Surprises, they say, come in small packages. I went into this odd-sounding film Amit Sahni Ki List, honestly, with zero expectations.
I came out pleasantly surprised, bathed in the scent of an ambrosial romedy comedy filled with endearing nooks and corners secreting a kind of cosmic view of man-woman relationship that affords both humour and sadness.
The romantic comedy as genre is perpetually misunderstood and misinterpreted in Bollywood. Not this time.
Okay, so what's the list about? It's a to-do thingy prepared by our everyman-hero, a regular high-income guy on Facebook, played by the very engaging Vir Das. Amit has put together a list (yes, an actual handwritten list) of the qualities that he wants in his soul-mate.
Life of course has other plans. Before he meets his Dream Woman (or DW, as Amit's acronym-obsessed mom would say), he runs into the adventurous bohemian dog-loving bungee-jumping Mala (Vega Tamotia).
Their courtship is done with a colourful candour that is not blindingly romantic. The couple sing, dance, run across fields but with a warning signal playing somewhere invisibly saying, "Babe, bumps ahead".
It would be unfair to give away the goings-on in the second movement of this very engaging rom-com. Suffice it to say that the dips and curves in the narrative all add up to an experience that leaves us smiling and sometimes chuckling.
Amit Sahni Ki List is not a great piece of cinema. It doesn't aspire to have any lofty heights of tragic romanticism (a la Ek Villain). Nor does it, thankfully, converge on a neo-classic film of the past to derive its romantic imagery (a la Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania).
It is what it is. An uncluttered, elegantly narrated rom-com about an inherently flawed hero, so confused about his aspirations as a romantic entity that he ends up wallowing in the kind of giddy romanticism that he probably abhors in the movies that he sees.
As directed by Ajay Bhuyan (some significant talent here), the life and loves of Amit Sahni is both a celebration and mockery of romantic idealism. While the intelligent witty script takes satirical swipes at Amit Sahni, it also makes room for his heart to grow into something less flighty and frivolous than what flirty films about desi casanovas tend to signify.
While Vir lords over the lush rom-com landscape (a territory surprisingly liberated of vulgarity), he gets some solid support from the supporting cast, especially Kavi Shastri who is terrific as Vir's jockey-buddy (langotiya yaar). It's amazing how talented the hero's friends always turn out to be in our movies.
There's also Anu Menon (remember the veejay Lola Kutty) as a break up specialist helping Amit ease out of a 'perfect' relationship. Priceless.
Amit Sahni Ki List is an endearing 'roam' com about a restless Romeo looking for ? ummm - love. And I use this abused term with a giggle since there is an astonishingly short supply of sex in Amit Sahni's epic love life. For all his back-handed brashness, is our hero shy of making love?
Never mind the sub-texts, of which there are many in this surprisingly entertaining nugget of a film. Just enjoy Amit Sahni's journey from a romantic heretic to a helpless believer in true love para-gliding into Chattisgarh to win over his lost sweetheart (a bit of Mani Ratnam's Saathiya here).
The journey is peppered with funny exchanges and smart swipes at contemporary sexual mores. And yes, it's very eye-catchingly shot by cinematographer Maneesh Chandra Bhatt whose camera makes routine cafes and streets in the metropolis appear rejuvenated.
A word about Vir Das, who grows with every performance. Here he is vibrant and woeful, frivolous and deep all at once. Watch him in that sequence where he runs into his former girlfriend, now pregnant. As she tells him why she dumped him, Vir's face registers a deep embarrassment.
Luckily the film never needs to run into any mortifying roadblocks. It's a smooth ride all the way. From Amit Sahni's Ms. Perfect (Anindita Nayar, tres chic) to his Miss Imperfect's pet dog, every character here has a mind of its own.
Ditto the film. It has a heart and brains. Go for it.