You: How is What's Your Raashee?
Me: Wrong question.
You: How long?
Me: Now you're talking.
Mr Yogi, Mr Yogi, remember that catchy refrain we would wait to hear on our Doordarshan-friendly television sets every single week? Now imagine those 13-episodes of Ketan Mehta's popular sitcom clubbed together for one single viewing. Well, that's how long What's Your Raashee? feels like.
It's the only goddamn obstacle in what could have been a socio-comic gem. What's Your Raashee? could have been at least one and a half hours shorter. Those thirteen songs could have been reduced to five. That ridiculous sub-plot about a marriage agent's illicit affair could have been done away with. There are just so many sequences that could have done with a snip here and a cut there.
As much as I appreciate his trademark idealism and eye for detail, filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker's weakness for lengthy cinema has always sparked debate. Personally, I had no issues with the running time of either Lagaan or Swades but Jodhaa Akbar did contribute in aggravating my spondylitis. What's Your Raashee? was never going to be a short film, considering its premise, inspired by Madhu Rye's Gujarati novel, Kimball Ravenswood, about an NRI guy coming to Mumbai to pick a perfect bride from 12 different astrological signs in ten days. What's the hurry, you ask?
Basically, the eligible bachelor in question, namely Chicago boy Yogesh Patel (Harman Baweja), is tricked into flying back home by his astrology-blind folks (an utterly believable Anjan Shrivastava and Manju Singh) to bail them out from monetary woes after their elder son (Dilip Joshi stumps you with yet another poker-faced winner) loses a fortune in gambling and owes an underworld don, among many others. The only thing that can save them now is his grandfather's inheritance, which Yogesh will procure only after he ties the knot.
Meanwhile, there's no overlooking a serious effort to shoot Mumbai as uniquely as possible. While there's no escaping a drive around Marine Drive and Fort, it's good to catch up with good ol' Kamla Nehru Park, the claustrophobic spaces of Bhuleshwar, lush greens of Powai while receiving a good glimpse of the upcoming neighbourhoods around Navi Mumbai lending the somewhat far-fetched set-up a much-welcome stroke of realism
The anticipation of watching Priyanka Chopra unleash her 12 conflicting avatars -- all Gujarati, however, keeps the optimism going. Establishing lot in less is still one of Gowariker's greatest limitations and hence the aforementioned scenario takes a little more than it should to unfold.
Also, if you have ever been (still are) into Linda Goodman's Sun Signs or Love Signs, spotting popular zodiac traits is one guilty pleasure you can never have enough of. Too bad most of the signs as projected in the movie are nothing like I expected them to be.
What's her raashee? Aries. A small-town girl, Anjali is nothing like the famously fiery and capricious Arians you've heard of. She's diffident and tacky but good-naturedly so. She laughs with a snort, speaks with an accent (Mun-dates, Toos-dates) aims to please and tries a tad too hard.
What's my verdict? It's a sweet and awkward 'kind-of' first-date like episode. The pace is just right except for the last few seconds of forced sentimentality. Plus, the man who plays Anjali's father cracks you up with his 'Myself Kachda bhai' exuberance.
What's her raashee? Aquarius. Kampala-bred Sanjana is easy on the eyes and attitude. Hard luck Yogesh bhai, she's already taken.
What's my verdict? Of all the 12 meetings, this one rates the most uneventful. Girl and boy meet at a wedding, take off on a long drive, play the guitar, hum a song, nothing happens.
What's her raashee? Gemini. She's all about chewing gum and playing romance-romance. She's still in college. Ah!
What's my verdict? Surely there's more to Kajal than a piece of gum. Unfortunately, you never find out.
What's her raashee? Cancer. With her long, open tresses, dull pink sari and an expression so grave, she's almost spooky Why so serious? You got to hear it from Hansa's mouth.
What's my verdict? While you may find Hansa's melancholy a bit too intense to understand, Gowariker spoils any chances of knowing her better by swapping conversation with another song.
What's her raashee? Libra. Forget all that talk about the legendary Libran charm, this one, here, borderlines on a hard-nosed vamp. And it's not just because she demands a prenuptial agreement. Right, Thakkar?
What's my verdict? Priyanka Chopra pays a tribute to The Devil Wears Prada in her own sleek style. But just when you are about to conclude, engaging and funny, another song follows.
What's her raashee? Pisces. Chandrika appears to have watched too many reincarnation dramas. Now she believes she's a part of one.
What's my verdict? Unless you have Chandrika's memory, all you'll come out remembering is her dad reiterate 'Humari koi shaakha nahi hai" and one really long, dreary song.
What's her raashee? Leo. A terribly moody dancer. Want to rub her the wrong way? Say no to ice golas.
What's my verdict? Post-interval, What's Your Raashee? has begun trying your patience. And that this section begins with a dance number, however intricate, does not help. Plus, Mallika's meeting with Yogesh ends rather abruptly. Did she really have to get this worked up? There's no time to muse, another raashee awaits.
What's her raashee? Scorpio. Sexy siren in the garb of plain Jane, Nandini sees Yogesh as her green card ticket to model on the runways of America.
What's my verdict? Quite amusing, despite a song. That's saying a lot.
What's her raashee? Sagittarius. This hot, bespectacled astrologer has stunning predictions in store for a dumbstruck Yogesh.
What's my verdict? The foolhardiness is too laboured and the presence of a seduction number most unprovoked but Priyanka's convictions and Harman's naivete makes it work.
What's her raashee? Virgo. Easygoing and warm, Pooja is a doctor wanting to make a difference to the underprivileged lot.
What's my verdict? Mini Swades, anyone? There's an endearing air about Pooja and Yogesh's chemistry and you can't help but root for her.
What's her raashee? Taurus. Rich heiress plays crazy to dissuade money-minded suitors.
What's my verdict? It's unfortunate that the best track, Su chhe of What's Your Raashee? has to make its entry so late into the movie. Also, you never understand why Gowariker shrouds her character in mystery.
What's her raashee? Capricorn. A Ballika Vadhu inspired kiddo who understandably bawls at the mention of marriage.
What's my verdict? In a genre like What's Your Raashee, the last thing you expect is to raise social issues. The well-meaning ploy only confuses the viewer as to how to perceive this constantly mood-shifting caper.
Then again, idealism has always been a coherent streak in almost all Gowariker features. Here too it voices itself through Yogesh and his experiences. Be it his non-dowry stance or disgust for child-marriage.
While it's all good, the script often contradicts itself. At one point it treats infidelity and running into mafia with cheek, at others it acquires a critical tone. Loopy screenplay (by Gowariker and Naushil Mehta) aside, the humour is often subtle and refreshing; Gowariker shows a flair for light scenes and creating atmospheric nuances. And while Sohail Sen's soundtrack, on its own, is lilting, A R Rahman's presence is sorely missed. He complements Gowariker's emotionality to perfection.
Even then, What's Your Raashee? is ultimately a performance-oriented film. A terrific ensemble cast from the world of television and theatre collaborate to its feel-good believability which lasts as long as their screen time. As for the man behind Yogesh, Harman Baweja is sincere in his endeavours but not so fascinating a presence to resist getting overshadowed by his leading lady.
And boy, what a lady! Priyanka Chopra transforms into 12 new skins with astonishing distinction, voice and spirit. The actress reinvents herself into this unique individual every single time ranging from batty, bashful and boisterous. This is simply her show. If only it weren't three and a half hours long.
P.S: Guess who inspired the length of this review? :-)