Love at first sight has never been so unashamedly obvious. The straight-laced protagonist decides a sedated woman he's seen for just five minutes is the one he must marry. Later, his childhood friend, also about to marry, describes how it took him just 3.5 hours to fall for his belle. Anand Rai's Tanu Weds Manu is a colorful and playful wedding drama that suffers from a wafer-thin plot and lack of chemistry between the lead pair, but survives simply because it is an endearing film with a lovable supporting cast, and provides a delectable experience of small town India.
Rai’s protagonists are designed to be polar opposites. They are also destined to eventually get together and fulfill the promise of the film’s title. The fate of the film, thus, lies in how we get to the ending and more importantly, if we’ll care enough about the characters to forgive the predictability of the story. Here, Rai teeters dangerously between throwing in too many ridiculous plot twists and delivering some refreshing treatment of the situations. However, Tanu (Kangana Ranaut) and Manu’s (Madhavan) tangled relationship kicks off on a shaky note with the scene where the all-too-simple NRI doctor groom falls in love with a sari-clad bride-to-be who has passed out after taking sedatives. Creepily, he even takes a photo of her unconscious state and steals a kiss. Thus begins Manu’s inexplicable infatuation for Tanu. His only reaction is to smile in front of her, while hers is to selfishly play games with his heart.
Tanu remained an enigma to me throughout. While one appreciates that Hindi film scripts have graduated from the regressive image of demure, spineless brides, Ranaut as the super-liberal, neat-whiskey-chugging, cigarette puffing, non-committal object of Manu’s affection sadly remained difficult to understand or like throughout. Rai and writer Himanshu Sharma’s motives with the characterization are clear – the earlier stereotype of NRI men being culturally corrupted and taking advantage of the pure and innocent Indian lass (Subhash Ghai’s Pardes being a glaring example) has been completely inverted here.
Rai stumbles by trying too hard with this reversal of stereotypes. The NRI male lead – Manu – is so shy and simple in his bespectacled niceness that he becomes a one-note character. Tanu, on the other hand, displays an intriguing package of character traits, even throwing in a fleeting hint of her bi-curious sexuality (cleverly handled by Rai). Yet her characterization also hits an extreme note and you’re left wondering why these two should ever be together (I envision a sequel – Tanu Divorces Manu). And Ranaut’s awkward diction just makes it worse.
The film works, oddly enough, because of its ambience. The people and places around Tanu and Manu make the film enjoyable. The sidekicks deserve special mention. Deepak Dobriyal as Manu’s loyal buddy Pappi is a delight with his spontaneity. His reactions to the various situations evoke the most laughs. Eijaz Khan as buddy #2 Jassi also adds spunk to the goings-on, while his new bride Payal, played confidently by Swara Bhaskar, proves to be a much more interesting and dynamic character than her best friend Tanu. Visually, cinematographer Chirantan Das delivers a rich and vibrant journey through North India, from Kanpur and Delhi to Vaishno Devi and Jalandhar. The camera lingers on the rooftops of housing colonies, dives into the chaos of the streets, and engages with the wedding revelry of the households.
The ambience is enhanced significantly by the music too. Composed by newcomer Krsna with lyrics by Rajshekhar, the songs support the milieu and situations comfortably. ‘Sadi Galli’ and ‘Jugni’ both add ample Punjabi zest to the film while the other songs are more situational with refreshingly conversational lyrics.
Tanu Weds Manu will be categorized in the same genre as other charming and revamped rom-com wedding flicks Jab We Met and Band Baaja Baraat. And for the most part, Rai succeeds in making the story and situations reflective of today’s India. But, unlike the other two films mentioned, this film lacks the crackling lead pair that would have made it a much better experience.