He's cream cheese. She's white chocolate. What a peculiarly milky combination, I thought at first. What I didn't realise is how these two pasty ingredients can combine to create a light, smooth-textured cheese cake.
And that is exactly how Karan Johar's Valentine's Day treat Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (EMAET), directed by debutante Shakun Batra tastes.
Rom-coms are an enduring albeit foreseeable genre, be it local, Hollywood or exotic. What sets them apart is how they play out in terms of treatment, imagination, voices, chemistry or soul.
EMAET is neither on the epic side like Dharma Productions' great, grand ancestors nor weighed down by an overload of pop culture references of those that define the genre. Instead the confection's appeal lies in its underplayed wit, quirky within plausibility protagonists and a refreshing disregard for conventional conclusions.
Almost like a big studio flick with an indie mindset. Almost.
Save for a passing acknowledgement to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the sensibility and reference points of Batra's brand of romance, co-written with Ayesha Devitre, are closer to the likes of (500) Days of Summer, Garden State and Annie Hall, reflecting on interrelated themes like, opposites attract, coming-of-age-aided-by-a-free spirited-girl, modern-day relationships and urban humour.
The writing doesn't have the smarts of the afore-mentioned films or the bite of, say, Farhan Akhtar's contemporary conversation but EMAET's endearing, unassuming quality and refusal to take the run-of-the-mill route, like Dharma's Wake Up Sid, makes it a much better film than I expected to see. What's more? It's barely two hours.
So you have two doozy characters living in the exuberant city of Las Vegas (captured splendidly in David Mac Donald's lovingly lit frames). Imran Khan plays Rahul Kapoor, a product of upscale, uptight, fussy upbringing (a subdued Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak in an exaggerated version of her character from Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai).
Along comes Kareena Kapoor as Riana Braganza, the hairstylist with red highlights, representing her carefree ways and relaxed rearing by a super cool Catholic family.
The curious case of extremes doesn't stop here. He drives a Prius. She rides a nitro scooter. He's lackluster. She's livewire. He got fired. She got dumped. And in a drunken stupor, the duo accidentally gets married. This is the part where any/all alleged similarities to What Happens in Vegas end.
So while Riana's two-years older than Rahul technicality is never a topic of speculation, their camaraderie is more Lucy-Linus than Lucy-Schroeder. She pulls his ears, pinches his nose, bullies him and gets away with everything. He's happy playing second fiddle. For all their attractive looks, together they make a platonic, U/A impression. But it seems deliberate and works.
Once in a while, you pause to ask why neither of them has a single friend? Okay so Rahul is a mollycoddled introvert but what about Riana? The girl's practically Miss Congeniality.
The ensuing episodes gradually unfold into disarming interactions between Rahul and Riana, revealing their contrasting traits, opening avenues for amusing banter against Amit Trivedi's zingy score, Vegas and its many gamble-free attractions. Considering it does little except provide fun props, glittery backdrops and a venue for the impromptu wedding, the city's contribution is largely superficial. And so once the gimmick bag is exhausted, the story moves to Mumbai.
Typically at this juncture, most rom-coms lose steam or turn trite but Batra allows Rahul and Riana's story to chart its own natural progression unafraid to see where it goes. The upshot is as real as our first introduction into the warm-as-a-bun, funny-without-trying-hard Braganza household. While on fun, the frequency of its well-timed, droll moments is much appreciated. Especially: Imran's disastrous date, his job interview at a Japanese firm or his hostile but hilarious attack with a piece of cutlery on a deserving candidate.
Imran is tailor made for this role. I read somewhere how he harbored a secret crush on Kareena for the longest time. No wonder the gleam in his eyes when he gazes into hers screams fan boy. Sweet thrills aside, his Rahul is a self-effacing underachiever and Imran's puny physique, stiff body language and understated hesitation score adequately.
Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is told from his perspective but belongs to Kareena Kapoor. After doing ornamental roles in films like Bodyguard and Ra.One, it's nice to see the spunky actress in her element again since Jab We Met. Though vivacious, her Riana isn't a child-woman like Geet but a free-spirited, unflappable adult armed with plucky impulses and scrumptious smile that helps Rahul come-of-age and EMAET worth a helping.