Yippee, it’s Gippi! Sadly, that isn’t the reaction that this well-intentioned but uneven film is likely to elicit.
A low budget release from Dharma Productions is certainly news. It isn’t news, however, when a film about growing up isn’t quite all that grown up.
For all its attempts to look and feel different from the run-of-the-mill, Gippi is pretty obviously not the ultimate film about adolescence.
But there is no denying that it is a warm-hearted film, if nothing else, with some nice touches that might strike an emotional chord.
The pivotal character of the film is an eponymous overweight 14-year-old Shimla schoolgirl who lives with her single mom and younger brother and jives to Shammi Kapoor songs.
She comes across as real and believable. The girl’s mother (Divya Dutta), who runs a beauty parlour to earn her family’s keep, also emerges as a character that one can relate to.
She is a Punjabi woman who has been unceremoniously dumped by her husband (Pankaj Dheer) because she is too earthy for his liking. But she is a tough cookie who lives her life on her own terms.
The manner in which the mother-daughter relationship unfolds is really the best part of Gippi. “You can talk to me, mamma,” the teenager says when her mother needs to share her innermost feelings.
The mother reciprocates in kind. “Bras, boyfriends, parties, you are a big girl,” she tells her pre-pubescent daughter when the latter seeks permission for a night out. Unfortunately, none of the other relationships and connections that the film explores is half as tangible.
Gippi (Riya Vij) frets no end over all the little highs and lows that are a part and parcel of a teenage girl’s life, but the problem that bugs her the most is her girth, which is the butt of insensitive ridicule in school and elsewhere. So far so good.
Unfortunately, the narrative tropes that first-time director Sonam Nair takes recourse to in portraying life on the school campus and the many challenges it poses for a girl who is happy in her own skin are ham-fisted and trite.
It is all bunged in for conventional dramatic effect: the tussle for boyfriends, a fractious election for school head girl, heartbreaks, heated confrontations and life-altering revelations. There’s nothing particularly original in there.
While Gippi faces constant ribbing on account of how she looks, she, on her part, loses no opportunity to direct unkind jibes at her own brother, Booboo (Arbaz Kadwani), for his apparent lack of interest in the opposite sex.
The crucial turning points in the plot are rather unimaginatively handled, often pushing an otherwise commendable effort into all-encompassing shallowness.
Especially appalling is the cringingly poor writing in the pre-interval party scene – remember this is a Karan Johar production and boisterous parties are at the very heart of human existence.
Gippi’s escort for the evening, Arjun (Tahaa Shah), a much older boy that she has a crush on, turns out to be an insufferable oaf, and her bitter classroom rival, Shamira (Jayati Modi), the girl with the hot bod, high marks and pots of money, humiliates her in public.
Surely a girl who goes to the best school in town would have the sense and social finesse not to call a classmate a “fat, ugly loser” without any apparent provocation. But she does because the screenplay desperately needs her to be obnoxious.
Gippi has many such awkwardly overwrought scenes, none worse than the one that pits the girl’s mamma against her estranged husband at the latter’s second wedding with a foreigner. At the end of it, when peace has been restored by the spunky Gippi, they all pose for a happy family portrait.
Gippi is a feel-good drama and everything, even an overdose of clumsy preaching, is fair when the principal pursuit is happiness.
We encounter ‘life’ on school and college campuses rather frequently in Hindi cinema – the last time we did so was as recently as in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. What is noteworthy in Gippi is that, for a change, we have actors playing their age.
Riya Vij is delightfully good as the fun girl who takes all the blows of life on the chin and smiles through it all. Divya Dutta, too, is perfectly cast as the irrepressible mom.
All the young actors in the cast pull their weight to the extent that the screenplay allows them to.
One actor who is particularly hard done by is Jayati Modi. It’s the most sketchily written part in Gippi and she does herself no favours by letting the utter lack of subtlety in the characterization guide her. She is unnecessarily and gratingly shrill.
The musical score is a mind-boggling mish-mash. It is like an ode to cultural confusion of the worst order. One robust Punjabi routine is followed by a soulful Man bawra ditty; and that is followed by a vacuous Bhojpuri number (that extols the transformation of a ‘baby’ to a ‘baby doll’), which then is followed by a song in Pidgin English (that celebrates the fact that ‘we are like this only’).
Can’t be good advertisement for any self-respecting school in the hills!