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EK MAIN AUR EKK TU. Director: Shakun Batra. Players: Imran Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak, Music: Amit Trivedi. Theatrical release (UTV).

Karan Johar has a knack for directing mega-budget box office hits (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, My Name is Khan). For movies that Johar produces under his Dharma Productions banner, however, he prefers modestly-budgeted, smartly made romantic comedies that even turn tidy profits (Dostana, Wake Up Sid). If Dharma’s Agneepath qualifies amongst their heavyweights, then Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (EMAET) is an appropriate mid-market counterbalance to round out the banner’s 2012 repertoire.

While the novelty factor of setting his movies in the United States may have ended with Kabhie Alvida Na Kehna  (2006) and My Name is Khan (2010),EMAET is one more American hand for Johar to play. An overtly Americanized script, co-written by Batra and Ayesha Devitre, nicely ping pongs between Vegas and Mumbai.

Rahul Kapoor (Khan) is a mousy, introverted architect who has a run in with the chatty, slacker hairdresser Riana Braganza (Kapoor). He has just lost his job and is afraid to tell his domineering, rich, snobby parents (Irani and Pathak). She is destitute and needs a place to crash. After a night of drunken carousing, Rahul and Riana wake up to find themselves, in true Vegas fashion, married to each other—even though they barely know each other’s names.

The Americanization of the plot line is credibly etched with Rahul being pink-slipped (in a delayed newsflash, the Great Recession finally hits Hindi movies! Ed: I think Desi Boyz got there first!) and Riana being kicked out of her apartment for not making rent. To drive home just how hip and mod they are, Rahul and Riana somehow find the wherewithal to use skateboards as the favored mode of transport along The Strip—traffic be damned—and when not boarding, they constantly carry mugs from a popular franchised coffee beanery in their hands—as if the truest identity for being “American” is having a certain brand of coffee mug in your hand. The description “smartly made” gets a bit of a workout here.

The plot’s most Hollywood-influenced narrative, ironically, is in the part that takes place in Mumbai. Riana’s family in Mumbai is a strikingly “non-conventional Hindi movie” family. They don’t care that Riana brings a (nice young) man home. They don’t care that the two may may have dallied in premarital salad tosses. They don’t care who Riana marries, provided that she is happy with her choice. The fact that an unmarried single woman is given this much choice to control her destiny is, without a doubt, new territory for Hindi movie storytelling.

The other element to consider is the interplay—and curious role reversal—in how the male and female leads are drawn up. It is Rahul who is meek and struggling under his parents’ domineering control of every aspect of his life, down to his tie selection and haircuts. And it is Riana who is allowed to stay out late and is trusted to be on her own. She is older than he is (yes, script anarchy right there!) Also, both of them are comfortable with seeking psychiatric help. Their sophomoric, psychiatric couch attempts at self-actualizing are an absolute hoot. This whole gender-neutralization, carried out with surprising effectiveness, is satisfying and humbling to watch.

As Rahul’s snobbish parents, Irani and Pathak marvelously nail the caricatures of 1-percenter, nouveau riche desis playacting as victims of their own excess. As Riana’s grounded middle-class parents, Zenobia Shroff and Akshar Verma capture the full flavor of naturally gray, slightly pudgy, urban middle modernity.

We don’t mind that Kapoor and Khan each build upon one or two of their previous roles.

Kapoor’s role is one credit card short of the bossy runaway she played in Jab We Met (2008) while Khan is an only slightly better-dressed version of the uber-nerd campus misfit from his breakout role in Jaane Tu… Ya Na Jaane (2008). If Karan Johar and company continue to devise slower-faced, not-too-deep entries like EMAET, we will keep coming back.

EQ: B+