Every once in a while, the big guns of mainstream Hindi cinema prove that they can still surprise us with a slightly hatke treatment of the age-old romantic comedy format. With Dharma Productions' Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, producer Karan Johar introduces a promising new director, Shakun Batra (remember the bespectacled Pappu from 'Pappu Can't Dance Saala' in Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Na?). The film has the usual predictable storyline but what stands out here is how it is handled and resolved by Batra, and how well it is performed by the actors, Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is a subtle, funny and mature film. It's finally a surprise from Dharma at par with their own 2009 film Wake Up Sid and Yash Raj Films' refreshing 2010 show-stealer Band Baaja Baraat.
The diametrically opposite character types are nothing new to a romantic comedy. Rahul (Imran Khan) is the tightly wound architect son of rich mollycoddling parents that dictate his every move and expression. Riana (Kareena Kapoor) is the free spirit, has a cool liberal family, and believes in adding that extra zing to everything she does or tries. The two meet by chance, then keep running into each other, until on a drunken Christmas night they get hitched in a Vegas chapel. Over the next fourteen days - until their appointment to get the marriage annulled - the two actually get to know each other. Again, nothing mindblowingly novel about this. But where you'd start expecting the film to meander through the usual melodramatic formula, Batra and co-writer Ayesha Devitre surprise us the most.
Rahul and Riana go through relatable situations and their constant banter keeps the film breezy (the runtime of under 2 hours helps tremendously too). At times their "will-they-won't-they" relationship reminds of the Ross and Rachel dynamic from Friends. And just to be clear, Rahul and Riana don't go in and out of relationships like Ross and Rachel do. A large part of the characters of Rahul and Riana are also fleshed out by their respective parents. Rahul's prim and superficial mother (a wonderfully fun Ratna Pathak Shah) and serious and interrogative father (a very effective Boman Irani) form a suffocatingly uptight family like none other. However, at times Rahul's repressed personality seems overdone, though Khan fits into the role perfectly, nuances and everything.
The lifeline of the film is Kapoor with her spunky portrayal of Riana. There will be comparisons to her Geet character from Imtiaz Ali's Jab We Met, but this time she is more mature. She even plays a character a couple of years older than the male lead, a minor detail which is something not often highlighted in such commercial fare. When she takes Rahul into her world - her madhouse of a family in Mumbai - she too makes more sense. Her family is charming, happy-go-lucky and are a bunch you'd want to celebrate New Year's with, which is what Rahul is eventually forced to do.
However, for all her spunk and helping Rahul come of age, Riana as a character doesn't really have an arc of her own. She remains more or less the same throughout. For that reason, the film comes off as heavily leaning on the male lead rather than a story about two people of equal importance. Riana's presence is justified as the catalyst that helps Rahul's character evolve.
Batra maintains a noticeable control over the film. It is full of warm moments, and since the characters are well defined, their reactions to the various situations are also genuine. Thankfully, he mostly stays clear of the ego-stroking prerequisite that many new Dharma films conform to - the obligatory homage to Karan Johar's earlier films. He slips up just once, throwing in a reference to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in one of the very few predictably mushy moments in the film. Besides that, Batra remains true to himself.
"You never do anything in excess. You are perfectly average," says Riana to Rahul at a significant point in the film. "And that's the best thing about you." It's the validation, the compliment (however odd) Rahul's been craving all his life. It makes him smile. However, what makes us smile even more is the perfectly sensible ending, which shuns the melodramatic formula of Hindi romantic comedies.
Shakun Batra's Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu doesn't chart any new paths or leave you sobbing (or with a headache, depending on how you react to Dharma films). It's simply enjoyable while it lasts, while it takes you on the journey of subtleties that define the story. Timed appropriately as a Valentine release, it's one worth watching without the risk of having a sugar overdose. It is perfectly average.