Chetan Bhaghat’s books enjoy not only instant bestseller status but also a remarkable number of them find success on the big screen. After 3 Idiots, Kai Po Chhe and Hello, 2 States is the fourth movie spun off from a Bhaghat bestseller. Bhagat’s stories primarily reflect on Indian youth coping with the hits and misses of contemporary, mostly urban, life in India. Staying true to the book, Varman’s directorial debut 2 States explores the indelicate topic of Indian on Indian bigotry with a light-footed, amusing take that is well-structured and yet, not necessarily, ground-breaking.
Originating from Bhagat’s own experiences, while attending India’s most prestigious technical and management schools in Delhi and Ahmedabad, respectively, Krish (Kapoor) and Ananya (Bhatt) meet on campus, engage in some hanky-panky, fall in love and agree to get married. A thunderous social gauntlet comes crashing down on their wedding plans in the form of both sets of parents raising objecting to Krish marrying Ananya. The reason: Krish’s family is Punjabi and North Indian and Ananya’s family is Tamil and South Indian and, to the parents, never the twain shall meet.
Bigotry in the name of intra-Indian regional differences is not new in Hindi movies. Back in the day, the sentiment initially started as brave attempts at tackling “caste” differences on-screen. This often touchy subject has been successfully exploited as far back as 1936 in German-born filmmaker Franz Osten’s classic Achhut Kanya. Later takes included Jyoti Swaroop’s classic 1968 comedy Padosan and K. Balachander’s 1981 star-crossed hit Ek Duuje Ke Liye. The most remarkable take on this subject was no doubt Bimal Roy’s 1959 classic Sujata, starring the incredible Nutan.
Given how uncomfortable this topic makes some Indians even in 2014, there is little surprise that those works veered towards polar extremes of either comedy (Padosan) or violent endings (Achhut Kanya, Ek Duuje Ke Liye), which made Roy’s Sujata stand out even more for softening a powerful social commentary. 2 States initially has nowhere to go. Then the comedy takes over, mostly at the hands of Krish’s acid-tongued mother (veteran Singh) spouting her one hundred and one insults for people of South Indian origin and being rebutted by Ananya’s less temperamental mother (veteran Revathy) spewing aunty-variety venom in the other direction.
At heart, this peculiar Indian form of bigotry is often a subtler form of racism that —as is tapped into in 2 States—turns on skin color. This north-south sub-continental divisiveness in some circles carries as much social stigma to this day as inter-racial couples faced in America until not too long ago. Just as things are about to go out of control, a ray of hope is offered in the form of self-examination of the strained relationship that Krish has with his father (Ronit Roy) and the lack of communication between Krish’s parents.
Because the story is narrated through Krish’s sessions with his psychologist, Kapoor’s bumbling persuasiveness has to take hold for the story to gel and eventually, it does. Because so much rides on Ananya’s parents coming around, Bhatt’s family-sensitive portrayal while in the presence of her parents has to work and eventually, the fence mending takes hold. And even though Singh and Revathy are fine in their poison-spewing modes, it is Ronit Roy, as Krish’s distant father, who, by tackling head-on the sacrifices that must be made to keep his family together, like he did in Udaan and Boss, manages to steal scenes left and right.
There is gorgeous cinematography. The seafront Pondicherry temple setting is fabulous. Shankar Ehsaan Loy have Arijit Singh and Chimayi Sripada crooning “Mast Magan,” which lingers long after the end credits roll. So what’s missing? Even though the pieces are just right, the overall movie feels only slightly above average—which is an affront for a movie co-produced by Karan Johar (along with Sajid Nadiadwala). 2 States makes a decent conversation piece and, alas, not necessarily the best, most original or most convincing take on a complex Indian social phenomenon. Skip this and rent Sujata instead. n
EQ : C+
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.