Tanu Weds Manu Returns

Director: Anand L Rai | Year: 2015

As I sit down to pen my immediate thoughts after seeing Tanu Weds Manu Returns, I wonder whether I should start by doing aarti to Goddess Kangana or by taking the foot-dust of sage Himanshu Sharma. Since I have done some or the other kind of writing all my life, I pick up the latter. ( Kangana, no, I cannot aspire to be like you. ) Take a bow Sharma Saheb, aapne toh tabiyat khush kar di. I happen to be reading Oscar Wilde’s collected plays at the moment ( ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’, since I know ‘Importance Of Being Earnest’ more or less by heart.) and I am amazed how this guy built his career as a major playwright by sprinkling these brilliant epigram, bon mots , on-liners, whatever you call them, over serviceable plots of social comedy. Himanshu Sharma can match Wilde one-liner per liner, and he does one better: he comes up with heart-breaking insights into man-woman relationship that are cunningly cloaked under hare-brained tomfoolery lest people avoid his films as ‘serious’. Here I must be thankful to most reviewers who gave no clue as to the film’s serious content and left me free to be sucked into the film’s poignant core without any prior warning.

In fact the film is as meaningful a musing on marriage you will ever find on screen, and not just in Hindi films, and it gets established right in the first interrogation scene in the mental institution, so reminiscent of the similar scene in the Iranian film ‘A Separation’. The marriage counsellor is replaced by the mental institution to create comedic momentum. But like the vacuum birth scene in 3 Idiots it is not as far-fetched as it is made out to be by some – people do go to NIMHANS with marital problems. Manu’s father sums it up thus, “You fall in love. You get married. You get bored. Then…? Then you can drink it with water, or ice…or even neat. Bas kisi tarah jhelo.” It helps that the father is played by someone like KK Raina. That’s the thing with Anand L Rai…he picks up such consummate actors for every small supporting role and crafts every little scene featuring them with such care…Raja Awasthi, Pappi, the lawer-tenant, Tanu’s father, Kusuma’s brother, Jassi, Payal. Needless to add Madhvan as Manu is pitch perfect even though he may be a bit like a tuber of ginger, as Tanu says, growing in any which way. Tanu’s antics and Kusuma’s charms won’t have worked without our lovable and believable Manu.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns 1

Coming back to the opening interrogation scene, it establishes how so much misunderstanding in a marriage is a result of Rashomon vision of the same event by two different people.

“Spark. From where will I produce spark? I am not a lighter.” “You are a pervert, you kissed me when I was sleep? You did or did not?” “Sex? The last time was in 2013 on Bhai duj.” Bhai duj! That’s the Anand L Rai and Himanshu Rai touch; and the whole film is peppered with similar gems.

The best thing about the film is that the double role of Kangana as Tanu and Kusuma does not turn out to be just a gimmick but a device to reflect on the nature of love and obsession much in the way it was treated in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Manu is enticed by Kusuma because she looks like Tanu but with a different persona inhabiting the visage. Raja Awasthi too agrees to the match after four years of search only because she looks somewhat like Tanu whom he doted on. (He says he is a building contractor. He wants brick to join with brick, and for that he needs cement. Doesn’t matter if it is Ambuja or JK.) And in the end when Kusuma is sitting over a soft drink with Raja Awasthi, she asks him, “When you look for the third one , will you again look for someone who looks similar? (Thankfully Anand L Rai does not let Kusuma accept Raj on the rebound. As she tells Manu, “I am an athlete and a consolation prize can never make me happy.” She by now has realized neither Manu nor Raja love her or want her for who she really is. This visage and identity angle is further explored when Tanu puts on a Pixie-cut wig and tries to move like Kusuma. But like the Deepika character in Cocktail says about Diana Penty who has enticed Saif away from her says, “This hair and all I can do, but from where will I get that adaa?”

“ Can no one hear the sound of a heart breaking if it happens with lot of funny gags and one-liners strewn all around?” There are a lot of hearts breaking all around in the second half and in case we weren’t paying heed because hum log ‘thoda busy mein thay’ laughing at the gags and lines and all that, Tanu brings us to attention with that superbly times smashing of the bottle in the restaurant with the scream, “ Can’t you see, we are talking!’ Kusuma makes us cry when she goes behind the curtain and breaks down after proffering this piece of advice to Sharmaji / Manu: “What do they tell you before take off on a flight? First put on the oxygen mask on yourself then help your neighbor. So you take care of yourself and your lugai first, then think of me.”

But she gives it to Tanu when she tries to slight her with her taunts about her being an inferior substitute for the real thing – “ Reebok nahin toh Ribuk?” – with the rejoinder “ I can feed my family rotis , unlike you who buys her underwear with the husband’s credit card.’ Below the belt, but like a true athlete, punched where it hurts.’

I like the way Tanu has been painted as an incorrigible flirt. When she asks the rickshawalla does he remember her ever and he replies’ Kabhi kabhi’, she asks ‘Kab?’ “ Kab?’ she repeats as he blushes . She uses her charm on the lawyer-tenant who forgets to call her didi when he is especially happy; and she happy to see for herself the power she still has over Raja Awasthi. But it is so mature of the director and the writer to avoid being politically correct and impose some ‘ goodness’ on her. She is everything Kusuma accuses her of being and yet this is the woman Manu had fallen for and this is the woman she is going back to. You don’t fall in love seeing someone’s character certificate.

Of course it is going to be the Groundhog Day once again as revealed by the blue tie that Manu wears to the disrupted second wedding and we know the rumblings will repeat. That concluding scene is such a lovely punchline (as effective as the final four commandments given by Aamir to Ranbir in PK) for a film that maintains a very high level of witticism throughout.

It is vastly superior to the first part in almost every department. Firstly, there is the powerful central theme and a coherent narrative built around it. The filmmaking too is more measured with a more sophisticated narrative style. Songs here are not used as item songs. The heart-stealer ‘ Banno Teri’ is picturized very naturally without trying to focus too blatantly on Kusuma and her killer moves which we can see from miles any way. The song ‘I am sentimental. Don’t be judgmental’ is used so intelligently, morphing from its funny version in a Haryanvi accent to proper version when the mood is meant to be poignant. There are many beautiful songs used only in the background in snatches. There are many scenes staged with perfect detailing even though they are not critical to the narrative. Take the scene where A drunken Tanu collides with another stray drunk on the road. Or the scene where Pappi is shouting “ Koi mera kyun nahin soon ta ‘ as he is trying to get a quarter of booze among a crowd of drunks. These add texture to the film, making it feel so lived in.

But more than anything else it is the triumph of good writing. You do not want to miss a line because no line is ordinary here. If Kusuma’s brother wants to castigate his clansmen for casteism, he says, “ Is your biradari that of dinosaurs that by marrying outside it will make you extinct?’ Raja Awasthi expresses his exasperation at Manu trying to marry his betrothed thus: “ Woh toh original bhi rakhna chahta hai, aur duplicate bhi.’ But there are even more subtle and elegant ones. Take this line by Tanu said to Manu for example, “Hum thoda bewafai kya kar di aap badchalan ban gaye!’ (Look who is talking!) Many years back I used to watch Deewar again and again just so I could remember EVERY line spoken in the film. I am absolutely determined to do so with Tanu Weds Manu Part 2. The writing is that good.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns 2

But if I started by partaking of the foot-dust of Himanshu Rai, there is no way I can close without doing a full-scale aarti of Goddess Kangana. We have seen Sridevi in Chaalbaz and Lamhe, we have seen Hemamalini in Seeta aur Geeta, and we have seen Nargis in Raat aur Din. But no one can hold a candle to this tour-de-force – no one has made us double up with laughter and tug gently at our heart strings at the same time the way Kangana does. This is a performance that will be remembered for a long time.

Responses to Comments

The film is far more sophisticated than you give it credit for. It is NOT TRYING to make us root for Tanu and Manu. It is abundantly clear they are NOT going to live happily ever after.  Manu’s blue tie is as broad hint at this as the director can throw at us in the end. And he has prefaced it similarly with Manu’s father’s cynical take on marriage at the start.

And believe me it is not you alone that was feeling bad for Datto…every single person seeing the film feels bad for her. Because that’s the way the film has been written. We ARE MEANT to feel bad for her. In fact I was crying more than laughing all through the second half…sad at the realization of the melancholic truth about human relationship.

Cathy Gibson puts it across well in her review.

She starts with :“ Tanu Weds Manu Returns is the feel-bad romantic comedy of the year. Lighthearted moments are undercut by a cynicism about the institution of marriage that leaves one feeling melancholy at best, depressed at worst.”

Then she goes on to note, “It hard to know who to root for in this movie. Tanu and Manu are both incredible jerks to each other. Tanu is arrogant and lacks empathy. Manu is selfish but wishy-washy. He doesn’t even possess enough will to make his climactic decision on his own, without prompting.Worse, TWMR makes the characters’ circumstances so dire that it’s impossible to resolve the story in a satisfying way.”

“Just because they are married and apparently it is obvious that marriage should be saved is not a good enough reason for me.” That’s not good enough reason for anybody. And that’s not the reason that is built up in the film. As I had said in my write up: “But it is so mature of the director and the writer to avoid being politically correct and impose some  ‘ change of heart’ or ‘ goodness’ on her. She is everything Kusuma accuses her of being and yet this is the woman Manu had fallen for and this is the woman she is going back to.

And as Kathy Gibson goes on to add: “Director Anand L. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma give themselves only two possible outcomes: either Tanu and Manu get back together, or Manu weds Kusum and says good-bye to Tanu forever. Neither option feels good, nor are both bad for Kusum.”

“On a side note, the director, according to me, tries too hard to make the movie a fun ride and laugh riot all along”,  you say.

Absolutely.

Otherwise this tragic and ugly truth of human relationship would have been impossible to swallow for even the most hard-hearted among us.

More Responses 

Another meaningless piece by another out-of-work, humourless feminist. “This narrative then leads us in the film, amusingly of course, to the cruel victory of the sexy siren Tanu over the ‘ plain Jane’ Datto, confirming the triumph of Chauvinism. ” The same feminist brigade had cried foul when the ‘plain Jane’ Diana Penty was shown triumphing over the ‘ sexy siren’ Deepika Padukone. There is no pleasing these full-time protesters. Not especially when your film is successful.

Everyone feels sad for Datto. Because everyone is meant to feel sad for Datto. That’s the way it is   written. If Manu had married Datto the same feminists would have written, ” Look how thsi male-chauvinist director gets away with showing a man in his 40′s marrying a young girl half his age. all because his wife wants to have some fun.  Would a similar choice be available to a woman? Our films will never show a society and women’s place in it is changing. The good, well-behaved girl will win, and the drinking, dancing girl will lose, no matter how much society changes.

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