The Karan Johar myth would have it that if you draw in at least semi-bankable fresh faces, a catchy retro-sounding title, a director who is learning the trade and an added ethnic touch then the result will be akin to the huge successes Johar recently nailed with Student of the Year (2012) and 2 States (2014). The formula gets even sweeter if one can land, say, Alia Bhatt, whose first three movies were either incredible box office hits (Student of the Year, 2 States) or critically successful (Highway). Where it would all come together for Johar and Company would be the catchy-sounding Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. When the rubber finally hits the road, Johar ends up with an inarticulate and unimaginatively formulaic hodge-podge that amounts to a mess of a movie.
One of the oldest storylines in Hindi movies—a criticism leveled at the lack of script originality which originally landed Hindi movies the derisive “Bollywood” label—is i) Boy meets girl of his dreams, ii) Girl is already spoken for and iii) Boy must prove that he is the best suitor for the girl. That staid formulaic retread, and perplexingly heavy for a Karan Johar movie, similar to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ), this box-office juggernaut, which was all about camera angles and better directing rather than script originality, Humpty struggles from the get go.
Like in DDLJ, there is Kavya Singh (Bhatt) who, while in Delhi to shop for her trousseau in advance of her upcoming arranged nuptials, runs into the mischief-making campus doofus Humpty Sharma (Dhawan). As Humpty follows Kavya on her shopping excursions to various destinations he soon realizes that the real reason he is doing so is not to stalk, harass or intimidate—despite appearances—but that he truly, honestly, deeply loves Kavya, even though she can barely stand the sight of him. Not one to give up easily Humpty shows up, uninvited, at Kavya’s Punjab home—immediately sending Kavya’s entire clan into a tizzy and setting up a battle of wits between him and her overbearingly patriarchal father (Rana).
For DDLJ, the entire movie was summed up by Amrish Puri, the controlling patriarch, who let go of his daughter both symbolically and literally from an equally symbolic train about to pull out of a station. Humpty wants to have the same feel. What it gets instead is an always-angry girl’s father who will not listen to a wife (Deepika Amin) who is also not allowed to speak up. In the role of Kavya’s father Singh, the entire motivation appears to be to avoid the “mistake” that Kavya’s older sister (Mehnaz Damania) made by eloping with a beau of her choosing and then living to regret that decision. Singh would much rather that Kavya tie the knot with and move to the United States with the arranged-groom to be Angad (Shukla).
Because Humpty is steadfast on “proving” that he is better suited for Kavya, he goes to great lengths to find faults in the otherwise, well-educated, well-buffed and well off Angad. In one implausible scenario Humpty chases down the possibility that Angad is not as much a man (sic) simply because he could be gay. Placing himself as yawn-inducing bait to possibly “out” Angad, Humpty nearly succeeds in arranging a kiss between himself and Angad.
The pain does not stop there. When all else fails and the wedding cards have been printed without his name and the Kavya-to-Angad wedding plans are being finalized, Dhawan’s Humpty resorts to playing the I-am-weak-therefore-my-love-must-be-true trick. Pitiful. Dhawan as lead is playful and matched well with Bhatt. What is lacking is fully fleshed out story lines for the other characters, especially Kavya’s sister.
That pretty much leaves Bhatt to shoulder the movie. Bhatt is a credible performer and to her credit her mere appearance in a line-up sparks box office interest. With the elements working against her, Bhatt, cast appropriately in what is essentially a remake of umpteen other movies, finds that it’s all an uphill climb, adding woes to a movie that is more cringe-inducing than thought-provoking.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.