Potentially interesting fare that ends up being clichéd

Amit Sahni Ki List begins with a song. It’s not one of those songs that either progresses the plot forward or springs from a context. Here, the leads of the film are conspicuous from their absence. The song appears just for its own sake: it features a bunch of girls sashaying around, singing, “Aise hi hun main, I don’t care.” It’s an item song at best and a pretentious inventive narrative style at worst. A few minutes later, the song disappears — as if it wasn’t even there to begin with — and we are introduced to Amit Sahni (Vir Das). He immediately breaks the fourth wall and begins recounting his life story to us.

We soon get to know the film’s characters in substantial detail. The father keeps to himself and spends his days reading the newspapers. The mother has an unhealthy obsession with her son’s marriage and peppers her conversations with chat-speak — BTW, IMHO, BTM (“Behenji turned Mod,” she explains to her son in one of the conversations) — in order to fit in. His friend is a clueless buffon who wants to be a chef (and is obviously inept at it). Do you recogonise these set of characters? I believe you do. Because these are not people; they are cardboard cut-outs that litter myriad mainstream Bollywood films revolving around urban eccentricities. A bunch of adjectives don’t define people; their contradicting complexities do.

Amit Sahni needs to get married, we know this much. His mother keeps needling him over the phone and tries setting him up with other girls without much success. On the other hand, Amit also has a list of his own that enumerates the qualities of his perfect match. But the film shies away from answering this question: does Amit want to get married? In fact, who is Amit? The film doesn’t quite satisfactorily answer this question as well. We know that his perfect girl should be a “Tendulkar fan”, “36-24-36”, not “too kinky”and so on. So is Amit just another typical flippant 20-something? The film doesn’t think it’s important to dwell on that either.

It’s not difficult to see what the film is trying to achieve: through Amit’s “list”, it seeks to understand our perception of perfection, and why that question doesn’t lend itself to easy, immediate answers. But perceptive thematic underpinnings don’t automatically translate to a well-made film. Some of the devices that Amit Sahni Ki List employs — Das’s frequently breaking the fourth wall (at the cost of interrupting the scenes), lengthy interior monologues — become tiring after a point; its attempts at being funny come across as laboured but most disappointingly, the film doesn’t really revel in its silliness.

The film acquires some sort of an identity when it introduces its female protagonists. Even though Mala (Vega Tamotia) doesn’t have most of the qualities Amit is looking for, they still connect beyond the boundaries of his preconceived notions. To the film’s credit, you can at least understand them falling in love with each other. These portions seem to say, “There’s no one us. We sometimes become the people we are with.” And then saunters in the second girl Devika (Anindita Nayar), who’s indeed perfect for Amit. She’s a Tendulkar fan, pretty close to 36-24-36 and they connect instantly. Amit doesn’t know what to make of this new situation he finds himself in (he’s already engaged to Mala).

More than Amit’s conundrum, the film is a fine example of how Bollywood defines a “perfect” female lead. Consider this: we are told that Mala is “excited, mad and cute”; Devika, on the other hand, is sexy, professionally stable and “perfect”. If you have seen umpteen Bollywood films that romanticise about how perfect girls are supposed to be, you can easily guess who Amit will end up with. Pity, a film that questions the notion of perfection ultimately gets caught in its own loop.

Originally written for The Sunday Guardian 


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