De De Pyaar De is a mixed bag. Starting off as a breezy older man-younger woman sex comedy, tipping over into an emotional family drama, and trying to sustain a progressive stance while keeping up the randy quotient: it’s both hit and miss.
Only in Bollywood will a 50-year-old be labelled a ‘buddhha’ not once, but several times over, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Ajay Devgn plays said ‘buddhha’, Ashish, a wealthy London-based man-about-town whose chance encounter with twenty-something hottie Ayesha (Rakul Preet Singh) plunges the two into that elemental space where age is just a number, and hormones do all the happy jigging and jogging.
Up until then, once we get past the considerable shock of an A list Bollywood star embracing his middle age minus the spread (Devgn’s washboard abs are as consistent as his pumped-up slo-mo walk, with the Singham background music swelling up), things are as they should be in a raunchy rom-com: the older, experienced, urbane man taking it slow as the younger woman first plays hard to get, till the time she doesn’t. Devgn plays it sardonic-cool, Preet Singh is bouncy, flouncy and flirty, and the classic man-woman chase has its moments.
Post-interval, the film turns into a sludge of tired stereotypes, with the filmmakers finding scenes in which to insert old conservatism. Ashish the serial dater suddenly and improbably discovers he has left-over scruples connected to his older, forgotten life which includes a still-attractive wife (Tabu), two grown kids, and a couple of disapproving grandparents.
The film from here on gets tonally confused. Is it trying to beat the drums for equal gender roles in the dating game and strong women who refuse to roll over whenever the men in their lives want them to? Or is it going nudge-nudge-wink-wink at the temerity of ‘oldies’ to go after curvy young things, especially when there will come a time, as a dialogue so succinctly puts it, when the older man will be capable of ‘doing nothing’? Haha, or hawww?
Ashish’s son and daughter seem to exist only to point fingers at their errant dad, the former sighing over Ayesha, the latter turning into a screeching banshee. Poor Jimmy Shergill appears in an ill-conceived sketch of yet another middle aged fellow with misplaced romantic notions (he has his eye on Manju, the abandoned wife). Hoary practices of tying a ‘rakhi’ to denote a ‘bhai-behen ka rishta’ between two people who are clearly not siblings is a lazy, overused trope. And the presence of Alok Nath, who is facing a MeToo charge in real life, as a moralistic older man, is both discomfiting and ironical: it’s perfectly apt that the creepiest line in the film, which he delivers while ogling at a young woman, belongs to him.
The calling card of the film is in its backing up its older man-younger woman pair. When Ashish’s pal-cum-shrink (Jafferi in a walk-on part) tells him– it is not a gap, it is a generation gap– we dutifully chortle. But for a Bollywood blighted by its unshakeable anti-aging male star syndrome, of which Devgan is a long-time practitioner, the creation of this couple is significant. Going forward, can we get more ‘mature romances’, in which the filmmakers are not forced to find sleazy jokes as a padding-up device?
The real takeaway is, of course, the character played by Tabu, who speaks up for her former partner and the shared responsibility of broken relationships. And for herself. A lovely moment the actress fully owns will resonate with all the women who have to be strong and resilient all the time, and who wish, just for once, they could also be silly and giggly and carefree. There’s also a pleasing expressiveness in Rakul Preet Singh’s playing of the younger woman who falls for a much older man. She’s sexy, but she’s also got feelings.
You wish the film had been braver in its intention of creating a really cracking rom-com, instead of playing its clichés for a laugh. At his best, dialogue writer Luv Ranjan has the ability to pull off the difficult task of making actors sound like real people when they are in stormy, messy relationships, and those are the moments in which De De Pyaar De does best. Pity it didn’t have more of those – Agency.