the first film. It is based on the idea that would you accept a partner without her flaws, or learn to live and love her flaws. Manu was never ever in love with Datto, he was only in love with a better version of Tanu. Even while talking to Datto, he took Tanu's name as hers, and gets reminded of his memories with her. Though the film answers the question, where love is accepting someone with their flaws, I still feel that Tanu and Manu will struggle to remain happy. She will again get bored, and he will again start hating her rashness. She will love him but she will stop liking him. She will love him only as a mammal. The film gives us hints as well in the end in the tie scene, which is why, of late, I have started thinking that couples who are too dissimilar with each other are doomed more often than not. Like Naina and Bunny in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, though Geet and Aditya survived because Geet became more grounded after her unhappy tryst with Anshuman.
The title Tanu Weds Manu Returns is in itself a curious thing. Although it means that a couple of Tanu and Manu are back to their shenanigans, in many ways, it could be interpreted as a reversal or a return of the events of the first film Tanu Weds Manu. In the first film, it is Tanu who is getting married to Raja and a glum Manu decides to take part in her wedding celebrations; in this film, it is Manu who is getting married to Datto, and the dejected Tanu decides to take part in his wedding celebrations. There are some sequences that seem to be a reversal of the first film. In the first film, at one point, Manu is standing on the terrace looking at the engagement of Tanu and Raja, while Tanu glances a look at him. In the second film, Tanu is standing on the terrace watching the engagement of Manu and Datto, while Manu glances at her. It is Raja who lets go of Tanu in the first film, and it is Datto who lets go of Manu in the second film. When Tanu asks Manu, if he loves her, we see a picture of Che Guevara in Tanu's room in the first film. When Datto asks Manu, if he loves her, we see a picture of Che Guevara in Manu's room in the second film. It might be just that 'returns' could well be a return and a turnaround in the sequences of the first film. In a lovely touch, at one point, a hoarding outside Datto's Delhi house reads, "Mera Return."
Che Guevara
Che Guevara
Mera Return
At one point in the first film, when Manu and Tanu go for an outing, he chooses for her a set of earrings, which she later even wears, and there itself we knew she would accept him in the end. In this film, Manu, when he is exploring the city with Datto, again buys earrings for Datto. However, Datto refuses to take them at first, then takes them, but then returns them to him, which will exactly be how their story would pan out in the end. It's also wonderful to observe that the earrings in both the films match the personalities of Tanu and Datto. Tanu gets a pair of large, shiny, over-the-top, and dangling earrings, which can also be the way to describe Tanu. Datto gets gold stubs in the shape of a heart, which could also be the way she can be described, a stable (undangling) person with a heart of gold. It is a lovely metaphor.
Datto has a heart of gold
There is an interesting and larger theme of madness running through the film. The first scene itself is based on a mental asylum. Inside the asylum, Pappi laughs by saying that two crazy guys are playing chess. The film at many times hints that marriage itself is a certain kind of madness, for instance, Manu's father suggests ways to cope with marriage. Manu calls Pappi as crazy when he suggests that he wants to marry Komal. When Datto comes to meet Manu, she narrates the incident of her young brother fighting with the bull, and calls her brother 'crazy'. She, then, calls Manu as crazy to get married for the second time even when the plaster of the first wife is not yet out. An entire song Ghani Bawri is dedicated to Tanu where she is openly singing that she has become crazy. All these people are totally crazy where we just don't get them. In the earlier movie, Tanu was mad which she even says to Manu that she was always crazy, but in this film, even Manu was mad. In the Batman movie, The Dark Knight, the Joker famously remarked, "See, madness, as you know, is like gravity, all it takes is a little push." Talking of Batman, the film at two places calls Tanu a Batman. First, when Chintu meets her, he says, "Aaj se pehle aapke baare me sirf suna hi tha. Dekha pehli baar hai. Jaanti hai Tanu ji, aap is mohalle ki Batman hai." Later, Tanu says to Chintu, "Dikhate hain tumhe Batman ke saare legends." It is a fascinating comparison. At a later point, Pappi says to Manu, "Don't go to the dark path, understand?" Finally, in the end, Tanu calls Datto as a joker. It is like she is the Batman, and her rival is the Joker. As it happened in the original film, where the Batman was victorious, but the Joker overshadowed him in every aspect, the joker Datto steals the show in our desi fight with Batman Tanu even if she got Manu. If Batman was not enough, at one point Raja says, "Band karo Phantom banna."
I was also intrigued by the running gag of orange in the film. At the beginning of the film, when they are fighting, Tanu says that Manu has no 'ras' in him, and he shoots back by saying, "Aur koi main santra hun jo ras bhar jayega mujhme." Later, when he is roaming around with Datto, he orders two orange juice. Finally, Pappi says to him, "Dekho bhaiya yeh Datto thi, juice nikalne ki machine, aur aap the ek santra."  I don't have a strong reasoning behind this but I found this funny, and the fact that Tanu keeps calling Manu ginger and potato brings some wonderful layers.
There are some shades of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and the climax reminded me a lot about Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. But the film that I kept thinking was Lamhe. Tanu Weds Manu Returns has interesting parallels with Lamhe, in which a man falls in love with another woman, and then, later, a woman with the exact same face falls in love with him. Whether Viren was in love with Pooja or was in love with Pallavi's face which Pooja reminded him, is a matter of debate. Similarly, Manu says that he does not know if he is in love with Tanu or Datto, who only looks like Tanu but we know that he is in love with Tanu. In a matter of coincidence, there is also a Lamhe reference in both films. In Tanu Weds Manu, at one point, Tanu says to Manu that sitting in front of the fire should not remind him that she will start singing like Sridevi did in Lamhe. In the second film, when Manu is watching Datto, she walks towards him, and he thinks that she is coming towards him. He takes out his hand to greet her. Funnily, she just passes by him, which was also similar to what happened in the famous scene in Lamhe. In that scene, Pallavi runs to meet Siddharth, and Viren thought she is coming to hug him, so, he opens his arms, but she runs by him and hugs Siddharth. Pappi Bhaisahab though feels that is not Lamhe but Lolita, "tharki logo ki sabse pasandida kitaab hai Lolita." In fact, the Lolita reference is quite true. A 40-year old man in love with an innocent college girl, who perhaps has no idea of sex, and thinks artificial insemination means babies are artificial. After all, she herself says, "I am an old school girl.
There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in the film and these are not slapstick but have a kind of dark humor. Manu says that the last time they had sex was in 2013 on Bhai Duj. I mean it is creepily outrageous. Or the scene when the IT guy comes to see Tanu's cousin, and someone remarks that these days hair rearing is common and that he should also get it done. Or the scene where Chintu says to Raja that he is a 'kandha'. Or the scene when Manu and Paapi are following Datto in the bus, Paapi says that if the guys get to know that they are following these girls, then they will beat them and 'pipni baja dalenge'. Later, when they go to visit Datto’s brother, he is actually holding a 'pipni'. But my absolute favorite moment in which I laughed out so loud that I threw water that was in my mouth on the screen was when Datto goes to kidnap Komal, and tells the girls something in Haryanvi, "Kal ki mariyo, bahar Shah Rukh Khan aya se." All the girls run out like he actually came. It was hilarious. Shah Rukh Khan makes everyone go crazy. If this was not enough, the girls come back and one of them says there is no Shah Rukh Khan, people are only making a fool out of them. On seeing Payal unconscious, they say, "Arey yeh to neeche hi so gayi." One has to see to realize the absurdity of the scene. And, I loved the dandiya version of Saadi Gali. It is awesome. 
The thing that I did not like was that there were many unnecessary and unresolved subplots. The kidnap of Komal was the weakest part of the film in which they did not even show what actually happened to Komal. The film tries to make some points on artificial insemination, inter-caste marriage, and the empowerment of women. There was too much in the second half when it was not really required. The plot with Jassi and Payal did not work much for me. Also, the behavior of Raja flummoxed me. I thought he will kill someone, but his behavior was unlikely as that of a local goon. The reason of Tanu meeting all her ex-boyfriends is a mystery for me. 

While the earlier film was full of old songs, there are hardly any of those in this one. At a lovely moment, a heartbroken Tanu is walking the streets of the village with a drink in her hand, while Geeta Dutt's Ja Ja Bewafa from Aar Paar plays in the background. It has been an interesting year for Geeta Dutt. Bombay Velvet also paid a tribute to her. 
The characters of Raja and Chintu are pretty interesting. Like Chintu comes and overtakes Tanu's room, he does the same in Tanu's life. He is in love with Tanu, and tries to forcefully grab her in his life. Raja is a builder. At one point, he says he does not care whether it is JK Cement or Ambuja Cement, because all he is wants is "Eent se eent judni chahiye bas," like he will settle for either Datto or Tanu, as long as someone like her is there in his life. And, yes, I am ordering this 'Khooni Mangalsutra' book that Chintu is reading. I loved Deepak Dobriyal as Pappi Bhaisahab (love the way Datto calls him that), too, notwithstanding his hamming in a few scenes.
Yes, how can I forget the mandatory Kangana praise? She is simply outstanding in the film. If for nothing else, the film has to be seen just for her sparkling portrayal of Datto. At times, we forget that these two are the same woman. There is immense grace and poise in Datto, and she expresses her grief to no one but herself. The much darker shade of lipstick of hers to that of Tanu in the wedding shows that her love was stronger as she had the ability to let go of the person who she loves, so that he can find happiness. She is like the Meera, who will always love Manu, and decides that she will not get married again. But I do hope she finds the love she deserves. She is a remarkable woman. Watch her in the scene where she says, "Precaution (sic) is better than cure." Kangana, tera swagger laage sexy.
My shade (of love) is stronger than yours
There is a remarkable scene in the film. At one point in the film, during Manu and Datto's engagement, two women relatives of Datto are wearing a veil and clicking a picture on their smartphone of the ceremony. I found it to be a fabulous scene that speaks volumes about a new aspiring India. It was only a month ago that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated a #SelfieWithDaughter trend on Twitter after Sunil Jaglan, the Sarpanch of Bibipur village in Haryana, started a campaign to award people who posted selfies with their daughters. Critics of the Prime Minister remarked that there existed 'no front-facing camera phones' in the 'illiterate' parts. Somehow, the scene with the women in veils holding a smartphone demonstrated how far away from reality some people are, and how true this is, considering the film was in production much before that. It is a great coincidence that both the film and the selfie campaign have a strong connection with Haryana.  It is this small town milieu that the film gets it right perfectly. 
In the film, we see the walls painted with English-speaking courses at so many places, that I lost count after some time because English is a language that would provide the people the ladder to climb up in society. At one point, Komal says to Pappi Bhaisahab that he is like her WhatsApp friend, giving another indication as to how much social media has empowered women. Komal's father beats up Pappi in the first film when he saw her talking to her, but with the use of WhatsApp, she can freely talk to boys. Datto says that she has come from her village with many dreams. She never likes the consolation prize. She would rather lose. This is an India that wants to rise higher and demands respect. In addition, the film shows us how deeply religion is a part of life. From calendars with the pictures of deities to swastikas painted on the walls to the celebration of kanjak to an Om statue in the car, religion is a part and parcel of life. I am no fan of Narendra Modi but it was he who tapped into these classes, of young aspirational Indians, as well Indians with a predominantly Hindu ethos, in the 2014 parliamentary election which propelled him to a massive landslide victory. It is this India that the Congress party is still struggling to understand. It believes in giving doles, and playing the card of blatant minority appeasement, because of which this aspiring middle class gave the party its worst-ever defeat. 
If you read some reviews of the film, there is a particular trend in the Left-Liberals, the group that hates Modi, that is severely critical of the film. Anand L. Rai faced huge opprobrium for Raanjhanaa (I was one of those who was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of stalking in that film). He defended it by saying that he was portraying reality. At the same time, films of A-listers (read Salman Khan) are not any better at the representation of women, but there is not much criticism hurled at them. An Anurag Kashyap film with the choicest of Hindi abuses is fine because he is an 'auteur'. It shows the struggle that the Left-Liberals are also facing with a rapidly changing India. Hence, the popularity of Adarsh Liberals on social media. If you followed the elections last year, Shekhar Gupta did a fascinating series called Writings On The Wall in the Indian Express that perfectly echoed the sentiment and milieu expressed in this film. At the risk of hyperbole, which I am pretty adept at, in some ways, Kangana Ranaut is like Narendra Modi who carried an otherwise average script on her shoulders to massive success at the box office, like Modi took an average Bharatiya Janta Party to victory. Both of them are outsiders belonging to the small town of India, and understanding that India so brilliantly. Earlier this year, Sharat Katariya's Dum Laga Ke Haisha also represented this small-town India with finesse. At one point in the film, a mother asks her daughter to watch an adult film with her husband to excite him, and a father gives his son a pack of condoms on his wedding night. Whosoever says this is an illiterate India needs to wipe the bias from their tinted glasses. Because this India wants to happily sing, "I might be sentimental, but don’t get so judgmental."

Two interesting pieces here with some points I did not think about and should have thought about.
1. This one in Mint where the writer compares Tanu's state of hair to her state of freedom.
2. This piece in the Economic and Political Weekly on capitalism and gender issues.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Meri kashti bhi doobi vahan, jahan paani kam tha."
— Tanu, Tanu Weds Manu Returns


  1. This is one exceptionally nuanced review of the film. It is further beautified by your exceptional knowledge of Hindi films, both recent and old.
    I was particularly impressed with the comparison between Tanu Weds Manu and the Batman film. It is here that I identify the striking analogy between the two films. The makers of the former probably didn't even intend this, or probably did, but this certainly adds to the wonderful dichotomy of nuance in the film. And as we all know "Art conceals more than it reveals".
    What further adds to the subtlety is the very much advertent correlation with classics exemplified by frequent symbolic references. Be it the Batman epithet assigned to Tanu (and your further comparison between the two films), or the strikingly uncanny resemblance to Pakheeza and Lamhe, or the ode to Geeta Dutt's morose music, or even Pappi's Lolita quip (which by the way I take offence to, as it trivialises Nabokov's magnum-opus to mere perverted literature).
    What I initially found repulsive about the film (read vitriolic aphorisms and lavatory humour), are things which further attract me to the film now, for they now seem intrinsic to the portrayal of rustic North India.
    All in all, a wonderful review. Makes you think deeper about an already impressive film.

  2. very well written...kangana is very awesome.. and how he played both character so nicely..the earing thing was very nice. and the batman -joker. so brilliantly potrayed.. thanks to you i understand about the orange colour importance..

  3. they used SRK names atleast 4 times and all scenes were hillarious.. i cant wait for - anand l rai movie and also a news of SRK - kangana & sanjay leela.. it will be best

  4. Yes, I can't wait for Anand L. Rai's film. So excited. And, thanks :)


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