Here’s a simple question: If you have an actor who is popular and on top of their game and another who’s struggling to find success, who would be the obvious choice for the star of a film? It seems obvious that one would choose the first.
Now let’s rephrase the question: If you have an actress who is popular and on top of her game and an actor who’s struggling, who would be the obvious choice? For director Nikhil Advani, it’s the struggling actor.
In Katti Batti, Advani got Kangana Ranaut, the reigning queen of Bollywood who has helped make small films like Queen box office successes. Ranaut makes news with her performances as well as her honest interviews, both of which have helped her popularity swell with every release.
In contrast, Advani’s hero is Imran Khan, who was charming in his debut film, but has struggled ever since and hasn’t had a big hit since Delhi Belly. In his infinite wisdom, Advani decided to place the weight of Katti Batti on Khan’s shoulders, leaving Ranaut to look pretty and remain mostly silent.
Katti Batti is an original story made up of copied parts. A large chunk from 500 Days of Summer, some elements from Love and Other Drugs and generous dollops of classic Bollywood clichés have been patched together to tell us the love story of Maddy (Khan) and Payel (Ranaut).
Maddy falls in love with Payel because she can make origami cranes. Payel falls in love with Maddy because he can push a bike for the distance that would cost Rs 20 in an auto. He wants to marry her. She wants only “time pass” relationships. After some dithering, Maddy and Payel start living together, because Advani couldn’t think of any other way to let Manforce condoms get their moment in spotlight. Then one day, apparently without warning, Payel leaves Maddy. He’s heartbroken, but also convinced that Payel still loves him.
And so we embark upon a journey made up of flashbacks while Maddy tries to claw his way back to his lady love, with the help of (among other things) a turtle, a petshop owner named Roger and a guitar-brandishing sardar.
Somewhere in the middle of the first half, it might seem as though Advani has a loftier motive than telling a love story. Considering how erratically Payel and Maddy behave, it may seem as though Katti Batti is a film that seeks to create awareness for mental health issues. Because there is not one sane character in this film. Even the minor characters aren’t spared. One of Maddy’s colleagues is a woman who, in an effort to communicate she’s attracted to him, picks up his hand and plonks it on her breast. Maddy’s boss is a man who appears to think he’s in a vaudeville show.
Give the film a little more time and you’ll realise that the film is not a study of what love means to lunatics. It’s disguised marketing for a manufacturer of toilets. Or perhaps this is Advani subtly accepting just how bad Katti Batti is.
There are critical moments of the film in which toilet bowls appear for absolutely no reason. For instance, when Maddy meets Payel’s ex-boyfriend, it’s in a toilet. They could have chatted by the wash basis, but no. We see the ex-boyfriend pee in one cubicle while Maddy sits on the toilet in the neighbouring cubicle, comforting his turtle. This is not a euphemism. Maddy and Payel have a pet turtle named Milkha, which might be the only joke in Katti Batti that works.
Tiresome and inane, there are few redeeming qualities in Katti Batti although Khan tries valiantly to salvage the film. He’s not bad, but he lacks the charisma needed to distract an audience from the idiotic script. For instance, in one scene, we’re expected to believe drinking a few bottles of beer will induce such intense intoxication that not even a shower will wake you up. Not just that, that intoxication will linger to the point of making you slur and stumble around for hours. Considering the potency of this beer that Maddy chugs in his Ahmedabad college, it’s no wonder Gujarat is a dry state.
Also, your college friends will perform death defying stunts and make up an entire theatrical performance in order to make sure your parents don’t find out about your beer drinking. Because that’s what friends do, apparently.
Advani’s notion of connecting with young India is to set a large part of Katti Batti in an unnamed college and to drop words like “Facebook” and “viral” into the dialogues. So Maddy is told by his sister that it was always obvious that he and Payel were doomed: she’s got thousands of friends on Facebook, while he has just a few hundred. There’s also a band named after a Facebook page – FOSLA, which stands for Frustrated One Sided Lovers Association.
That Khan and Ranaut look mismatched and have absolutely no chemistry doesn’t help Katti Batti’s cause. Khan with his age-defying, boyish good looks is convincing as the college-going Maddy. Despite the absurdity of the script, this is one of Khan’s better performances even though he lacks charisma. Ranaut has a couple of scenes where she gets to act, but all Advani really needs her to do as Payal is wear outlandish clothes and sport hair that looks unnatural on her head.
Of late, we’ve rejoiced at Bollywood discovering its pro-actress side. Directors have given actresses powerful, dynamic roles and the ladies have delivered with elan. Katti Batti is a reminder that films like Queen and Piku are exceptions, and that few will back an actress the way, for instance, director Anand L Rai and Madhavan did in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Advani is one of the old guard, as is evident from the heroines he’s presented us with in Hero and Katti Batti. Not only are his heroines flouncy, juvenile women whose only saving grace is their innocence, they are just accessories for his hero.
Ironically, in reality, as far as Katti Batti is concerned, it’s Khan who is Ranaut’s accessory. Wait till Monday to find out if Ranaut’s charm and popularity can achieve the impossible and make up for Advani’s disappointing filmmaking and unremarkable hero. © msn