One year ago, Yash Raj Films (YRF) delivered a surprise hit, after a few years of stagnation. Big budget, stylized stagnation mind you, but stagnation nonetheless. Maneesh Sharma's directorial debut Band Baaja Baraat (BBB), starring newbie Ranveer Singh and YRF darling Anushka Sharma, brought a solid story and real world charm to a YRF product after a while. BBB emerged as one of the best films of last year, making both Sharma and Singh two of the most promising new talents in the business. Since such a team did wonders on its first run, YRF try it out again with their latest release Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, but they don't quite the hit the jackpot with this one.
Designed as a "rom-con," Ladies vs Ricky Bahl follows a suave conman Ricky (Singh) who changes identities as he moves from one city to another duping impressionable women and amassing wealth. In Delhi, there's Dimple (Parineeti Chopra), a loud-talking noveau riche brat. In Lucknow, our conman charms the calm, well-mannered cloth trader Saira (Aditi Sharma). And in Mumbai he traps strong-headed corporate executive Raina (Dipannita Sharma). The similarities with other con films are evident throughout, especially YRF ventures like Bunty Aur Babli, Dhoom 2 and Badmaash Company, which become reference points in some of the con acts. When the three women find one another as victims of fraud, they band together to get their revenge, pitting Ishika (Anushka Sharma), a fast-talking and incredibly persuasive department store sales girl, to con him back.
One of the film's strengths, and something that seems to be Maneesh Sharma's forte, is how grounded the characters are. Sharma (the director, since there are three other Sharmas in the film), screenwriter Devika Bhagat and dialogue writer Habib Faisal all work together make the characters, minus Ricky, instantly relatable. The women all work ordinary jobs and talk and behave like we all do. Sharma also fleshes out the settings well, giving Delhi, Lucknow and Mumbai their distinct appeal.
However, the holes in the script begin appearing towards the middle of the film and continue through the second half. While the women specifically decide on not involving cops in their revenge plot, it still seems far-fetched that no institutional authority would have caught wind of any of the con acts throughout. As Ricky orchestrates scams in real estate property, merchant trading and corporate transactions, it is difficult to believe that police investigators remained completely oblivious to the repeated offenses, especially after Dimple's father is arrested as a result of one of the cons.
Ricky as a character is half-baked. Singh plays the character with confidence and charm but is limited to playing with his various avatars. Beyond that, we never really know who Ricky is, his background, or why he does what he does, barring a hurried and simplistic explanation in the climax. Also, it is difficult to believe that such a seasoned conman could so easily be conned himself when the women join forces to bring him down. The second half veers into predictable territory when Ishika is brought on board to trap him and get the stolen money back, but Ricky parts with it a bit too conveniently.
Among the cast, the three supporting actresses steal the spotlight from the film's lead pair. Director Sharma seems to have a knack for introducing talented new actors and does it again with this film. Parineeti Chopra, a former executive at YRF and also cousin of Priyanka Chopra, delivers a supremely confident and lovable debut as Dimple from Delhi. She gets the rich daddy's girl-Delhi brat act just right without going overboard, with impressive comic timing and the best punchlines. Dipannita Sharma does well as the dominant character of the three, balancing the tough professional act with the anger of a woman wronged, without coming off as bitchy. Aditi Sharma as the simple and demure Lucknow girl manages her character's steady and subtle evolution into a gutsy yet level-headed woman with grace.
The lead pair, however, is forced to take a backseat. The Ranveer-Anushka track lacks the spark of their previous film, and is used much more as eye candy, especially in the Goa segments. In execution, their predictable love story (this is hardly a spoiler), is rushed and far more cliched from a director who in his previous film so brilliantly showed the lead couple sleeping together but making nothing of it. Here, the couple go to a beach party, dance together, steal a kiss, and then are madly in love right after. It's simple too masala a treatment from a director who showed with his first film that he could bring a good dose of realism back into masala.
Ladies vs Ricky Bahl isn't a boring film. It's kept breezy throughout, with enough going on to keep the audience distracted. However, it definitely misses the charm of Band Baaja Baraat, the complexity of emotions, the fleshed out characterizations, and the repeat value. It's a confident second film from Sharma and co, a decent "time pass" flick, but doesn't shine among this year's crop like Sharma's first film did last year.
Image courtesy of Yash Raj Films